If we could perceive ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING there is that exists in the world, and in our lives, we would most likely no longer exist. Strong statement I know, but think about it. In life, everything that happens to us happens at the exact time it’s meant to. What’s happening to you right now is exactly what you need. It may not be what you want but I can promise you that it always makes sense later on when you gain the wonderful power of perspective. The prerequisite is: you need to look for the blessings hidden in the greatest of challenges.
Everything makes a lot of sense in hindsight. It enables us to pull back from our self-centered responses to life and situations from the past, and gives us the opportunity to experience it again, later on, from a different perspective. Let me explain…
My husband and I were in Big Sur on a quick romantic getaway a few weeks ago, and on this particular trip I had a renewed response to the most simple of pleasures - a sunset. Who knew a sunset could have such a tremendous impact on me? And make me switch my focus from the immediate needs of day-to-day life to instead pay attention to all creation, not just people and to-do lists.
The second afternoon there I found myself watching the sunset – I know, I know, sounds all romanticized but give me a minute here… At first I watched from inside our hotel room, which was very lovely and pretty, and then I decided to go outside. I could feel a light breeze on my face, the warmth from the sun’s rays… it was magnificent, even heart felt. I took out my phone and decided to film it.
There I was filming this everyday occurrence, moving from inside the room to outside the room, to my phone (phones are so clever these days!), and then back to the screen as I watched the playback, and I realized how perception – due to our perspective – can change so drastically. I was watching the exact same sunset from altered vantage points. Each felt different. The very same sunset and yet each was an entirely different experience, and I didn't even need to move or change position! I merely changed my scope of perspective by using the video on my phone and my experience of this daily phenomenon was transformed.
In life we are either in the moment (the present) or we are on the outside looking in (the future). And then there’s always what lies in the past. Memory is a powerful thing. Most often than not we remember things as we experienced them, or we are reminded by way of retrospect—like watching it years later and experiencing it from another viewfinder.
I’m reminded of my birthday a few years back… I was in London at the time (wrestling with some serious jetlag… it was winning!) and my husband was in the country visiting a friend of ours. There I was alone, in London, in our hotel room and wide-awake at 4am. Our kids being fast asleep only added more pressure to fall asleep knowing that they would up in a few hours beckoning for my attention and cheerios. I was NO closer to sleep then as when I first rested my head on my pillow.
Before I had left for London my mom told me that she had found 21 videos documenting the first 21years of my life. My mom was constantly filming birthdays, special occasions, and random occurrences – which I hated by the way. I preferred her participation in what we were actually doing, to be present in the moment and not be so distracted. Anyway. All the videotapes were becoming severely damaged so I had them all transferred onto DVD months before, and lo and behold here they were, ALL TWENTY-ONE of them in my hotel room in London of all places! I still have no idea why they were sent to me, or why they arrived ON my birthday, in fact.
I was jetlagged and my curiosity had been piqued. I intended to just watch one (Ha! famous last words!). We all know what they say about “intentions”… 8 AM, TWENTY-ONE DVDs later, an entire box of tissues and I was completely emotionally wrought!
One video in particular really made an impact on me. It was Mother’s Day, I was 16 years old and my immediate family—all 25 of us—was having our traditional Mother’s Day brunch at the same Beverly Hills restaurant we always did. It was a similar scenario that reoccurred time and time again with my family: me and my sisters vying for my mother’s attention; my parents stressed and bickering about money and the in laws, and me stuck in the last place I wanted to be – naturally in the middle as the middle child – vacillating between fixing the situation and wanting to run away. In truth what I really wanted was to be alone with mother, although in those years I never did voice what I truly yearned for.
I remembered just how upset I had been that day, and watching the footage, the camera capturing a birds-eye view of the spectacle, I could see how upset and bothered I had felt. And I remember thinking, “Yep, that’s my childhood.” Feeling a twinge of self-pity, in fact. As I watched on I saw something quite different. The angle changed and the camera focused in on my mother.
Her father, my grandfather, had had a stroke earlier that year, and she was riddled with guilt. She had appointed herself with the burden and the responsibility that she “should have seen the warning signs so that this could have been avoided”. My mother was in so much pain and as the oldest child she was still trying to please her parents - to be the perfect strong child in an attempt to make everyone happy.
I was viewing a dynamic outside of my sense-of-self-lens and the whole picture changed. At 16 I did not have this perspective, but watching this video years later in my adulthood I was able to see the hurt in my mom’s face, the pain in her eyes, and I experienced that day—in that moment—completely differently. It wasn’t that my mom didn't make her kids a priority, or that she cared more about pleasing her parents, she was doing the best she knew how. In fact everybody was doing the best they could, but we all lacked the capacity to see each other’s perspective.
We know that life is all about perspective—ourselves in relation to things, people, experiences, situations—and perception—the meaning we give things, and how much weight and understanding we put into what we see and are sure of. Sometimes in the most obvious of things lies a deeper, undeniable truth and it takes curiosity, time and perspective to find out what that truth is.
It’s a powerful gift we have to be able to pull back the viewfinder and experience life outside of our selves. Ideas and situations that formed us from childhood, experiences that molded our character and personality, defining our identities can all be transformed the minute we stop internalizing them. We no longer have to be limited by a one-sided outlook once we alter our standpoint. It makes us stronger, more forgiving and keeps us growing. It also gives us the ability to let go of past hurts, because the way you were capable of experiencing something at age 5 or 15 is certainly different at 50.
Go back and revisit an experience from your past and see if you can take on a different perspective – knowing what you know now, and truly being open and willing to see another’s point of view.
- This week, I encourage you to look outside of your sense-of-self-lens. For each and every challenging situation you find yourself in, in relation to someone, pause, and try and put yourself in their shoes.
- Consider these words by Friedrich Nietzsche: “There are no facts, only interpretations.”
- BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT… need I say more?