‘There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.’ Aldous Huxley
How often do we challenge our view of reality?
I bought an old-style Volkswagen campervan while on holiday recently in Suffolk. It is blue & cream, a little battered but, to my eyes, it is a thing of beauty.
I took a photograph of it on the beach. My Yorkshire terrier, Daisy, got curious and came to investigate. She likes to dig. Within a few minutes she had successfully buried the entire vehicle in the sand.
At what point in the above (true) story, did your perception shift?
Yes, I did buy a campervan, but it was a tin model. I didn't mention that. What I told you was the truth, but not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I took two photographs. The first shows the van on the sand. It looks good. The second shows Daisy standing next to it.
Now perception shifts and offers a change in perspective. Now you can see that Daisy is much larger than the van and all becomes clear. You have the bigger picture.
We see what we expect to see and rarely challenge our understanding.
So it is with reality. Our senses are the waiters that ‘bring the feast to the table’ of perception. But that internal experience should not be confused with reality. The map, as they say, is not the territory.
A shift in perspective can often represent a real breakthrough in our perception of the world.
Yet, as a species, we are programmed to be psychologically lazy. We make assumptions because it is easier. Having constructed our ‘model of reality’, we don't question it. Even worse, we reject anything which challenges our established belief system.
‘Better keep yourself clean and bright, you are the window through which you must see the world.’ George Bernard Shaw
Metaphor is really powerful stuff for challenging perception.
Grace came to see me about her depression. She said her world become like ‘an old, sepia photograph’ of how it used to be. ‘All the colour has drained out of it’, she said.
Rather than looking through rose-tinted spectacles, Grace was seeing through a distorted lens; focusing on all the negatives and simply oblivious to the good things she had in her life.
I challenged her worldview by reflecting that, to me, it was like she was sitting on a beach, with white sand, blue skies and coral seas, but had picked up a large black rock from nearby and was holding it very close to her face so that, now, she could not see the beach at all.
‘Depression is like that’ I told her. ‘But the good news is that you do have a choice. You can put down the rock and look again’.
Grace ‘got it’. She began to see her world with new eyes. Yes, there were islands of challenge, but now they were set in an ocean of hope and possibility.
‘Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.’ Hans Margolis
Mindfulness is one way of ‘letting go’ of preconceptions. From the position of ‘the observing self’, we can detach from the ego and watch its passing thoughts and feelings.
Both the Fusion distance learning certificate and diploma training programs begin with the Zen philosophical invitation to commence a new experience with ‘beginners mind’.
The principle is simple… from one thing comes another.
So it is that before there can be mastery, there must be errors.
Before there can be knowledge, there must be ignorance.
Before there can be understanding, there must be confusion.
Before there can be wisdom, there must be foolishness.
Therefore, the sage uses errors to attain mastery,
Embraces ignorance to acquire knowledge,
Cultivates confusion to reach understanding,
Courts foolishness to find wisdom.
For the sage, losing is seen as acquiring,
Emptying as filling.
Confusion and foolishness are welcomed.
Ignorance and errors make an auspicious beginning.
‘What the joke displays is a switch in perception. This is important in changing the way we think.’ Edward de Bono
Sometimes a breakthrough can be made via a joke, The shortest distance between two people is humour, after all, as solution-focused originator, Steve de Shazer, observed.
Here is a favourite, which highlights the kind of internal ‘predictive text’ which completes a sentence on our behalf and which, like predictive text, often gets it wrong.
Man 1. ‘My wife was killed by the big C’.
Man 2 ‘I’m very sorry to hear that. Was she ill for very long?’
Man 1. ‘No. She was standing outside the chip shop when the big ‘C’ from the sign fell on her head.’
‘The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ Marcel Proust
And sometimes poetry will hit the spot as nothing else can.
The following powerful piece was written by Chainie Gorkin, at the time, an 11th grade Brooklyn student. It ‘went viral’ on the Internet after it was spotted pinned up on a wall in a London bar. It has its roots, she says, in Hasidic philosophy;
Today was the worst day ever
And don't try to convince me that
There's something good in every day
Because when you take a closer look
This world is a pretty evil place
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don't last
And it's not true that
It's all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be obtained
Only if one's surroundings are good
It's not true that good exists
I'm sure you can agree that
It's all beyond my control
And you'll never in a million years hear me say that
Today was a good day
Now read from bottom to top.
Yes, when you look again, it couldn't be clearer. As Master of Stupidity author, Toba Beta observed;
‘No perspective, no perception; new perspective, new perception’.
Simple, isn’t it?