In our current screen culture paradigm, we primarily deal in economies of representation. We exist in ideas and concepts and simulacra, often not encountering the Real much at all. Quite literally, we engage with plastics and in many ways, a plastic experience. All of this serves to dull our senses and sensibilities and render them as 2D as the screen we are watching–which separates us from the experience of being alive. As David Abrams suggests in Becoming Animal, for example, as we become accustomed to viewing representations of life from a screen where there is no change on the screen as we walk around the screen, back up or come forward towards it, we lose our perception of depth. Or when we glance outside a window to give our eyes a break from the screen, we don’t see as we once did, as child does—with the richness of engaged perception, really seeing the depths of different elements within our view. Instead, we begin to view our surroundings as “scenery” and “background”, if we notice them at all. In a frighteningly real sense (pun intended), we have outsourced our sensing. This distancing from the Real and habituation of the simulated comes with a high price tag, and very real consequences, including leaving us quite vulnerable to manipulation.
Instead of taking in the world through our own senses and developing our own sense-ical experience of the world, we take someone else’s words/images and adopt them as our own. We stop looking and seeing and start consuming. In a profits-centered economy, the perspectives we’re sold benefit the seller. You are the consumer, and if the peddler (this wily purveyor of perceptions and thus of realities) can get you to see the world in the ways that benefit them, they can control your beliefs and perceived needs as well.
And oh man, they do.
But not only does this sense-deficient way of existing leave us open to marketing and its often corrupt influence, when we’re removed from our own sensorial experience of the world around us, we’re also removed from the joy of engaging with the world first-hand; from being truly alive.
All our lives we’re insulated from bodily contact with the Real and don’t even know it. Most humans live over 90% of their lives indoors. We’re socialized to wear shoes that insulate us from the experience of being literally in contact with the Earth. Our clothes shield us from weather. Our food gathering habits either involve someone else bringing food, already grown, picked and processed, to our doorstep or, if we actually go to the store (where at least there is some experience with the food itself, though in a very artificial environment) wearing our shoes and our clothes, in our car, park, go directly into the store, select our “food” and “food-like products” that are pre-harvested, cleaned and often packaged and processed, place it into bags, pay for it and drive it home. This is an almost 100% simulated experience (particularly if we’re not ingesting real food in its whole form). We can go days, weeks, months, years, without having any real contact with the earth or natural forms. The backpacker, the hiker, the adventurer and the sensorily awake person, on the other hand, can construct their own experience of the world by, well, experiencing it, first-hand. This is being truly alive.
How do we begin to reacquaint ourselves with and reengage with the Real? First of all, we must recognize that we’re not doing that in the first place. Do we really understand that screens can ONLY hold representations? That books, no matter how enjoyable, can only relay ideas? While both have their usefulness and place (and can certainly serve to support reconnection with the Real), by not realizing and acknowledging these truths, we remain firmly anchored in an experience mediated by others’ perceptions and chosen representations of the world, and there we are: firmly outside the Actual World. Spending all our time indoors or insulated from the earth keeps us bubble wrapped in a largely plastic experience. When we encounter the Real with our corporeal bodies and pay attention, we are existing in a very different way.
To participate with the Earth, to experience Life first-hand, and yet to participate also in the aspects of society we prefer and perhaps need to participate in, requires recognition of the vast world of difference between the simulated and the Real. Then we must take deliberate and real (actual) actions to remove the filters, the mediations and the simulacrum from our experiences. Once we realize and understand the unreality of the simulated environment, we can’t unsee it; we miss the Real when it’s absent. Then we can begin to move, as the animals that we are, into not only an understanding but into a real body-to-body relationship, direct communication and contiguousness with the Earth, with the Real. Only then can we embody the experience of being fully Alive.
Inspirations for Real Life Experiences
- Pay attention. True attention is Love. Notice, feel, observe. Touch trees. Feel the rain. Dance.
- Eat mostly real food (uncooked, unprocessed, organic, whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds). This allows the inside of the body access to the Earth and all its healing goodness. Our bodies recognize this nourishment.
- Walk barefoot on the Earth whenever possible. Adopt the habit of trail hiking barefoot where possible. The experience is completely different than the insulated shoe-experience and provides an opening where we can begin to step back from our normalized experience of dominion over and insulation from to direct communication and contact with. Life changing. Wear earthing shoes often when “bare footing it” is not practical.
- Grow your own food as much as possible. Even if it’s a few pots of herbs on your deck or kitchen counter.
- Invite plants into your home—whether this is in pots or in the form of window access or opening your sliding glass door, allowing for a more contiguous experience. Native plants are best over collecting non-native species (which I’m so guilty of but these plants can now not be returned to the wild, as the wild, for them, where they would thrive or even survive, is not the climate I live in).
- Open your doors and windows to be in contact with the air and the sky. Inside air is notoriously highly polluted when compared to outside air. Invest in an air purifier or invite a lot of plants into your home to assist with this task if air quality is of concern (which it often is).
- Go outside whenever possible and see how you can decrease the mediators between you and your Mother Earth. Go shoeless, sit on the ground, lean up against a tree, touch leaves and branches, pay attention to sensations. Grounding or earthing is proven to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as others.
- Engage with the Earth in non-curated spaces. Be aware to have minimal to no impact.
- Minimize the time you spend looking at any kind of screen.
- When you do use a screen, be aware where on the spectrum that curated experience falls (e.g., conversing with a friend vs. watching YouTube videos).
- Maximize the time you spend experiencing the world in a sensual way (via your own senses).
- Notice when the experience is being curated for you. Notice when you are viewing or experiencing the Simulacra rather than the Real. Opt for Real.
- Notice not only what your senses are sensing externally, but internally as well. What sensations do you notice within your body? What does hunger or fullness feel like? What does sadness feel like? What are the actual sensations without words? What internal sensations, what feelings does sunshine on your skin invoke? What is cold? What does it feel like, what is the experience, before we reach for a jacket.
- Connect with other people viscerally, in person, with awareness not only on what you and they are saying, but in what it feels like to interact with them. Can you feel your feet on the ground as you listen? Can you keep some attention on the breeze on your face, the sun on your arms as you talk? Can you listen more and expand awareness of the experience of feeling viscerally rather than on the agenda in your mind to relay representations/ideas/concepts?
- Connect with others in person and outdoors whenever possible to be in more physical, bodily contact with the Real.
- Read, write and do as many activities as possible outside, in contact, if possible, with the Earth.
- You may notice, as you reintegrate with the Earth in these ways, that your experience and reality start to shift. That you become more empowered and in touch with yourself and your emotions, perceptions, intuitions and knowings. That you become less people-pleasing and more Self/Real-navigated. You’re less likely to fall for others’ perceptions, simulations, recommendations or requirements and more able to discern in connected and integrated ways you were cut off from before.
- Unmediate your environment as much as possible. Set the thermostat with a less sensitive range (e.g., the heater goes on at a lower temperature and heater engages at a higher temperature), filter toxins from your air and water (this is not “adding more” mediation, this is removing the mediated medium). Use earthing mats and materials if you live upstairs. Particularly when you sleep. Turn off Wifi when not using it. Leave your phone at home or in your car or off whenever possible. Start using maps (yes, this is a literal representation still, a simulacra, but it’s less of a mediated experience than using a phone navigation app and at least integrates some of your senses and can activate a sense of adventure and engagement in a way that apps and machines cannot). Make some of your own clothes if this is viable. Create your own decorations using natural items yourself. Work with your hands. Engage with co-creating your meals rather than popping them out of the freezer, a box, or a jar. Go barefoot indoors. Touch your plants, the real items you share your space with. Watch them for their own realities, enter those. Talk on the phone less and in person more. Engage less online and more in person. Prioritize real experiences over curated, managed, facilitated, presented, simulated ones and choose the Real whenever possible.
- Notice that we can generally engage with all of these less-curated experiences on a spectrum of time and degree rather than being all or nothing. We can observe our awareness of all of this naturally expand over time and with experience. With experience we will begin to notice the qualitative difference between curated and Wild experiences and in all scenarios naturally prefer the Wild.