Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - September 2023
“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin
When I reflect on my early childhood, what stands out most strongly is my insatiable curiosity and wonder with the world around me, a pure sense of what’s possible. Fast forward not too many years from that, however, and what stands out then is how quickly I’d learned “real life” is about what’s wrong instead – what’s wrong with me, with others, life, the world. That viewpoint defined my path for 30 years of adulthood; going along with it left me stressed, struggling, dissatisfied. Fast forward once more, to the present moment, and to my awareness that while I feel more content, grateful and peaceful than ever before, the viewpoint of what’s wrong, along with the struggle it evokes, seem to define our times … with family, friends, community, world. I’m curious what’s going on here.
What distinguishes those who live in contentment from those who live in struggle? What happened for me along the path that allowed me to regain my sense of what’s possible? Why is this so elusive for so many? I suspect we’re all easy prey for the what’s wrong view; our cultural conditioning is pervasive. But we must also have the power to move beyond it, or perhaps “back” … to the innate sense of what’s possible we once knew.
If you’re a regular reader, you know the emphasis I place on adopting a purposeful practice of quiet self-reflection – looking back (now) at how things went for you (then) – where “then” can be 10 minutes ago, a day or week ago, maybe years ago. Through this practice, you see – as an observer … rather than as a participant – just how your thoughts (even the unconscious ones) createwhat you experience as reality. The awareness you gain here (in this moment) is the most powerful tool you will ever have for creating lasting change (in the next moment).
Over the course of years now, this practice has helped me make sense of my world, understand my place in it, and envision my path ahead. I’ve learned why and how I do the things I do, and through the awareness gained, made choices that have helped me become more peaceful, content, grateful and productive, everywhere in my life. [I continually wonder why, with the potential this practice holds, so few even try it out, and fewer still adopt it.]
Think for a moment: If you look for what’s wrong, you’ll find it.; there’s plenty ‘wrong’ in the world. If you look for what’s possible, you’ll find that, too; so much is possible. Seeing what’s possible opens you to an exciting future, your innate potential, the wonder and mystery life holds. Seeing what’s wrong closes you to even the thought that such potential exists. Your viewpointdetermines the course of your life. You become the lens through which you see yourself, life and world. Here are a few examples of each; how has your life become your viewpoint?
“What’s possible” questions open you to a life you love: Who do I choose to be in this situation? What “wants” to happen here? What can I do, now …. given what is [already] true? How many “right answers” can I find? And any variant of I’m curious, I wonder, what if … All of these pull you to the future, toward your potential. All are based in non-judgmental acceptance of what has [already] happened … and a belief in yourself.
“What’s wrong” questions hold you back from a life you love: Whose fault is this? How could this happen (to me)? How do I “fix” it? Why did they (how could they) do this, anyway? And any variant of oh crap, why, how, I can’t. All of these keep you trapped in the past … in unacceptance of what has [already] happened, and denial of self. Often, seeing what’s wrong comes from a belief that your dislike of a situation can change it. It won’t.
I’m convinced that my daily reflective practice has shifted the course of my life … from unconsciously going along with old lessons that life is about what’s wrong … to consciously choosing to find possibility. I came to see how old programming held me back; and how releasing those beliefs returned me to the natural state of curiosity and wonder that was innately my own. The external circumstances of my life may have changed little. But they didn’t need to. The shift was about my ability to see those circumstances with new (or original) eyes.
Exercise: Your prevailing viewpoint. Sometimes the easiest way to discover the question through which you greet life is by looking at the way you have conversations. This is because we interpret most of our experiences through the lens of language. Stop for a few moments of quiet reflection each day. Replay in your mind several conversations from the day. Include a few that went as you “intended,” as well as a few that didn’t. You might even include a few conversations you had with yourself. Then notice, now, both the thinking and the perspective you had, then. What did you “want” from the conversation at the time? (to be right, to win, to resolve, to learn, to avoid, to manipulate). Be honest with what you discover here; it’s not always what you first believe. Notice carefully how aware of all this you were – in that moment. No need to judge yourself, or to try to change anything. It’s about learning. See if you can notice how every conversation actually goes just the way you “intend,” even if you were unaware of your intention in the moment. (If a conversation ended up “bad,” it’s likely because you unconsciously chose defensiveness.)
Now see if you can use the same exercise to discover the “prevailing viewpoint” you’ve adopted to greet the events, situations, people and challenges in your life. Allow your awareness and reflection (not your “thinking in the matter”) to formulate your answers. (Your “thinking in the matter” is nothing more than a replay of the old lessons you’re trying to ferret out.) As an example, if you discover you tend to see “what’s possible” everywhere yet you’re judgmental or angry much of the time, then go back and look at your replay more closely. (Both can’t be true at the same time; judgment/anger are clear signs of seeing “what’s wrong” instead.) Allow your growing awareness alone to create its own change. It will.
Life Lessons from Nature: Nature has mastered the art of what’s possible. Creations may come and go, yet the creative process is sustained. Uncertainty offers continual opportunity; creativity offers continual manifestation. When things are going smoothly, nature creates more of what works – replication (there’s never been a shortage of mosquitoes). In uncertain times, nature takes advantage of continual chance mutations, adapting the changes so manifested to fill new niches – evolution (brown bears with lighter fur and longer noses “adapted” to Arctic conditions … the result over many generations – polar bears). In times of turmoil, nature calls for something new – innovation (volcanoes, hurricanes, explosion of new species in the Cambrian period 540 million years ago). This same process causes loss, too, when life cannot adapt (wooly mammoth, dinosaurs, giant horsetails). In none of these – creation or extinction – is there judgment. If it works, it continues. If it doesn’t work, it stops. There’s never anything “wrong” in nature … just stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t.
Book of the month: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey to an Undivided Life, by Parker Palmer. Palmer suggests we tend to hide our true selves from our visible selves, living differently in different parts of life – perhaps so as to deny parts of us we don’t like. Herein lies the opportunity for wholeness, for meaning … allowing each part to embrace the other. He speaks strongly to the notion of being alone together. “Solitude does not mean living apart from others; it means never living apart from oneself. Community does not mean living face-to-face with others; it means never losing awareness that we are connected to each other.” We must learn to stand in the gap – to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better will emerge. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.