Our two-year-old Granddaughter recently asked her mom, “What is reality?”

We’re not sure where that came from, but it’s a profound question for a 2-year-old or anyone else for that matter to ask.

The quick answer might be reality is everything we experience. 

But what about things that are beyond sensory experience? 

Mysticism is a branch of inquiry that delves into such things. Contrary to how it sounds, mysticism is not about occult practices or Ouija boards. Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) defined it best as “the art of union with reality.”

Mystical experience is a foundational component of the world’s religions. Mystics attempt to transcend the limits of direct knowledge and sensory experience, and in doing so, create a broader and more inclusive reality.

I have long been drawn to mystics like; Lao Tzu, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Kahil Gibran, Martin Buber, and the modern philosopher Ken Wilber. References can be found here.

But this doesn’t answer the question, “What is reality?” 

I’m going to attempt to answer the question using an analogy. 

In this analogy, my entire experience comprises eating a slice of apple pie. That’s it. My reality consists of the sight, aroma, taste, and knowledge of eating apple pie.

Now, let’s say your entire experience comprises eating a slice of key lime pie. Every sight, sound, taste, touch, and experience in your consciousness is occupied by the experience of eating a piece of key lime pie.

What, then, is reality?

For me, it’s apple pie’s sweet taste and lumpy texture. But for you, it’s the tart flavor and smooth texture of key lime pie.

Our realities differ. If someone were to ask each of us, “What is reality.” We would have different answers.

But what, then, is reality?

Extending my analogy, we might be tempted to claim that reality is the sum of everyone’s experience. 

This suggests that each individual’s reality is constrained by perspective.

This is a good place to start. 

Each of us can view reality from three perspectives; “I,” “We,” and “All (or One).”

Which perspective shall will we choose?

Let’s begin with what we are most familiar with: “I.”

Individual experience is defined by contrasts. In absence of contrast, sight would go dark, sound would disappear, along with taste, touch and smell. Contrasts like hot vs. cold, wet vs. dry, sweet vs. sour, and love vs. hate define our reality.  

The yin/yang of existence is comprised of “this vs. that.”

But reality, of course, includes both “this and that,” suggesting that distinctions are merely subjective boundaries that divide the whole enchilada. 

What if we go beyond the boundaries of individual distinctions?

To do this requires a new perspective, a perspective beyond “I,” like “We.” 

“We” is a perspective beyond “Self.”  A perspective anyone who has ever been in love experiences. The Avett Brothers sang of it in their hit song “I and Love and You.” Love goes beyond individual realities creating a shared reality.

A marriage is a ceremony that formally recognizes that individual realities have transcended the boundaries of “I” to encompass the intimate “We.” 

I officiated our daughter’s wedding. In the homily, I explained that rather than two entities standing before us, there were three, Julia, Ryan, and Love. Each would need to be acknowledged and nourished for the marriage to succeed. 

What if our perspective extends beyond the boundaries of “Self’ and “We?” What is that reality?

Now we have entered the realm of the mystic.

Mystics practice “union with reality” by letting go of all boundaries imposed by subjective experience, including “I” and “We.” 

The mystic’s reality may be experienced but not spoken of. It exists beyond knowledge, intellect, distinction, and separation. Mystics find peace beyond the yin and yang of existence in the undifferentiated presence of “One” or all. 

But that doesn’t make any logical sense, right?


We think of reality as having an independent, pre-existing status, but this is in error. 

Reality is inherently defined by perspective. 

There are many ways to demonstrate this.

It is discovered when we “fall” in love.

It is found in deep meditative states where the practitioner completely lets go of separation to rest in “One.” 

It is proven in quantum physics laboratories where repeated experiments demonstrate that reality is observation dependent. The most famous of these is the double slit experiment, which shows light’s wave/particle superimposition.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “The world is deep; deeper than day can comprehend.”

The true nature of reality, if there is such a thing, is beyond comprehension.

I’m working on a simpler definition for my Granddaughter. 


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2 Replies to “Reality”

  1. Always great—always interesting—always making me think a little bit more—–

    The World just reached 8 Billion people this past week—–imagine putting the ” reality” that each one of those 8 billion people would define this particular Sunday morning—- each definition has to be less than 50 words—- into a blender and flip the on switch——That World “Soup” would be incredible—- the “I” would quickly be ” WE” and then that SOUP would be the “One”…..something from everybody and something for everybody !!! But would each of those 8 billion people taste the blended soup ??? That is a question for another future Sunday !!!


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