October 21, 2015

Nailing Jello to the Wall

What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.   - C.S. Lewis

The longer I live the more convinced I am that we do indeed create our own reality. A recent conversation brought this into focus.

As I listened to a "horrible" experience shared with me, it became clear that the worn out platitude "There is no reality, there is only perception" lives on for a reason.

As the tale unraveled, and knowing well the entire cast of characters, I looked at the events as though they were playing out on a  3-D sphere that I could manipulate and view from different angles. Each angle told a story of its own.

 Songs are as sad as the listener. 
- Jonathan Safran Foer

There was the story that was being told with all of its rawness from the perspective of the storyteller. If I turned the ball, a completely different story appeared as I factored in my knowledge of a different person in the story and took into account their motivations. Another spin showed a completely different tale told by a different participant. Tilting the ball another way presented the event at the center of the story - all by itself - before anyone had a chance to color it in hues of perception. As is most often the case, the event was the only neutral element.

Being uninvolved in the goings on allowed me to see it from a detached point of view. It became clear to me that what could have been something completely benign had become highly significant to the storyteller. So significant in fact that she will filter other events through her perception of this one and look to validate the beliefs she acquired from this in future interactions with these folks.
From her perspective, her feelings were invalidated. She feels her property was violated, her objections were unheard, and therefore she is unimportant. Since that's how she internalized the event, this forms her reality of not only the event but also of those involved. Hopefully those feelings will mix with contrary evidence from earlier experiences with those same people and will become tempered or even outweighed.

 Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. - Wayne W. Dyer

This same event has created a different reality for the others parties involved. They have colored it with their own points of view so that their picture probably bares little resemblance to the storyteller's picture and my guess is that they are unaware that the impact made on the storyteller was significant.

I have seen firsthand how perception can affect relationships. As a parent, I hear stories from my own children that flabbergast me. I hear them recall events from their childhood that I can barely make out because their experience of the event is so completely different than mine. I have seen my own actions interpreted in ways so far from my intention that I am completely bewildered and perplexed. It's been a rude awakening that has caused me to reflect on my own upbringing - events that have had a significant impact on me - and to re-examine them. I try to see them from that 3-D spherical perspective to see what other perspectives those stories may hold. This practice has changed me.

It's caused me to have more compassion for those I once believed intended me harm or appeared to show reckless disregard for my feelings. I also try harder to see people less as one dimensional and instead in their fully fleshed out forms including as many of their life situations as is possible. For example, instead of seeing something my mother may have said or done as "how could a mother do such a thing," I now realize that no one is ever "just" a mom or just any one thing for that matter. My mother was and is also a human being, with feelings, problems, disappointments, and dreams all her own. She is also a wife, a daughter, an in-law, and friend. Like all of us, she was sometimes acted upon by outside forces that she couldn't control. In short, she said and did what she did as all of those people - not just as a mother.

 Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, "What else could this mean?”
  - Shannon L. Alder

It's, apparently, also caused me to become aggravating. Aggravating because when someone comes to me with a "story" I try to take the sphere approach and offer different perspectives to what they may be experiencing in order to help them reframe it - see it from another point of view. It's been a rude awakening to me that others don't want to hear a different perspective. They want me to get mad at those they're mad at and take their side in that moment. The different perspectives might be welcome after they've had time to cool down, but my sphere approach makes them feel as though I'm not validating their feelings! See what I mean by intentions being misinterpreted? It's happening to you too! Every day.

The only reality that seems consistent to me  is that nothing we say or do is without effect. Life is like soup. We can't keep the flavors of the individual ingredients from combining. Once they're tossed into the pot they become part of and flavor the entire batch. An insult by a husband at breakfast can easily simmer and be served to the children at lunch.

Life is complex and we each view it through lenses colored by perception - perception that may or may not have any basis in reality - whatever that is.

 Your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in.  - Shannon L. Alder

Uncovering reality can be as tricky as nailing jello to the wall. Reality shifts and changes shapes constantly as it's acted upon and perceived. It's one color to one person and another to someone else. What tastes sweet and refreshing to me might activate your gag reflex.

It's raining. That's a terrible thing to a bride who's planned an outdoor wedding - and a wonderful thing to a farmer who's watching his crops wilt in the field. The rain is only water falling from the sky but each person's reality of that truth depends on how it's affecting them at the moment.

The terrible thing about all of this is that we are all observers - packed full of experiences that color our observations. We filter each experience through other experiences and base our observations not only on present information but also on our personal history and accumulated belief systems. That can make things tricky. New relationships are acted upon by our past relationships - so much so that our new love interest can sometimes be expected to do penance for the sins of their predicessor or at least be punished for those sins.

Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.  - Marcus Aurelius

The wonderful thing about this is that we can change our perspective and thereby change our reality! Awareness is the first step to making it possible.

All of life's events are happening on a sphere - metaphorically and literally. How much better would things be if we could find a way to step back and see them that way? Would we be more understanding of other points of view? Maybe even more tolerant? Would we think twice about our own actions if we could see the impact they may be having on others? Would we all become aggravating? There's a lot to unpack here and this is just my limited perception of it! I'd love to hear yours!