I believe we can find our personal empowerment in choice. Over time and/or through conditioning we sometimes narrow our perspective of ourselves and life situations, limiting our ability to see the myriad of choices in any given moment. Why not widen our scope (through awareness and curiosity) and discover the multitude of options around us for how we might feel, perceive, think and act in relation to situations and people.
I realize keeping our choices limited might feel easier at times. (Some people have expressed to me that having more options can feel overwhelming and that keeping it ‘small’ brings a sense of safety or control.) But I am only suggesting you become aware of the possibilities…….ultimately you don’t have to choose to feel or act differently. Even when we continue to choose what is familiar, the practice of expanding our awareness of other possibilities is a profound tool in our complex world as humans.
I imagine this can all sound a bit vague……so I will try to offer some examples.
Here is a possible scenario…….
Let’s say I am having a disagreement with a friend and I walk away feeling committed to the perception that they are wrong and I am right. I perceive the situation in black or white terms. (I can certainly stay in this perception and whatever happens will happen.) And……I can also begin to question elements of the situation without placing blame or sense of right & wrong. If I allow myself to soften I can begin to see more options of perspective and viewpoint that lead me into a a wider circle of possibility. These new possibilities of thinking can help shift me out of my old conditioning and limited perspective.
Again, when I let go of my attachment to the familiar ‘I am right’ then suddenly anything is possible as far as my ability to choose a new reaction, response or even become more compassionate.
(I know that I certainly feel more vulnerable when I let go of attachment and open up to other perspectives…..but ultimately I grow and in that there is greater freedom.)
When I find myself in any situation like this I often walk away and then begin to ask myself questions as if I were a neutral bystander. I ask gentle and probing questions into my behavior and also look to uncover as many ideas (without knowing which might be more valid than another) about the other persons behavior. The key for me is always just being curious but not attached to an ‘answer’ because in the alchemy of human interactions I have found there is rarely a single answer or ‘reason’. (And I know that when I describe it here it sounds so neat and tidy….but believe me…..sometimes my process might be a little messy as I sort through my emotions & protective ego along the way.)
This method of ‘black or white’ thinking (‘one or another’ as the only possibilities) is a prevalent form of human assessment. I think we take comfort in having an answer as opposed to seeing the many possibilities and not really knowing what might be ‘true’.
And yes, sometimes we have past experience that informs us and this is a fundamental way in which we learn. (I touched the hot toaster, I burnt my finger and now I know not to touch it again.) We come to know our world through this process and it often works quite well. But there is a whole realm of non-black or white (or hot/cold) situations…… remembering this can be liberating.
When we limit ourselves to only seeing things as ‘it is this way or it is that way’ or ‘they are this or they are that’….how does that truly serve us, others or the world?
Another example of limited perception is how we might feel about something that has happened in the past. We often unknowingly ‘assign’ a particular emotion to an event and perhaps don’t take the time to notice there might be a multitude of other possible emotions that are also true. At any point we have the power to choose how we feel and perceive. Even if the predominant emotion is ‘sad’ or ‘happy’ they are most likely accompanied by other feelings all interconnected. It is unlikely to have any of these emotions exist in a vortex on their own.
(All emotions have overtones of the others and we are able to find variation in our emotions when we change from thinking in singular and narrow terms alone…happy, sad, anger, fear).
When we open ourselves to a greater range of possibilities, we might discover new information about our relationship with an event and gradually begin to integrate what we discover, therefore shifting how we label and relate to it.
Any time we simply react or follow our habitual emotional response to a situation or memory, we minimize our personal potential because we forfeit choice.
Each of us is amazingly complex and has a continuous system of thoughts and feelings flowing through us. Due to conditioning we might end up having the same perspective, thoughts and feelings time after time.
A great analogy might be comparing this constant stream of thoughts to something like a river.
In this sense we are immersed in a river constantly (the ‘river’ being these thoughts/feelings) and you see the same rocks (perceptions) over and over again along the banks of this river. You might also attempt to cling to the same branch at a certain point. But through practice (opening our focus and letting go of attachment to ‘right or wrong’) we may begin to see the sky, trees, colors and even the horizon. Why not open our personal lens and practice taking in all that is possible? Why not allow a little bit of surrender while in that river of thoughts and emotions and see where it takes you? You can always return to the safety of the familiar rocks or branch…… but what if you choose to expand the landscape of possibility? What if you could also perceive other thoughts, feelings and perspectives in the landscape beyond the familiar?