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Illusions, by Richard Bach

My first exposure to the singular ideas of Richard Bach was via Illusions, which was given me by my mother, with a few underlinings that would probably be easily pegged by any perceptive reader of the book. I deeply enjoyed it, but when that copy went missing, so apparently did many of my memories. Contact from a high-school friend reminded me of it, and sent me questing—quite lacksadaisically for some years, I must admit—for another copy. A dear Australian friend recently provided me with another personalized copy, which was almost as good as receiving it from my mom.

For me, one of the most fascinating intersections of human experience is that of thinking and feeling, and Illusions wades confidently into that busy crossroads. Are we so busy “knowing” that our failures to feel or to pay any attention to our intuition keeps us from achieving all that we could? Does our focus on the material—both our physical selves and the tangible world around us— keep us from seeing the illusions it presents, and keep us from grokking our deeper, spiritual nature? As an a-theist (that spelling isn’t accidental) with an abiding interest in spiritual matters, the only honest answer I can give is, “I don’t know”. But Bach is quite persuasive to me, particularly when I reflect that modern science, for all its progress, is still largely in the dark regarding how the brain works and how the mind—as an emergent phenomenon of the brain—works.

Being a slim volume, there isn’t a lot of deep, bullshit-free analysis of Illusions that I can engage in. So, I’ll simply say that Illusions offers a palatable dip into eastern philosophy for thoroughly western minds. As befits a volume of this type, the value one finds in it originates largely from one’s own current state. So, one may find the parable of the river creatures moving, or enjoy the pithy statements proffered by the “Messiah’s Handbook”—which contains the bits my mother highlighted for my attention. While those were and are appreciated, a simple idea tossed out near the end of the book is what currently resonates with me: that being there are “rivers of time” that start and stop depending upon our ability to grok the actions they carry. Contemplating the all-too-soon departure of my beloved children to spend the summer with their father, I’d like to think that I can somehow capture the days they’ll be gone, the events that I will miss, even though I know that they will continue learning and growing—it’s only my sense of time regarding them that will be interrupted. And Bach’s insistence that “we are all free to do whatever we want to do” (p. 109 of my copy)—you read that right; there are no qualifications—is a very subtle but immensely important distinction from the widely-touted freedom philosophy of today that really puts responsibility in its rightful place of honor.

Perhaps it’s a failure of my imagination, but time-rivers seem to keep flowing despite my most fervent wishes otherwise. Even so, as one with a very long history of “arguing for my limitations”, I am aware that our conscious minds often provide us with chains that we may never become aware of. Doing something about them is an entirely different proposition, as well. So much of what we label “reality” is instead our subjective interpretations overlaid onto events—especially concepts that consume the freedom-seekers, such as the power a state holds over a person. Statist ideology—particularly in the USSA—has become the de facto view, so much so that even we freedom lovers and seekers often cannot eliminate all ties to it. For me, Illusions offers an excellent beginning for considering what is real—and what that means—and what is so much human baggage that we carry around to our detriment. Very literal readers will probably find next to nothing of value here, as much of the book is highly metaphorical—including, in my view, the characterization of Donald Shimoda as being a separate entity from Richard. For those willing to admit that there might be more than is currently dreamt of in their philosophy, Illusions can offer a way to fairly safely explore the bounds. If nothing else, it offers a pre New-Age perspective that is entirely consistent with that approach, while also transcending it.

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