“A lot of people don’t struggle with depression, they struggle with the reality we live in.” Keanu Reeves
I came across this quote by Keanu Reeves – by all accounts a very kind, generous and thoughtful soul – and my first thought was to correct him: consensus reality, Keanu: consensus reality.
A lot of people struggle with all kinds of mental distress, including depression. Mental distress is a very unsurprising response to the world in which we live, full as it is with injustice and suffering, not to mention the horror of humanity’s own-goal eg the persistent degradation and destruction of our habitable climate.
But to accept this as reality? I believe we miss a trick in doing so. What we actually experience is consensus reality, a complex web of social communication and context which is co-created with every word spoken and action taken. Consensus reality abides by the parameters of what we agree together, as a society. It is cultural and it is impermanent.
Those who experience something outside of those parameters are deemed to be mad – and in Western society, madness is situated within a medical paradigm which describes such states as pathology. Other cultural traditions may describe these states as spiritual experiences, or as exploration of the frontier of consciousness.
When I experienced this myself, I was told that I was psychotic – that is, experiencing psychosis. Psychosis derives from the Greek and means disease of the mind or soul – suggesting illness or pathology. The term carries baggage from the medical model. “Psychosis has come to mean that a person… has developed a private view of the world or a private reality not shared by others.” (Encylopedia Brittanica)
I’ve made up my own word to describe my experience: madreality. Madreality is a state in which one is perceiving the world without the binding limits of consensus. It may be uncommon, but it still has a validity of its own, and is made up of information which can be interpreted as meaningful and valuable – should one choose to do so. Madreality is a lens of meaning through which a person may be experiencing the world, as legitimately as the lens of meaning of someone whose perceptions happen to be aligned with consensus reality.
“What if information is the basic ingredient of the universe? This is not a universe of things, but a universe of the ‘no-thing’ of information. And this information is organised by a second invisible element, meaning.” Margaret Wheatley
When we perceive the world around us, we are bombarded with information – and we use our senses to gather that information, we use our mind to sift through it, categorise it and assign meaning to it. What about a dog that can register smells which a human nose cannot? What about animals who can hear pitches of sound that the human ear cannot? Just because a human cannot sense something doesn’t preclude it from being real. Just think: there is a whole realm of sight, sound and smell which exists outside of human perception. What would our consensus reality be like if we did perceive the world outside the range to which we are accustomed?
And what if madreality is a state in which someone is simply perceiving beyond the consensus range? How might a person describe this, in consensus language? How might they translate it into consensus meaning? What they say may seem nonsensical, or farfetched, or just crazy.
We begin with information, gathered via perception, and combine these with our predispositions, our values, emotions, personal histories, assumptions – this is what creates our meaning. We are meaning-makers. It is only consensus which calls these meanings ‘reality’.