Growing up, I always assumed that whatever I saw was real. If I saw a bucket on the patio, there was a bucket on the patio. If two classmates pointed at me and snickered, then I was seeing my classmates making fun of me. I had no idea that a filtering process took place between what was outside of me and what I perceived to be outside of me, or that my perception was actually a kind of invisible filter that was constantly being shaped, altered and calibrated. I also couldn’t fathom that the very act of perception could influence, or even create, whatever it was that I saw.
What I’ve learned over the years is that what I see is often precisely what I get. As a therapist, I help people work with their own perceptions. I’m also always wondering about my own. A good deal of mental health depends on a person learning how to alter their perceptions of reality, particularly with the aspects of reality that are intransigent or seemingly entrenched, like chronic pain, the loss of a loved one, or traumatic experiences that occurred long ago but continue to shape someone’s capacity to be vulnerable or trust.
As both a witness to others relationships and as a participant in my own, I’m more and more convinced that what we see is in many ways an elaborate optical illusion. I’m not suggesting life is necessarily a dream–as many mystics claim–or some deity’s cosmic version of virtual reality (although it very well might be). What I’m proposing is simply that we shape our lives through our perceptions of it far more than we are able to consistently recognize. Left to its own devices, our mind will generate increasingly convincing versions of it’s own stories and convictions.
Which leads me to my number #1 rule for life: question your unquestioned, auto-pilot perceptions. Be curious about what you see. Because over the course of time, if you continue seeing what you see without considering other ways of seeing it, you will get what you see. And if your mind’s anything like mine, with a natural, habitual bent towards fear, distrust and scarcity, you’ll get more fear, distrust and scarcity. And that’s just a painful way to live–particularly when it’s an ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy.
Photo by Yeshi Kangram at Unsplash.
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