Reflecting on reflections and perception
On a beautiful, moody morning my walk is shrouded in layered veils of purple through to neon pinks and orange. As I contemplate the beauty, I wonder if I am alone in what I see and feel. Is everyone moved and engulfed by nature and colour? Does everyone see what I see?
The echo of the sky mirrored in the fast-moving waters of a swollen river reflects similar shapes and patterns, less definition, blurred smudges of colour and an upsidedown world. A reflection for sure but not the same as its original counterpart.
My sense of reality is also a reflection. A reflection of what is physically there passed through the sifting pan of my own particular set of filters.
What I see, is not what you see exactly. The mirror’s reflection is a reversed picture. It is not the same as when you look at me. Even if it was, we still wouldn’t see the same. Because what we see is not what we note. And what we note is what we perceive and that is altogether much more varied than can be applied to the description of the physical elements of what we are looking at alone.
I am not just talking about physical perspective
When we look, we see not only with our eyes but also with our individual intrinsic set of beliefs, history, and experiences. This filters any information received via our senses and feeds our thoughts and emotions. Our perception alters our reality.
So my reality is unique to me, as is yours to you.
Of course, there are human, societal, national, international and global themes that can be applied to our individual understandings and perception. Whilst no two realities are the same there are many commonalities. You and I can find places where our individual realities match. This is the space where empathy lives. We find mutual support in our shared understanding and sense of knowing.
A friend recently advised me that when travelling in China he and his partner could not find a place to stay the night. Whilst his partner was enquiring at a hostel, he waited outside, rucksack at his feet, hot, tired and feeling miserable. He leant back on a bollard and embracing his black mood glared at the people passing by. And pass by they did, hurriedly.
Being a philosophical sort of chap, to amuse himself and pass the time he decided to conduct a social experiment.
Smiled, even though he was angry, tired and fed up. Smiled, even though it was not genuine. Smiled, just to see if it made any difference to anything.
Within 15 minutes his partner had returned and they were making their way to their accommodation for the night. Not the hostel. No, that was full.
Something had changed.
When he smiled, he found smiles being reflected. Despite the desperateness of his situation and the lateness of the day, his mood shifted as the shared smiles grew into mirrored nods of heads and the occasional vocalised greeting.
A man struck up a conversation and within 10 minutes an offer of a place to stay for the night was given. My friend and his partner spent a wonderful evening with the family of their new-found friend, enjoying great local food and a good night’s rest.
Did that smile change their immediate future?
Reality is subjective. And it is interesting to note that by altering our immediate response to a situation, we alter what is reflected back to us? It didn’t matter that my friend didn’t feel like smiling. His smile was still interpreted by others as something positive.
The possibility that individual reality can be malleable and emotions flexible may intellectually render the concept of any reality pointless. It is no longer absolute. It is no longer solid. It no longer feels reliable and comfortably predictable.
Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps reality was never meant to be fixed. Perhaps part of our learning to live successfully is to embrace the fact that our reality changes with our changing responses.
Awful things happen. Awful, painful, numbing, shaming, dreadful events can and do fall upon us. All of us will experience pain in our lifetimes. We cannot alter facts or events but we can all choose to actively monitor our response and dare to choose a different way. This is a little scary but also massively empowering. It might even be humanity’s superpower.
Gently and kindly and with compassionate curiosity conduct a few social experiments in your life, where you can safely. And just notice what changes.
Reflections and perceptions are subject to viewpoint and can be broken by a single drop of ripple causing water. And futures can be changed by a smile.
It’s got to be worth experimenting with, right?