Our perception of our world is so much more subjective than we realise. The facts of our situation may remain the same, but a shift in internal perspective can often have a huge impact on how we feel and consequently how we act.
Many years ago when I was postdoc applying for jobs, I couldn’t quite see myself in either of the possible paths which seemed my probable future. I felt quite trapped. Then on the treadmill at gym on day, it suddenly occurred to me that I had never been unemployed, and I had always chosen my next job on the basis of a deep sense of this being the right next step. How could I possibly consider myself to be trapped?
With that one moment everything shifted. No, I didn’t get a job the next day. It would still take about another 18 months until I got a permanent position, but that moment changed everything. The emotional burden of the uncertainty of my position dropped radically, and over time I became far more able to see possibilities which I wouldn’t have even considered before.
I’ve seen similar things happen over and over again over the years. In retrospect what was often the tipping point into a new phase was not so much a shift in external circumstances as an internal one. I can’t help wondering what implications that has as we consider the complex political situations so many are struggling with now. I wonder whether we should be praying the grace of clarity of perspective. I wonder whether that will help.
There is a bittersweet gift which comes with inner healing. I begin to see my own patterns of behaviour. I begin to see the subtle yet toxic tendrils which trace their way through relationships.
It’s mildly horrifying, and yet I am able to view myself and my past actions with compassion. I know I had no intent to foster the toxicity. In my desire to connect I occasionally brought a barbed hook to the table. I didn’t know it was there.
I can’t go back and change the past, and I think I am tremendously fortunate that I don’t have many regrets. There are few situations that I would want to handle substantially differently. I see the progression which has brought me to where I am today, and I think the various learnings were necessary.
What is far more important is that this perspective also gives me compassion for others. I see a few people around me who suffer from a similar compulsion and have made choices which have a far more lasting impact than my own. And I recognise that I could have made exactly the same choice if I had presented with the same set of circumstances.
It is deeply humbling and I am profoundly grateful for the life path that has opened in front of me.
We humans are curious creatures. Descartes great proclamation ‘I think therefore I am’ coupled with the rise of Western individualism can leave us thinking that I am the product of my education and my particular experiences. The problem with that model is that we can all too easily overlook a major source of my own identity.
My idea of who I am is infused by the relationships in my life. I am who I am through the different relationships in my life. That is to say that I am profoundly shaped by those who share my space. Whether that is an intimate partner, friends, colleagues, children, parents, spiritual director, therapist etc. Different parts of us are drawn out in particular relationships. In the absence of that relationship that particular part of who I am may not be evident.
There is another aspect to consider. My experience and my worldview distort my perception a little. So, what I presume to be ‘true’ is often deeply coloured by the lens of my own woundedness. My perception of my relationships and interactions on all levels is mired in this wounding.
Only one thing can change this distortion – for me this has been in the acceptance of my limitations because of that wounding. This has brought freedom and with it a new perspective. Like the twisting of a kaleidoscope – a new pattern emerges, and I see that what I believed to be true before was only true in my limited perception.
It makes me wonder whether the ‘True Self’ is a fixed point at all. I suspect it isn’t, but I think we know when we are closer to it. And I think we know when we are trying to kid ourselves.
I wonder how often we conflate expressing displeasure with someone’s action and holding them accountable. In reality the two are quite different.
I can make my feelings known about someone’s action but that is only likely to have any influence at all on their behaviour if I communicate directly with them and they actually care about my feelings. This means expressing my dissatisfaction at another person’s conduct will have an impact at best only occasionally. (And if I am using social media as my vehicle I would say the strike rate is practically zero).
Holding someone accountable is different. But it is only possible if I hold some form of power over the person. I can only hold a person accountable if I can take action which they will deem as unappealing. The other person may have voluntarily given me this power, but I need the power dynamic for accountability to exist. In the case of politicians, this is my capacity to vote. In the case of companies, this is my capacity to take my business elsewhere. In personal relationships, this will vary widely.
I have come to realise that I have a deep resistance to the expression of displeasure in the absence of the capacity to take meaningful action. For me it leads to apathy and far ranging discontent which ends up infecting everything. The only situations I want to speak out on are those where I can actually hold people accountable. And I deeply respect those who are doing just that! Our world needs every single one of those voices, and the actions that go with the words of discontent.