“Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realize that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest”. Muhammad Ali
The start of a new year is good time to step back, take stock and reflect on how to look at the world, anew. Our perspective is a key element in shaping our whole experience of life, positively or negatively. To what extent do you see your glass as half full or half empty? Are you generally optimistic or generally pessimistic about what happens? Do you immediately label situations and people as good or bad? If you met someone with exactly the same experience, resources, problems and perspective as yourself – what advice would you give them?
A balanced perspective helps us separate life’s big challenges from lower priorities and enables us to modify our behaviour to deal appropriately with whatever life throws at us. Keeping situations in perspective prevents us from over-stressing and worrying over things that may not happen. It’s also important to think beyond our own point of view and preferences. Acknowledging, exploring and accepting different perspectives enables us to gain a more complete understanding of the world and the people in it. A balanced perspective helps us to show more tolerance, empathy and compassion for others, especially those with views, opinions and values that are different from our own.
No two people have the same experience or the same approach to life. Everyone one has a different perspective on life’s challenges. No one else sees the world through your eyes; thinks your thoughts or experiences what you feel, in exactly the same way. We all have different opinions on how things might turn out – that’s why bookmakers are in business!
In ancient Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang represent the two interconnected forces in all things.
It describes how seemingly opposite forces may actually be complementary in nature. The pulsation of energy between opposites creates the dance of life. Yin is the darker swirl – the feminine – but it has a white dot. Yang is the lighter swirl – the masculine – but it has a black dot. It teaches that everything contains the seed of the opposite. Evil forces have the potential for good and good forces have the potential for evil. The symbol reminds us that life is a balancing act. All of life contains inseparable and contradictory opposites – ups and downs. Good times and bad times. Joys and sorrows. Laughter and tears. These are the Yin and Yang of our lives and it reminds us of the importance of a balanced perspective. Human beings are such a mixture of plum and apple; soft and hard; positive and negative.
In adapting to life’s challenges, we know it helps to keep an open mind and accept diversity. Life is more fulfilling and enjoyable when we learn to accommodate differences and contradictions. Acknowledge that dark shadows only exist because of the presence of light. What we might label “good” or “bad” may not turn out to be what we originally thought. Our minds habitually tend to label situations and people, as good or bad and there is an old Taoist parable that briefly illustrates this.
An old farmer had worked his fields for many years, with only one horse. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came round. “That is so bad!” they said sympathetically. “May be?” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful!” the neighbours exclaimed. “May be?” replied the old man. The following day, his only son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “That is dreadful news!” they moaned. “May be?” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “You are so lucky!” ” May be?” said the farmer.
The morale of the story is that what happens to us will always be a combination of things, that could be perceived as either “good” or “bad”. Life is more about how we respond to what happens to us, rather than what actually happens to us. Maybe a “good” situation can turn “bad” if we become too complacent? Maybe a “bad” situation can be turned around, if we take action to address the issues.
The challenges we face, help us to understand that we can bounce back and become more resilient. We learn how to go beyond any limiting beliefs we may have about ourselves, about others and the world around us. It is sometimes necessary to encounter difficulty in order to learn important lessons about courage and hope.
The practice of mindfulness helps us become still, balanced and more present in the here and now.
Mindfulness is about noticing what we notice, free from any bias or value judgment. This is in contrast to how we can be distracted and controlled by the thoughts we habitually think. We are often caught up in thoughts and feelings that tend to be critical and judgmental of ourselves and others. Rather than just noticing and being open, our self -talk wants to engage in a critical analysis and negative evaluation. Mindfulness encourages us to develop a non- judgmental attitude and to view ourselves and others with a more open and compassionate approach. Often we judge ourselves and others too quickly and without sufficient knowledge or understanding. Many of us dismiss our own abilities and put ourselves down because we think our talents are not spectacular enough. Or we compare ourselves with others and feel inadequate. With the regular practice of Mindfulness we become aware of our breathing and the present moment. Life can only be lived in the present. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is the gift – the present. Life is sustained by breathing in and by breathing out. The in-breath is Yang: expansive, light, and inward. The out-breath is Yin: sinking, dense and outgoing. We are alive because of the harmonious balance of opposites.
To what extent do you see things from the perspective of your ego? Egos want us to be right and to look perfect, all the time. Egos programme us instinctively for survival and they demand that people and situations are the way we want them to be. Whereas from the perspective of our “higher” self, we seek to respect the rights of other people, as well as our own. Having a balanced perspective means minimizing our ego’s, in order to treat people the way we wish to be treated – with dignity, respect and compassion. When we encounter a new situation or meet new people today, notice how your “ego mind” is responding. Try to set aside any preconceived ideas or judgments and allow your higher instincts to explore other ways of seeing.
Perhaps use the month of January to approach things with a “beginner’s mind”. Exercise an element of detachment and get in touch with how you honestly see and experience the world. Think about how you can bring new perspectives into your life, going forward. And make this a happier new year, no matter what.
Could now be an opportunity to discover some inner strengths? Could the lessons of 2020 help us appreciate just how fragile and precious life is? The pandemic has clearly demonstrated how something unseen, unknown and unexpected can change our lives in an instant. Perhaps it has given us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what is really important?
Having a balanced perspective helps us become more effective in our daily lives. We can learn how and when to balance sensitivity with toughness. Confidence with humility; and caution with trust. It is also important to balance being and doing – the passive and the active. Being is the ability to be fully present in the moment with an open, receptive awareness. Being is simply experiencing. Being is the essence of feminine energy. Doing is the ability to focus on a specific task and get things done. Doing is about targets and achievements. Doing is the essence of masculine energy. But to live balanced lives we need to fully develop our capacity for both being and doing. However, as human beings, rather than human doings, we should appreciate a little more the value of being! There are lots of opportunities to improve our lives each day and finding them largely boils down to keeping an open mind and having a balanced perspective.
BEYOND PERCEPTION’S REACH is a collection of brief thoughts and reflections on the complexities and challenges of life’s mysteries. The weekly blog will explore some of the questions and personal challenges we face in our uncertain and confusing world. How do we bring a bit more joy and fulfilment to our “one wild and precious lives”?
© Denis McBrinn