Transcript of a talk given by Lucas G. Irwin on July 10th, 2018
The reality of our life is defined, first and foremost, by what we pay attention to. Do we see books or the book shelf, the traffic-jam in front of us or the sunrise in the distance, the person across the table or the perpetual to-do list in our mind, the people that love us or the one co-worker making our job more difficult that we would prefer? Equally important, is how we perceive that which we have chosen to place in the spotlight of our valuable attention. Now that you’ve shifted the camera, what lens are you attaching.
As we know, virtually all objects, people, moments, feelings and sensations can be perceived in very different ways. Is the garbage dumpster an odorous, eye sore or a reminder of how fortunate we are to have these waste-management services that help us prevent or eliminate the spread of so many diseases? A walk down many of the devastatingly polluted streets in the Philippines would likely be an enlightening experience, in this regard. When the grocery store is out of something you really wanted, can you still appreciate the ease by which you acquired everything else that is piled up in your cart? Did you have to grow those tomatoes? Catch that salmon? Bake that bread?
While this likely makes perfect sense, why is so difficult to draw upon the power of perspective and re-framing when we need it most? Cognitively, we are, generally, over-reliant on context-dependent recall, past distinctions, experiences, category development and biology; the opportunity to reevaluate or shift perspective is outshone. Our auto-pilot does a phenomenal job of saying, “This all looks pretty familiar, no need to waste energy re-examining.” A celestial body is more difficult to see when obscured by a full-moon. That full moon is our current way of thinking, our conditioned views and perspective; and the more we draw upon the light of that moon, the brighter and more permanent it becomes. By default, in order for us to see the stars beyond the moon (our new perspectives), those stars have to shine brighter and be significant or different enough to capture our attention and overpower the moon; and the closer the star to the star to our sun, the brighter it needs to shine.
This is where being mindful, versus mindless, can be very beneficial in re-shaping our perspective in a given moment. Initially, we must recognize and acknowledge our mind’s over-reliance on past experience and how it may influence the current experience. Then, piggybacking off of that recognition, actively and intentionally bring our attention to the present moment. When we are actively engaged in the present moment and implicitly aware of the full context and landscape, we can revel in the novelty and uniqueness of the here and now; bringing curiosity, a fresh notebook and an opportunity to create new categories, definitions and, ultimately, new perspectives. Same seat, same body, new perspective, new life.
In our lives, obstacles, challenges, struggle, pain and loss are absolutely inevitable; they are a mandatory component of the human experience. This encompasses everything from misplacing our keys, to spilling our coffee to political turbulence, to the loss of loved ones. We can eliminate a great deal of anxiety and worry by getting this acknowledgement out of the way right now. By fully embracing this inevitability, but not dwelling on it, we will be better prepared to address anything that arises quicker and not get consumed by the emotions and ego-driven reactions that come with being blind-sided and unprepared. “Why me?” “Why now?” “How is this possible?” “I can’t believe this.” All of these are questions and mind-states that do not support our efforts, emotions or outlook and they take us away from the present moment. We want to shift to something that is closer to “This is what is actually here and from where I am standing, these are the emotions and feelings that are present.” Then ask if there is somewhere else to stand, a different angle or viewpoint? Not because one is right and one is wrong; all positions are valid. But, by keeping our attention grounded in the reality of the present moment, we create enough space and the opportunity to step back and ask “what am I not seeing? What am I not getting? What else is there?”
In general, many of the aforementioned examples centered around individual, segmented moments and occurrences. But what about big-picture perspective? What about the perspective from which we view our lives? The perspective from which we view our lives as part of a collective existence? Have we ever zoomed out enough and given any thought to these questions at all? There are countless directions we could go here and examples we could use, so I would like to just focus on a rather narrow illustration of the topic, just to grasp the general idea.
Many of us in Western Culture use financial and material metrics to measure personal success. And why wouldn't we? Virtually everything we are exposed to reinforce this idea. I drove this car for 3 years, my next car certainly needs to be a little better. I lived in this place for 5 years, when I move I need to get a bigger place in a better neighborhood. Last year my salary was X, next year my salary needs to be X+. This is not to say that we shouldn't want and work to achieve reliable transportation, a safe neighborhood or financial stability. But can you detach these acquisitions from your personal worth and success? Can you distinguish between what is best for you versus what is best for developing other’s opinions of you. Are there alternative ways of measuring worth, wealth and achievement? What if wealth was universally measured by time spent on hobbies or laughs per day. What if “thank-you’s” became the new dollar and half of your day was spent doing things for other people…. collecting thank you’s? What is your life’s truest currency? How would this “big-picture” perspective change alter your perspective of other aspects of your life?
So, to me, it feels very much like our perspective is composed of the camera and the lens. These lenses are the momentary tools of examination and intentional distortion that we can apply to expose the hidden glow of the silver-lining, reveal true or alternate colors and help to filer out the influence and conditioning of prior experience, personal judgements and bias. But what kind of camera are we placing these lenses on? How powerful is it? Are there spectrums of light that it could simply never detect and levels of zoom that are simply unavailable to it? A $10 disposable or a Polaroid will never be able to zoom and observe the details of microbe or take orbit and capture a full view of the earth… regardless of what lens you throw on the front. This is closely related to what I often refer to as the soundtrack or score of our life. Much like the music playing in the background of a movie, you may not be paying direct attention to it, but it is certainly influencing how you view that which you are paying attention to.
So where is your attention?
That is your life.
How are you perceiving that which you are giving your attention to?
That is how your life feels.
Same seat, same body, different perspective, different life.