You don’t have to be Einstein to understand how the concept of relativity works us in our day to day lives. For several years I worked in Vermont during the month of January. Often during those periods the temperature in the early morning hovered around -12 degrees Farenheit. Even the yoga mat in the trunk of the car was frozen! And more than once, I would get stuck attempting to drive the winding mountain road and need to have the car towed out of a snowbank. My point about this is that when I then returned to New York City, most everyone I encountered was complaining about the unbearable cold weather when the temperature was in the mid-twenties. I didn’t feel cold at all; as a matter of fact I think I took some pleasure in saying that I thought it was balmy!
Consider how our experience as well as our body-mind perceptions of our circumstances contributes to this issue of relativity. If I hadn’t spent time in Vermont, I would certainly have been one among many complaining about how cold it was.
I realize that this seems relatively simplistic – I imagine you’re thinking of course that makes sense. But suppose you apply this concept to other aspects of how we order or relate to situations, ideas and relationships. For instance, the where and how you grew up, the place where you lived and the people with whom you shared your early years, are the basis for comparison later on. Again, of course. Well it might have been that you grew up in a remote part of the rainforest in Ecuador where your day to day life is dependent on the natural environment around you. Then you meet people who regard this environment of yours as a resource to be used but with an agenda that, relative to your way of being, is abusive and disrespectful. At the least, it would make appreciating their point of view very difficult. And, considering that the story they have lived by is focused on furthering technological development and doing whatever they can to support that way of life, it would be difficult for them to appreciate your perspective on the environment. Each of you looks at the situation from a relative position. There is a different reality for each of you.
Consider another story where you grow up in a poor urban environment with a family constellation that shifted many times during your early years. Perhaps there were often struggles for food, shelter and education. From this perspective, those that had a stable family and enough money to serve their needs might seem privileged in a way beyond your own options. They might not have much awareness of the circumstances in which you are living just as you may have a sense about how they live based on assumptions about how different they seem. Again each of you has a different reality relative to your circumstances and experience.
What I wonder is how the sense of “differentness” might be set aside to see/understand the other more clearly. Somewhere along the way, during the development of our species, we decided that our experience is THE ONLY REALITY or THE RIGHT REALITY. What we need to appreciate is that there are multiple realities and they are all relative to who is in it and who is outside. Perhaps the solution resides in each taking his/her own sense of reality a little more lightly so we can be more open to the reality next door. Relatively speaking, that is.
Perspective is the kind of tool that we don’t normally even think of as a tool, let alone attempt to understand it’s impact on our lives. Looking toward the beginning of a new year, it makes sense to take a closer look at how our perspective affects what we do and our view of who we are. For the most part we consider our perspective to reflect the reality of ourselves and the world around us. We function as if our view of life is a mirror giving a clear image of everything exactly as it is. Might there be a bit more to it than that?
There seems to be a continuum on which our perspective, on any given day or at any given moment, is poised. Not to say that one is good or bad or better than the other, but it can be important to distinguish which is which. How does this perspective or point of view or frame of reference serve us now? What can we learn from viewing what’s happening from a different perspective? How can we keep from getting stuck in one way of seeing or understanding and develop the ability to shift perspective? The bigger question is whether we have a choice in how to view what’s happening in the moment of being in it.
I suspect we develop an affinity for some particular way of looking at ourselves and our life situations. We may have a propensity for diving into a narrow view or a close up of what we are looking at. It can be a matter of focus – sometimes it is more functional to focus awareness on what is right in front of us and other times it serves us better to step back and take a broader view. But there must be a level of awareness that helps us discern which view to lean into or away from.
Sometimes the situations in which we find ourselves cause a shift in our view without our even being aware. When life offers what feels like too much, in the midst of shock or overwhelm, it can seem that we have lost perspective. Unable to focus on detail or take in the bigger picture, how is it possible to sort through what is in front of you? Seems the first step is to appreciate exactly where you are right now – breathing in and out in a conscious way, feeling your body whatever way it is at the moment and simply noticing. Being mindful of what’s happening now.
Most of what gets in the way during times like these is the drive to act or respond in the face of not knowing what to do next. Or it may be the desire for the situation to be different. In either case, your energy is committed to this drive or that desire. If instead, you take a deep breath and allow yourself to be fully where you are, you open up space for a shift in perspective and a choice to be made. Being in the present moment supports your ability to step back and take in the bigger picture and also to focus in on the detail but to do both in a less energetically attached way.
Appreciate that this way of being present to yourself is essentially a moment of freedom. Enjoy it. Savor it. Acknowledge that it will change. And smile, because you can always get it back.
The past few days, in particular, have been alive with talk of gratitude. There has been much intention around being thankful for what one has, with the “what” ranging from health to family and friends, a house, a job, food on the table, and objects that hold significance for us. Of underlying importance is the motivation to appreciate the people or things that otherwise may be taken for granted as we move through our daily lives. The moments of “counting our blessings” are valuable and help to shift our view to the larger picture of what is important for us. However, the caution to be offered is not to be content to stop at this point. There is an even bigger perspective possible.
The question to pose is whether one can also feel gratitude for the events or relationships that are difficult, even devastating. It’s not so easy to have warm, loving feelings when considering these situations, especially when they happen to us or someone we love. Generally what shows up are emotions of anger and rage or the sense of being pommeled with waves of grief and despair. How can one be with these sensations in a loving way? How can one feel thankful? Perhaps this seems beyond what should be asked or expected.
What is involved is not simply moving through anger and blame to be able to get to a place of forgiveness. Such a shift already demands the letting go of one’s hold on intense thoughts and feelings surrounding the event or relationship. How to even imagine getting to the point where one could identify “gratitude” as the sensation that is present? If one could get to that point, how to explain being appreciative in an atmosphere where anger and grief can serve as important additives to fuel vengeful or retaliatory actions and events?
There cannot be one right way to open the door to gratitude for what tears us apart inside. However, tools do exist that can support movement in that direction, toward a letting go of suffering. Isn’t “suffering” the bigger name for what is happening when one is consumed by anger, rage, blame or grief? In the midst of the storm of these emotions, there is also energy which can bring about change in moments of full, present awareness. Being with one’s self in meditation, in movement or stillness, can bring one’s body/mind to a place of mindfulness. In that place, one can make a choice to let go. It may not happen right away; practice is needed. The guidance of a trained practitioner or teacher may be helpful. The next steps involve repeatedly going back to that place to keep the door to gratitude open. A shift can happen from meeting life’s situations with reactivity to meeting them with receptivity. What is truly most amazing about opening to gratitude in this way is that the reward is a taste of what it really means to be free.
To begin, one need only imagine and hold the intention that there is, in fact, a door to be opened…