Perception go back to Thoughts page
I want to share with you 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.”
What we have here is a story about perception. I first learned about perception during my studies of a very sacred subject called International Politics, which was a course I took in college. On the first day of class, the professor said there was a lot of information to cover, and therefore he would speak very quickly throughout class. And if we had trouble keeping up in our notes, he gave us 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 type of lesson about perception (that is, at what point did each of us perceive the situation as intolerable?), the professor talked about perception a lot that semester. He said that in politics, as in life, perception was everything. He said that perception was more important than reality—in other words, it is not reality, but rather, our perception of reality that influences our beliefs and our behaviors. He said that for all practical purposes, our perception IS our reality. Here’s an 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, is merely a reflection of our personal experiences, our internal perceptions and our beliefs. You may recall the story of several blind men who met 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.
This reflective quality of perception is the key to understanding it. I would like to share with you something I've learned in my own spiritual studies of A Course in Miracles, which is a contemporary text that contains wisdom attributed to the Master Jesus. I have studied these teachings for many years and have found them to be very helpful in my own life. This quotation is from the Workbook for Students, Lesson 304: “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.” This is 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. It is also a Natural Law of Spiritualism called the Hermetic Principle: “As above, so below,” and it explains, among other things, the interrelationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm—the interrelationship 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? What if you see something you don’t particularly care for? What can you do about it? Let me repeat: “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.” If you want the external world to change, change your internal reality, change your mind, change your perceptions. There are several ways to do this, and I'm going to cover four of them.
First, Awareness. 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 awareness is enough to change everything. Another example is the first time I heard myself say to my children, “Because I said so.” And then I thought to myself, “Oh, my goodness, I sound just like my parents!” Awareness.
Second, Contemplation. Ask yourself: what is this “thing” I’m seeing in the world reflecting back to me? What does it show me about myself? For example, if you notice that someone around you 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. Maybe you aren't judging that person, maybe the person you tend to judge is yourself. But I guarantee you, if you see judgement, you have judgement. And as you contemplate, be sure to explore any trends, patterns, or themes that may be emerging in your life to gain even more insight. Contemplation.
Third, Reconstruction. Reconstruct your old stories, using language that reflects your new perceptions and beliefs. For example, 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 now think instead, “Heart disease does appear to run in my family. Yet modern medicine has found many ways that it can be prevented. And I 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!” Reconstruction.
Fourth, Invitation. Again in A Course in Miracles from the 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, or peace, 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.
Invitation, Reconstruction, Contemplation, and Awareness: four very powerful tools to change your internal perceptions, and thereby change your external reality. And they work, even in a crisis. Especially in a crisis. Suppose you’re experiencing a situation that is extremely unpleasant, such as intense physical or emotional pain. One of my teachers said during a class on Spiritual Healing, “Pain is good.” And he is right: pain is good in that it serves a very useful purpose. It shows us when things are out of harmony, out of balance. It’s a very strong motivator to change something you don’t like about your life. You can think of it as a wake-up call from your higher self that shouts, “This is intolerable!”
Remember also, that when you experience a painful situation—the instant it comes into your awareness, it is a sign that 1) you are ready to deal with it, and 2) you have the tools to deal with it. You have the knowledge, the wisdom, the strength, the friends, the perseverance to deal with it, heal it, correct it, forgive it, release it, resolve it. You control when and where and how much the situation will change. It’s up to each one of us to make peace with these situations in our internal worlds, with our inner selves. And the degree to which we do so will be reflected in our external world. It has to; it’s the law.
There is a saying attributed to Mahatma Ghandi that I think is wonderful and very appropriate in summing up these thoughts about perception: “You must BE the change you want to see in the world.” If you want to experience love, be loving. If you want to experience peace, be peaceful. If your external world reflects back to you things that you don't particularly like or that are painful, look inside yourself and resolve your inner conflicts through awareness, contemplation, reconstruction, and invitation of your perceptions. When your inner world becomes peaceful and loving, you will start to realize that your external world is also full of peace and love. It's all a matter of perception.
Copyright © 2007 by Joanne Franchina
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