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Shifts in perspective II: The perception shift

Here is the second in my series of musings around what a ‘shift in perspective’ might look like in ordinary life ….

We know from mindfulness that the lens through which we view things (our preconceptions) can make a difference to how we experience them. And this was illustrated for me starkly when I was on a retreat a year or two back and when one of my fellow retreatants shared how on the first day of the retreat she had been delighted by the sound of a duck quacking outside the meditation hall during the meditation period. She didn’t know the centre well but imagined there must be a pond nearby which she then planned to go and find at lunchtime. Anyway, for the rest of that session she enjoyed the sound and made it the focus of her attention.

The afternoon session, though, she described as a bit of a nightmare. The sounds and conditions were the same but she had discovered at lunchtime that the duck was not a duck at all but a squawking crow. She did not have such a warm feeling for crows and so this noise became really distracting and irritating for her.

Until finally, she came to a place of hearing the sound as neither delightful nor annoying, but just a sound – which she had previously imbued with two very different interpretations.

This seems really interesting to me. Exactly the same sound. In the morning, delight. In the afternoon, annoyance.

And if this can happen in such a reasonably mundane situation, maybe it can happen in other contexts. Is it possible that just by simply giving something a different name we can change our view of it and so our experience of it?

Is this household task, for instance a ‘chore’ or ‘an opportunity to come back to my senses’?

Is this sensation in my body ‘pain’ or ‘an important healing signal’?

Is this work task a ‘burden’ or a ‘offering’?

Is this a ‘problem’ or a ‘situation which invites a response’?

I don’t mean to belittle suffering – or to suggest that some causes of our difficulties should not be looked at and challenged. But I do want to suggest that it may be possible, sometimes, to see things differently and so to experience them differently. And sometimes this can make the difference between coping or not with what life throws at us.

So, here’s the take-away. Next time you are facing something that you are finding trying in life it may be worth noticing what perspective, what perception you are bringing to the situation. And whether, in fact, your perspective is part of what is making this particularly difficult. And then whether you can move from naming it a crow, to imagining it might be a duck. Or realising that, in fact, it is just a noise.


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