Remaking Your World

“We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
The Talmud
In a sense, we each live in a world of our own making. Out there, the universe exists in the form of energy vibrating at different frequencies. Our senses perceive those vibrations and our brain interprets them. Green light vibrates at a specific frequency that reaches our eye, and we see what we think everybody else sees as green. Some people have a shock, often in adulthood, when they discover that they are color blind and what they have been thinking was green is perceived by others as orange, for instance. As people age and lose their ability to hear what others hear clearly, they often have strong resistance to the realization that their hearing is impaired. Their perceptual reality has gradually changed and they don’t recognize it. They can’t see that they don’t hear so well.

The same phenomenon occurs in our emotions. For some people, life is good, people are kind, and beauty abounds. To others life is hard, people are cruel, and beauty is a rarity. Our inclination towards a joyful life depends on our ability to perceive what is good, truthful, wise and beautiful. If we are overly sensitized to perception of cruelty, injustice, and our own powerlessness, we will live in a depressing world of hopelessness and despair.

Which type of world we live in depends not just upon the quality of the sensory apparatus we’ve inherited, but upon the quality of the neural networks we’ve developed in our brain. If we grew up in a family of musicians, even if we were adopted from a family of non-musicians so genes weren’t a factor, we would be more likely to have a more sophisticated appreciation for music. Through exposure and experience, the brain cells involved in musical activities would have grown connections and expanded their network. The capacity of our brain to perceive pitch, rhythm and melody would have been enhanced.

In the same way, if we grew up in a house of pain, we would be sensitive to the hurts life inevitably offers. If we grew up in a loving family, we would more likely have neural circuits enabling us to feel love and safety at the same time and the stable sense of self to endure life’s inevitable hurts without forecasting catastrophe.

So how we perceive life and the world around us is determined, in part, by what we are exposed to, but the good news is that we have some ability to alter our perceptions through our behavior. Sometimes, our perceptions are affected by our beliefs. If we change the belief, we may change the perception.

For example, a person raised in a cruel and dysfunctional family has the belief that nobody cares; people are mean. Then this person gets sick and winds up in the hospital where the staff are caring, compassionate and kind. Reality shifts. The belief is shaken and a new awareness of the goodness of humanity arises.

Another way we make these shifts is by directing the focus of our attention. What we focus on largely determines our experience. If we focus on bad news, the inadequacies of others, the things we lack, we will live in a darker, bleaker world. If we attend to the happy accidents of life, the good in others, the blessings in our lives the light goes on. We will be living in a brighter, more hopeful world and our emotions will reflect it.

Our brains like to conserve energy, so our thoughts and perceptions tend to follow the same paths time after time. We think and perceive habitually. Some level of habit is necessary and good, but we may feel happier and more alive if we expand our perceptions and the range of our behaviors.
Increase the range of your potential responses by increasing the breadth of your awareness. Practice mindfulness. Direct your attention to the perceptions of the moment rather than the thoughts flowing through your mind.

Take control of the wandering mind and focus your attention with intention.

Expand your faculty of perception. Observe how other people perceive the same stimuli differently than you do. Try to see what they see. It helps to be with people of a different disposition than your own, with different talents.

Acknowledge that the universe you live in, the reality that you construct out of your thoughts and perceptions, is only one of an infinite selection of possible universes. Practice shifting your reality to one that works better for you. What would it be like, you can ask yourself, if I were more confident, if I could feel powerful, if I were more open to beauty and spontaneity?

“Reality is what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is what we believe.
What we believe is based upon our perceptions.
What we perceive depends upon what we look for.
What we look for depends upon what we think.
What we think depends upon what we perceive.
What we perceive determines what we believe.
What we believe determines what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is our reality.”

Gary Zukav

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© 2007 Tom Barrett