Can you spot the difference?

August 3, 2018

Did you know that you might not be able to tell the difference between things that are happening and things that are mixed up versions instead? Many of our conclusions are based on illusions.

 

Such as. Think about how we feel when we have a physical experience such as burning our mouth on hot pizza, or feeling excited at seeing a long-lost loved one. Now how do we feel when we watch a film that scares us? It is just a movie. Or how do our bodies react when we think about an upcoming meeting that has us a bit anxious, or about something emotionally painful that happened in our past? This stuff isn't even happening outside of us, merely internal musings. Then if we go to the next level, What do we tell ourselves about what just happened? Do we ruin a fun dinner by spending the night blaming the person who cooked the food for our burned mouth? Do we avoid preparation for the meeting because we remember how critical feedback last time made us feel?

 

Our brains don't have the ability to perceive on their own. They only have the ability to process incoming data into information and then make decisions based upon what we tell it is true, or instinct, habit, or past experience (including training, education) only some of which was probably accurate due to most of us not paying attention to what is really going on. So basically, what goes on in our heads may be a faulty version of what is happening in reality, due to our biases, assumptions, history, etc. These things make up our personal map. And we then go into action based on whatever we believe to be true. Accurate or not. Helpful or not.

 

Here is an example of what I mean. Let's say we have arranged to meet a friend at their house. We turn up at the door on-time, knock, wait, and nothing happens. We wait a bit more, knock again... nothing.  We wait for about a half hour, text them on our phone... nothing. So we leave, without knowing what's going on. Three hours go by and we don't hear anything. If we have a past association or pain with someone not turning up we may have a reaction based on worry, or we may become angry. We may feel bad because we think that our friend doesn't like us as much as we like them... any number of explanations might pop into our heads in response to our question, "why did this happen?" We wonder if something is wrong. Then, although our intuition says everything is okay we call a mutual acquaintance to see if they know something, even maybe thinking our friend might be ill or in the hospital. The person says that our friend is out of town and they are surprised that we didn't know. We might feel bad, or if our energy is low we might even feel depressed. Yikes, right?  Two days later we find out that our friend was called away (to do something very good). We also find out that due to some technical issue with the phone network, the loving text our friend sent letting us know and even inviting us to come along was never sent to us, nor ours to them. Right? Painful misunderstandings can happen so easily.

 

Training in mindfulness can produce stunning results in the area of accurate perception. When we train ourselves to pay attention we catch ourselves before our minds run off into fantasy or we notice the first worry and learn how to stay calm and present despite whatever occurs. We constantly bring our attention back to where we are and what is actually happening now. In the case of the above example we might have instead of worry or anger, trusted that our friendship is solid (which it actually is). Although maybe disappointed at not seeing our friend, our mindful response might have been to go and do something else fun, and look forward to telling our friend about it next time we were together. How many other small miseries could be avoided?

 

After a few years of training in mindfulness we might even be shocked to see something as if for the first time, even if we thought we knew about everything life might have to offer us. I am regularly surprised by how things look. It is like an amazed feeling. Really fresh and fun.

 

There will be a new class starting up, available in live & web-based versions. See you zen.

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