Have you ever wanted to believe a lie so much that it hurts, even when you knew it to be untrue? About a month ago, while ranting to my therapist about my most recent crush – did he ever like me, did he ever mean what he wrote to me – she told me that maybe his words were real, but not true. At the time, I nodded and went along with it, but I thought to myself, okay, what the heck does that actually mean, just tell me if he liked me even if it’s like, clearly impossible for you to do that.
Over the past week, I did more research about real but not true, an idea coined by Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche. The phrase captures how sometimes when we encounter powerful or challenging feelings, we often experience these very real emotions and thoughts, even though the conclusions we draw from those emotions and thoughts are not true. An example Rinpoche often uses includes crossing a high glass bridge in Malaysia, how even though the fear and anxiety he felt was real, once he honored those emotions, he recognized the truth, that he could indeed cross the bridge safely.
Because two of my hobbies include relentless introspection and over disclosing that introspection on the internet, I wanted to write about three instances of real but not true in my own life. The first instance that comes to mind includes my experience with anorexia. When I starved myself about a decade ago, the feelings of relief that accompanied that starvation were so real: the control, the power, the capacity to cut out all my so so so intense feelings and focus on my ribcage, my shoulder fat, my weight on the scale.
But that power was never true. Starving myself never fixed anything. True power looked like escaping my abusive home and going to college and then therapy, with my iconic therapist L. True power looked like learning how to take care of myself, how to feed my own soul with good coping strategies, good friends, and good food. True power looked like taking my experience with anorexia and using it as a launching pad to propel my fight against eating disorders through my social justice-oriented therapy, research, and teaching.
Fast forward to this past year, with my most recent crush, a guy who said he liked me and then refused to talk to me. I have so many questions about him: did he ever actually like me? Did I come on too strong? Did we have the potential to work out? These questions all feel real, like little ping pong balls tumbling around in my brain with no exit in sight.
But I have to center myself on what is true, that no matter the answer to any of these questions, he cannot give me what I want, someone with consistency and communicativeness, someone who honors my worth and my power. So I focus on my closest friends instead, the people who give me true affection: the close friend who sat down with me in her aunt’s house and said she felt “very protective of me” and wants to see me happy and safe, the close friend who shares her joy of writing with me and also made over ten memes trashing my crush for his lack of communication, the close friend who inspires me to be more radical, who went dancing with me at a Philly gay bar this past weekend until 3am on a Saturday night. I remember dancing with her and thinking to myself, as “Clarity” by Zedd and “Sandstorm” by Darude and “Starships” by Nicki Minaj played: this feels real and it is true. Real and true. Real and true.
As I get older, I also think a lot about how we often promote self-care and individual empowerment over collective action. While the feelings that accompany self-care are real, the warmth toward oneself, the rest and the rejuvenation, what will truly bring us liberation is community care, organizing, and fighting the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchal system. As someone whose life’s work is centered on mental health, I have to remind myself to honor the importance of providing compassionate care for individuals as well as the importance of tearing down systems of oppression that create so much suffering in the first place.
James Baldwin once wrote that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It takes courage to look your life in the eye and figure out what’s real but not true, to face your ineffective coping strategies and unhelpful fantasies. I’m still working through it, and I suspect I will work through it all my life. I hope you join me.
What are feelings, thoughts, and experiences that you have had that remind you of the concept of real but not true? What do you make of the concept overall? Looking forward to reading your thoughts! Also, I set up a PayPal page on this blog, so please feel free to check it out and support my writing. I will potentially write a post about the monetizing of hobbies soon but whatever, I want Jeni’s ice cream, books by queer authors of color, and rent money. Until next time!