Seeing Through the Ego’s Fantasy-Reality Gap

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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

“Water is wet, rocks are hard, the sky is blue, the grass is green, fires are hot, ice is cold, mountains are high and oceans are deep.”
—Adapted Zen saying

One of the ego’s favorite “problems” is the fantasy—reality gap, in other words, a gap between what it dreams up that we should, have to, need to, want, wish and expect (the fantasy) and the feedback from “what is” (the reality). The attitudes of wanting what is fair in an often unfair world, and wanting to be free in an often unfree world, illustrate this gap. When ego wants what it doesn’t have, or it doesn’t want what it does have, suffering is inevitable. Spiritual teacher Ajahn Chah says, “If it shouldn’t be this way, it wouldn’t be this way.” Similarly, should didn’t happen, and shouldn’t already happened!


The second of Buddha’s four noble truths says that suffering originates in desires or attachments. Translated into modern terms, suffering results from the desire that life be different from what it is now. Yet desires do not so much create the actual suffering as the compulsive holding on to and identification with desire do. A first step to peace lies in an easy, relaxed acceptance of “what is” here and now.

Related Reading: The Science of Manifestation: The Power of Positive Thinking

This “gap” presents a riddle since reality is, after all, just the way it is free of the mind’s past conditioning. For instance, releasing the ego’s urge to compare and evaluate itself with others fosters genuine inner peace. To release evaluating oneself against others helps to release the unrelenting search for happiness. Paradoxically, once we let go of the craving for unrelenting pleasures—what some call the “hedonic treadmill”—then honest contentment and happiness become a possibility. One can appreciate that true happiness is a by-product of fulfilling relationships, rewarding work well done, and contribution to the greater good. We can emerge from suffering once we fully see through the ego’s fantasy—reality gap. Seeing through illusions opens an appreciation of “what is.”

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All that is necessary to awaken to yourself as the radiant emptiness of spirit is to stop seeking something more or better or different, and to turn your attention inward to the awake silence that you are.

Happiness is likely to be “having what you want” leavened with gratitude. Rabbi Hyman Schachtel also wisely proposed, “Happiness is not having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.” When one wants what one has and one doesn’t want what one doesn’t have, the fantasy-reality gap closes and stillness, peace and sanity naturally reign. This is the springboard of our dearest yearnings, all to spearhead and manifest our heartfelt dreams and inspired visions. To live in truth takes practice, practice, practice…in surrender, surrender, surrender…every moment, moment, moment.

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