One of the big differences between animals and human beings is that – as far as we know – animals tend to experience reality exactly as it is, whilst human beings tend to experience it through the lens of their unique perspectives. Whilst looking at life in a certain way can sometimes be helpful, the fact is that many people have adopted a negatively skewed perspective which can make the whole of their life experience seem far more challenging than it really needs to be.
I have explored a similar theme in previous posts (see The Power of Belief and my Parable of the Island) and I discussed the suffering that can come from being attached to one particular area of life in The Hub of Equanimity, but today I want to highlight the overall relationship that exists between perspective and the general sense of unease that we can sometimes experience in life.
Setting aside all opinions, beliefs and man-made ideas, all we can really say about life is that it is. Life isn’t good or bad, because those are merely opinions that reflect a given perspective. Strip away the confounding variable of perspective and all that you have left is the fact that life is.
The same applies to everything that happens during our experience of life. Take the weather, for example. Sometimes it is sunny, and sometimes it rains. Both of those conditions are essentially neutral, and they only appear to be good or bad when they are considered them from a given perspective.
From the perspective of someone who wants to go on a picnic, sunny weather is preferable to rainy weather, and so sunny becomes good weather and rainy becomes bad. From the perspective of a farmer who is concerned about the watering of his crops, however, rainy weather might be considered a good thing and dry, sunny weather might be considered less so, especially if it hasn’t rained for a while.
Human beings tend to filter everything through their own perspectives, and so life becomes an endless stream of events and experiences which we label as being good or bad. Society tells us that the key to happiness is to pursue the good and to avoid the bad, and so it encourages us, not to accept the reality of the present moment, but to work hard to change it.
Of course, if we are all working hard to achieve completely different outcomes, then many of us are bound to end up disappointed, and so attachment to perspectives inevitably promotes conflict.
If the farmer and the person wanting a picnic decide to exchange their views about the weather, they will find that their perspectives clash. That might not be such a big deal in that particular situation, but when the same principle leads to a clash of grand ideologies – all of which are merely perspectives – the result can be civil unrest, religious or philosophical intolerance and even war between nations.
‘…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ – Shakespeare (Hamlet)
The secret to happiness is not to try and force the circumstances of life to fit in with your unique perspective, but to understand that your perspective itself is the thing which causes much of your unhappiness in the first place. Let go of your attachment to your perspective and you cast aside the very thing which makes you think that you have a problem to begin with.
This is not an easy thing to do, but it is something which can be achieved through the practice of daily meditation. When meditating, you temporarily set aside your own perspectives about what is good and bad, and you simply sit with whatever experience unfolds. By practicing regularly, you will find that you soon become able to set aside the filter of perspective even as you go about your daily life, and eventually you may get to the point where you live in a state where nothing is good or bad unless you choose to think it so.
Animals take life exactly as it is, moment by moment. They don’t spend time worrying about the past, or fretting about the future, but instead they focus on whatever is happening right now. We human beings might consider ourselves to be more evolved than animals, intellectually speaking, but in this respect I believe that we can learn a great deal from our non-human teachers.
Of course, living in the modern world without any perspective whatsoever isn’t easy unless you go and sit in a cave somewhere. Even so, you can at least come to understand the fact that perspective shapes your experience of life, and deliberately adopt perspectives that help, rather than hinder you. For example, how might you feel about life if you adopted the following perspectives:
- Everything in life is always exactly as it should be.
- My direct experience of life is more important than my intellectual understanding of it.
- Life is on my side. It leads me to experience exactly what I need at every given moment to ensure my long-term growth.
Living your life with these perspectives in mind, how is it possible to have a bad day, week, month or year? Yes, you will still experience grief, sadness and disappointment from time to time, because it is human nature to have desires and expectations which reality doesn’t always meet, but I would suggest that the three perspectives just provided will help you to deal with such moments in a far healthier way than if you were to insist that life bends and bows to your every wish and whim.
Consider the possibility that you were meant to read these words, right now, as part of your overall spiritual development, and take some time to think about how you might begin to apply the power of perspective to your own life from this moment on.