What is Real?

Elul Day 13

What is real? This question revealed itself to me tonight as I sat down to write. It's a bit vague, I know, but it intrigues me because it can be explored or answered in so many ways.

Is something real when it can be observed, measured, or replicated? What about that quality of authenticity and genuineness; what does real FEEL like? How do we know what is real and what is actually a projection or fantasy? 

 Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.


A friend of mine was talking last week about striving to have his insides match his outsides, in other words, being his authentic self with others as much as possible. I think this is the WYSIWYG feeling ("What You See Is What You Get") that happens with people who are just unapologetically themselves, especially those people that give you the feeling inside that they are being truthful with you and true to themselves. 

One of my favorite books about the High Holy Days is This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared by Rabbi Alan Lew, of blessed memory. Inspiring, insightful content notwithstanding, the title alone is so powerful and completely disarming. The title is a prayer on its own. 

This spiritual practice during the month of Elul is a journey of becoming real, of cracking off and peeling away the crusty layers of protection that build up over the year and obscure the full light of our authentic selves/souls from shining through.

We become intimately familiar with and attached to those crusty layers ("klipot" in Hebrew, meaning husks, like a shield or a hard shell of protection). As we shed these klipot (or crack them off with a proverbial jackhammer), sometimes we feel a little more vulnerable or exposed. My "insides/outsides" friend also challenged me about this in relation to my writing–"I urge you to share your truths, in addition to inviting us to consider ours," he said.  That too is a prayer.

Tell me what you're feeling and what it all means.
You could be defensive or open up and share your dreams.
You can keep right on denying or face me and start crying.
'cause this time, when I reach out, it may be my last try.
Ooohh baby, I want something real one time before I die.

–Phoebe Snow