How we perceive the world can be the difference between a happy life and a miserable existence. We have optimists, we have pessimists, and we have everything in between. In this podcast, we will explore the significance of perception, and why what you perceive depends on what you’re looking for.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “Dare to Awaken Podcast.”]
In this podcast, we will be exploring this theme of perception. Now, you can take two people and put them through the same intense, difficult, challenging experience. And one comes out and they blame, and they complain, and they play the role of victim. But the other one comes out, and they feel grateful, invigorated, and even empowered. Two people, same tough experiences, yet two different outcomes. Now, why is that? Well, it’s because of the mind state, and more specifically, it’s because of perception. As the Persian poet Rumi said, “When you go to the garden, do you look at the roses, or do you look at the thorns?”
There was a story about a man shopping in the grocery store one afternoon, and all of a sudden, he bumped into somebody else’s cart. And when he looked over to see who was pushing the cart, he was stunned to see that it was actually a dog pushing the cart. He stood there in disbelief, just wondering how it was even possible that a dog could be shopping for groceries. So, from a distance, he started to follow this dog around. And sure enough, he was going up and down the aisles, picking out specific products and putting them into the cart. So he continued to follow the dog to the checkout line. And he noticed that as he went to go pay for his groceries, the cashier actually shorted the dog ten dollars. And the dog began to bark until the cashier gave him the correct change. So, again, he was very impressed by the superpowers of this dog, so he continued to follow him. He followed him for several blocks down the street to an apartment building. The dog went in with the groceries, pressed the button on an elevator. The man followed him into the elevator. The dog pushed number 15. They went all the way to the 15th floor, got out of the elevator, walked down the hall. The dog dropped his groceries in front of this door, and he started scratching at the door and started whining. Finally, after a few minutes, the dog’s owner opened up the door and shouted at the dog, “What took you so long? Come on. Get in here.” And then he slammed the door shut.
Now, the man was completely stunned. And after some minutes, he went and knocked on the door, and finally, the rude dog owner opened up the door and said, “What do you want?” And the man said, “Uh, yeah. So I just witnessed your dog shopping for groceries, getting the exact change, walking all the way home, pressing the correct button in the elevator. And yet you shouted at him. Why is that?” And the dog owner said, “He’s supposed to do that. He’s forgotten his keys, and he made me get off the couch just to open up the door. This is the second time he’s done that.” And then the man slammed the door shut. And the other man just stood there in total disbelief. And this is how so many people live their lives, surrounded by beauty, surrounded by these miracles, yet they’re always dwelling on the negative. In this story, here is this super dog doing all these amazing feats, and yet all this man could see was that the dog had forgotten to bring his keys. And the Jewish book, the Talmud, it says, “We see the world not as it is but as we are.”
One definition of the word meditation means ‘to see things as they are’. And I really love this definition because, again, very often, we’re not seeing things as they are; we’re seeing things as we are. Most of us are looking to the external and the outer world through these distorted filters colored by past conditioning, and we’re missing out on the true nature of reality. And if we have a mind state that is filtered by negativity, then that’s all that we see. That’s all that we notice. And inversely, if we have a mind that is positive and uplifting, then that’s what we begin to see and notice in the world around us.
There was a story of a young couple who lived in this beautiful neighborhood. And for some reason the wife didn’t like the next-door neighbor. And one morning, as the young couple were having breakfast, the neighbor, she was out there hanging up the clothes. And the wife said to her husband, “Look how dirty these clothes are. I can’t believe she doesn’t know how to even clean her clothes. They’re so dirty and repulsive.” This continued to go on for a few weeks until one day, the wife looked out the window and there her neighbor was again hanging up the clothes. And she noticed that they were completely clean. And so she says to her husband, “Amazing. Finally, her clothes are clean. I bet she didn’t even do it. She must have had somebody else do it for her.” Without even getting up, the husband said, “You know, darling, I got up early this morning, and I washed the windows.” So sometimes, we need to just clean the windows of our own minds so that we can see things as they are.
And we also have to be very careful about the stories that we tell in our mind. We have to be careful about the perceptions that we believe. In fact, research shows that we are often more than 50% and accurately wrong about our past perceptions but yet we cling to them as if they are the absolute truth. We cling to them and we hold on to them and we believe it. And we will argue tooth and nail to justify that, which of course, all comes from our own ego, our need to be right. Very often, what we see and what we perceive also depends on what it is that we’re looking for. If you’ve ever thought about buying a car, you start to see that type of car popping up everywhere you go. It shows up all over the place. And this is because of something in the brain called the R.A.S., the reticular activating system. And where this really becomes a problem is when someone is hypervigilant. So they start to see stress, and they start to see threats everywhere they go. Everyone and everything becomes a potential threat. They start to see the world as a dangerous place, and this becomes reinforced by finding other sources like the news, friends, social media networks that also affirm their perceptions.
And of course, we have post-traumatic stress syndrome where people have an imbalance in their nervous system, where they’re in constant fight or flight mode. And again, they’re always looking for danger around them, and they’re overreacting. So if a car drives by and it makes a loud sound, to them, it sounds perhaps like a gunshot or a bomb just went off. So that nervous system is always searching for the threat, and they’re ready to just react. And they’ve lost that ability to respond instead of to react. Of course, techniques like mindfulness, therapy, and even yoga can do worlds of wonder for people that are in that constant chronic state of fight or flight.
Another thing is to consider what is our perception of challenges? There’s a story about a farmer and his son who were very poor, and their only possession that they had was one single horse. One afternoon, the son didn’t lock the stable all the way shut, and the horse was able to escape. So there they were without their one possession. When the neighbor heard of the news, he came by to offer his support. I’m sorry that you lost your horse. But the farmer was a wise farmer, and he said, “Well, who knows what is good and what is bad?” A week later, the horse actually came back, and he brought with him 10 other horses. So now they went from having just one horse to having 11 horses. The neighbor heard of the good news and came by and offered his congratulations. The wise farmer said, “Who knows what’s good or what’s bad?” One morning, the son was trying to break in one of the horses, and he got bucked off the horse really hard and hit the ground so strong that he snapped his leg into two. The neighbor heard of the sad news, came by to offer support to the farmer, and again, the farmer said, “Well, who knows what’s good or what’s bad?” A few weeks after the accident, an invading army was coming through, and they were looking for soldiers to recruit to go fight a war. And when they saw that this particular son’s leg was shattered, they couldn’t recruit him, and they continued on. Had the son been recruited, there was a high likelihood that he certainly would have died in the war. So again, the moral of the story is who knows what’s good or what’s bad?
It’s natural for us to all move through these highs and lows in life. We call these vicissitudes or these waves of life. And what we begin to learn through these practices of yoga and meditation and much of what the great wisdom traditions teach us is that even though we may be moving through external highs and lows, we all have the capacity and the power to internally remain steady and to remain equanimists. This wisdom has been a paradigm shifter in my life because, like you, I have moved through victory and defeat. I’ve moved through amazing experiences. And the most difficult and most challenging experience is something that we all experience as human beings. And if we can have that wise mentality that when we’re moving through difficulty, when we’re moving through a challenge, to somehow have that trust, to somehow have that faith, that where we are is exactly where we’re supposed to be. And again, that has everything to do with your mind state and your perception. As Anne Frank said, “Beauty remains. Even in misfortune, if you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance.” In the same way the lotus flower always rises out of the mud, we, too, can use misfortune as a way to help us rise from the small self into the big self. Instead of rejection, it becomes a redirection. That person that rejected you wasn’t the right fit for you. That job that rejected you wasn’t the right fit for you.
Of course, there’s that famous story of Brian Acton who worked at Yahoo! for 11 years. And eventually, he applied for a job at Twitter and was rejected, but he kept his head held up high and continued looking for a job. And he went to Facebook. And after a few rounds of interviews, again, he was rejected. Throughout this process, he shared his failures on social media, but he always found a way to be grateful through the struggle. After all these setbacks, he finally started working on his own app. This app became known as WhatsApp and eventually, was worth 19 billion dollars and sold it to Facebook, the company that had previously rejected him, for that amount. So it wasn’t a rejection, it was a redirection. It’s all about your perception.
“Sometimes I go about pitying myself when all the while I’m being carried by the great winds across the sky,” says the famous Ojibwe Indians. Trust that you, too, are supported by the great winds of the universe. Through those inevitable highs and lows, the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of life, keep your mind open, your perception clear, and always, always dream big. In the words of John Perkins, “We have dreamed it. Therefore, it is.” I have become convinced that everything we think and feel is merely a perception. That our lives individually, as well as community, are molded around such perceptions, and that if we want to change, we must alter our perception. When we give our energy to a different dream, the world is transformed. To create a new world, we must first create a new dream. As the famous Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change.”
Thank you so much for tuning in to this week’s podcast of Dare to Awaken. Much health, much wealth, much love. May we all dare to awaken. See you next time.