Or is it?
This is a very common pear of wisdom we hear often. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, we say. If you (or a situation, whatever it is we are dealing with) are perceived as being a certain way, people are going to inevitably draw the conclusion that this perception is the real you, the reality of your true nature. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how you are coming across to others and notice if it is in line with the image you think, or want to portray.
If I find someone, or something, that gets under my skin, or causes me to think, “Boy, s/he’s sure missing the point,” I immediately catalogue it under, “yeah, but how are you doing the same thing?”
While the article overall talks about little distractions in a world where we should be looking at a larger picture and focusing on more important things, this little snippet got me to thinking about perception in general, and how so much of our “reality,” or what we’ve defined as “reality,” is actually just a reflection of our own, for lack of a better way of putting it, “stuff.”
I had a conversation with a friend lately about this, where we discussed the idea of intent, and what is meant to be communicated, versus what is actually perceived and heard during conflicts between people. My argument was that oftentimes, what is heard by the “offended” party is not what is actually said by the “offending” one, and that in my life when I’ve felt affronted or upset or hurt by someone else’s words or actions, it often (though not always) had to do with my own “stuff,” much more than theirs. And that when I find myself feeling that way, one of the first things I will do is self-interview, and ask myself two very important questions:
- How might I be perceiving these words or actions incorrectly? And
- Is it totally 100% that the other person was being hurtful, or is the responsibility for this conflict and my/our hurt feelings more shared due to my own issues?
Especially between friends, rarely, if ever, is something 100% the fault of one person or the other. It comes down to the radical notion of learning to take responsibility for our own feelings, of digesting the fact that, truly, no one can make us feel inferior – or anything else, for that matter – without our own consent (thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt).
When we apply this to Elephant Yoga’s example, we discover – often with trepidation and a fair amount of defensiveness – that our aggravation and negative perception of the actions and words of others are often the direct result of looking at ourselves clearly for what may or may not be the first time. The illusion of separation dissolves, and we find ourselves being confronted with our own flaws and mistakes, mirrored in the actions of others. “Yeah, but how do I do the same thing?”
That is why our feathers get so ruffled when we see behavior we find to be without integrity. It tugs at something within us that makes us deeply uncomfortable, and upon examination we realize that this discomfort is recognition. We recognize it as behavior that we ourselves engage in, however sporadically.
Of course, this is followed up by an immediate need to justify and “explain away” why when we make poor choices, it’s somehow “different.” We rationalize and talk around it, bringing in “circumstances” and other distractions (which may or may not be very valid) to divert away from a truth that we find very unsettling: there is very little difference between how we are capable of conducting ourselves and how others who we find distasteful do so. Still, we are desperate to set ourselves apart from them, and often become threatened and defensive when challenged with the idea that our negative perception of another person may truly just be, at the root, a negative perception of ourselves. I’m not like that! We say heatedly. It’s totally different! Not only that, but the idea that we may bear some responsibility for how we perceive something, and that our own internal dialogue and issues can severely color how we do so puts us on edge – it shifts the “blame” (a completely unproductive action – I prefer to use the term “responsibility”) we love to throw on others back on to ourselves, and forces us to ask ourselves some tough questions which may result in uncomfortable truths.
This is something that we can cultivate with a consistent yoga practice – growing more comfortable with the idea of interconnected-ness, and learning to embrace what ties us to others – however distasteful we may find them at times – rather than run away from or resist it. A regular asana, pranayama and mediation practice also helps us foster the necessary skills to confront our fear of taking responsibility for our own perception of situations, as well as open up to a truth that has proven to be very real for me – my perception is my reality, no one else’s, and certainly not the objective truth or fact of any situation. How many times have you seen a new pose being demonstrated and formed an opinion on it immediately, only to engage it in yourself and find the experience of practicing it is entirely different than what you had perceived? How many times have I thought to myself after teaching a class, “Wow, Rachel, not your best,” only to have almost every student come up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed what I had offered?
Is perception reality? I myself am unclear on this one. On the one hand, my own baggage can skew how I perceive a certain situation, but on the other, my perception of someone – or something – can often be a very accurate mirror of the reality of myself.
What do you think, readers?