We experience reality in different modes. First, we are physical creatures with bodies, inhabiting a world of tastes and sights and of appetites and instinctual drives. This is the first reality.
But we are different from other creatures in that we can reason. Our rational intelligence enables us to escape Plato’s Cave and gives us access to the second reality, where we know and understand things that can be perceived only with the intellect, such as harmonic scales and chemical equations.
The third reality refers to the spiritual realm, where pure intelligence flows into us directly from its source.
A rose has fragrance and color, which we perceive in the first reality. It exists as a complex structure in a complex ecological context, which we can study and explore in the second reality. It may also exist as a moment of beauty that provides a glimpse of an eternal realm, as an occasion when our soul echoes the Creator in seeing that it is good.
The third reality incorporates the second and the first realities. When we pray, we do not leave behind either our reason or our senses so much as we hold and transcend them.
Michael L. Umphrey has worked as a journalist, a teacher, a principal, and he was Founding Director of the Heritage Project–an educational outreach of the Library of Congress. His books of poetry include The Lit Window (CSU Poetry Center) and The Breaking Edge (UM). His most recent book is The Power of Community-Centered Education: Teaching as a Craft of Place (Rowman & Littlefield). He lives and teaches on the Flathead Reservation in western Montana.