Perception & Deception

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.

~ Stephen Colbert, Host of The Late Show

Perception has ALWAYS been everything, dear Stephen. For people who are convinced that there is something fixed in time and space called a fact, this is challenging to consider. Most people don’t give this much thought, though, so it’s assumed that what we think or believe is inherently true, or that what we see is inherently real. But any scientist worthy of the title will tell you, “facts” and “reality” are slippery things.

There is a lot of talk today about facts, alternative facts, truths, and half-truths. On a social level, we naturally need to be able to agree with each other about certain events in order for them to feel legitimate, or “real.” Psychologically, we feel the need to assess right from wrong, true from false, or else our foundation – constructed from assumptions, expectations and beliefs – crumbles and we start to question everything. Anyone who has ever had to deal with a narcissist or a pathological liar knows how destabilising that can be!

Like a computer receiving data, the outputs will always reflect the inputs – it’s irrational to be upset at the computer for its results – we can’t second guess them, we can only change them later on by adding new inputs, based on new information.

Similarly, we must accept the outcomes of our own choices and adjust according to the results. Stewing and bemoaning the wrong choice is illogical and pointless. What seemed to be a solid truth one day falls apart the next. We make every decision based on what we think we know at the time, and what we think will bring the most happiness or the least suffering. Whether we look back on the state of our environment or a meal ordered from a menu, it’s the same process.

This is not to ignore that some behaviours are harmful, or even criminal (although that notion is relative to the culture and society measuring them). Yet there’s nothing to be gained in dwelling on what “should not have happened” based on information understood only in retrospect. Dropping this resistance to what is (the outputs) gives us much needed energy and clarity with which to make choices now.

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”

~ Pema Chödrön

Some people have difficulty making choices in their lives because of a fear of getting it “wrong”, or of missing out on a (presumed) better situation. Alas! There is no perfect solution – choosing by definition means leaving another option behind. Someone somewhere in our life will inevitably be disappointed, or inconvenienced, or surprised by our decisions – but keeping others happy is an impossible task.

Each choice relies on what we think we know and what feels “right” to us in the moment of choosing – and the less emotional and the closer to the present moment we are at that point, the clearer our choices will be. Being mindful allows us to widen the field of considerations, thereby making more constructive choices, but it is no guarantee we will be pleased with the outcome.

Yes, there are people causing upset and harm in our world. To bring the changes we hope to see we must do what we can to realign our own choices and behaviours, and also try to understand our larger, collective circumstances in order to work towards improving them for everyone. Each society will have its work to do in order to heal and repair the consequences of past choices, born most often of ignorance, not malice. The same applies within our personal relationships and life situations, which are a reflection of our myriad previous choices.

I am often asked how I bounce back from adversity so quickly: it’s because I fully understand and practice this truth. We are always doing the best we can with what we think we know and feel in any moment. Always. Each one of us, without exception. Even an abusive parent somehow feels that doing what they do will bring them peace, relief, or resolution to whatever they are feeling. Keeping this in mind across the whole spectrum of life allows us to accept, forgive and move forward, embracing life with compassion in the present moment.

Practicing gratitude – somehow a bit easier at this time of year – is a reliable way to ease beyond past hurts, frustrations, and disappointments. Thankful for what we have learned, how we have grown, and how we know where to step forward from here.

With much love and light as always,

N.B. I will be moving again in December, having reconsidered my previous choice of residence, based on new inputs! By mid-December you will find me at 24 rue du Bourgmestre in Ixelles. Soon after, I will be in India from 27 December until 8 January. I’m taking appointments up to December 24th, so if you would like to have a consultation with me, please schedule it soon.

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