Have you heard a story from the Zen tradition called The Farmer’s Luck? There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses. “Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the farmer. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer sympathy on his misfortune. “Such bad luck,” they said. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. “Such good luck!” cried the neighbors. The farmer merely replied, “Maybe.”
This is a story about perception, a subject I learned during a college course on international politics. During our first class, the professor warned that he would speak quickly, and if we had trouble keeping up in our notes, we had permission to interrupt him at any time by simply calling out, “This is intolerable!”
He wasn’t kidding about being a fast talker. And we did our best to keep up with him. We suffered hand cramps. My friends and I formed study cells to collectively review our notes so we could piece together complete sentences. And it was several days, weeks even, before someone finally got up the nerve to shout, “This is intolerable!” The first time it happened, everyone laughed out loud, it was such a relief. After that, we all relaxed, and throughout the remainder of the semester, we took turns keeping the professor in line regarding his tempo.
In addition to providing this subtle lesson on perception (at what point did each of us perceive the situation as intolerable?) the professor said that in politics, as in life, perception was everything. He said that perception was more important than reality. That it is not reality, but rather, our perception of reality that influences our beliefs and our behaviors. That for all practical purposes, our perception IS our reality. For example: for thousands of years, it was a common perception, a collective reality, that the earth was a flat disc around which the sun orbited.
The truth is, we live in an illusory world. That which we call the real world, the material world, the physical world, merely reflects our personal experiences, our internal perceptions and our beliefs. You may recall the parable of the blind men and an elephant. One man said the elephant was a wall, another said it was a snake, another a spear, another a tree, another a fan, another a rope, all based on the part of the elephant with which they came in contact. What each man “saw” was a reflection of his personal experience.
“Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.”
A Course in Miracles: Workbook for Students
This reflective quality of perception is the key to understanding it. And isn't it an excellent expression of our experience as co-creators? We’ve all heard something like it before: that the world we see is simply a mirror, reflecting back our projected thoughts, our beliefs, our perceptions. In natural law is is known as the Hermetic Principle, “As above, so below,” that explains the interrelationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm and likewise between oneself and the universe.
When you look in the mirror that is your world, what do you see? How do you perceive your world? What is it like? How would you describe it? Are you in harmony with what you see? If you see something you don’t particularly care for - what can you do about it?
Recognize your perceptions, become aware of them, own them. Notice the language that you use to describe a situation that you don’t particularly like, for example, perhaps someone is stepping on your toes or somehow imposing on you. Listen to your words as you describe this situation. Do you sound like a victim? Sometimes a simple recognition is enough to change everything. Another example is the first time I heard myself say to my children, “Because I said so.” “Oh, my gosh, I sound just like my parents!” Awareness. If you want the external world to change, you must change your internal reality - change your mind, change your perceptions.
Ask yourself: what is this “thing” that I’m seeing in the world reflecting back to me? What does it show me about myself? If you notice someone around you who is very judging, ask yourself, “Am I judging? How am I judging?” Maybe you don’t judge in the same way or to the same degree or even the same kinds of things, but if you see judgement, you definitely have judgement.
Construct new stories that reflect your current perceptions and beliefs. Where you might have once thought, “Heart disease runs in my family; so many of my relatives have had heart attacks, chances are I will too,” you might think instead, “Heart disease seems to run in my family, yet modern medicine has found many ways that it can be prevented. I also know that my thoughts play a big part in how things turn out in my life, and I’m getting better at this every day. I take care of myself, I eat healthy foods, I take time to relax, I think positively...why, I’m healthier now than I’ve been in years!”
In A Course in Miracles Textbook, Chapter 12, section 7, we find guidance: “You see what you expect, and you expect what you invite. Your perception is the result of your invitation, coming to you as you sent for it.” What are you inviting into your life today? When you want only love you will see nothing else. So maybe it’s time to look at your invitation list, and see whether you might include a new friend, or an old friend, at your next soiree.
Invitation, Reconstruction, Contemplation, and Awareness:
These are powerful tools to change your inner perceptions and thereby change your outer reality. And they work, even in a crisis - especially in a crisis! One of my seminary teachers said during a class on spiritual healing, “Pain is good.” And he is right; pain serves a useful purpose. It shows you when things are out of harmony, out of balance; it motivates you to change something you don’t like about your life - think of it as a wake-up call from your higher self that shouts, “This is intolerable!" It's a sign that you are ready and you have the knowledge, perseverance, friends - whatever is needed - to heal, correct, forgive, release, and resolve it. You have some measure of control over when, where, and how much the situation will change.
It’s up to each of us to make peace with our "inner world." And the degree to which we do so will be reflected in our "external world." It has to...it’s the law. It's a matter of perception.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
attributed to Mahatma Gandhi
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