He was obviously out getting exercise. There was something else that distinguished him, he had no right arm!
I thought, at least he is not letting his disability get the best of him. There he was taking care of himself, even though he had been through something very traumatic. My heart went out to him and I felt a wave of admiration at the same time. From his age, I speculated he might have been a Vietnam veteran and lost his limb in the war. These thoughts coursed through my mind as I closed the gap between us with my car.
As I passed him, I looked up at the rearview mirror. As my emotions ran from admiration to empathy, I noticed one salient fact. He indeed had a right arm! He was using it to scratch his back. You see, he never lost his arm in combat. He lost his arm somewhere in my mind.
How could this have happened? How could I have been so wrong? It is simple, really. I have a mind that wants to fill in the blanks to create meaning before all of the facts are in. But isn't this really the problem so many of us face?
We enter into life's circumstances with all kinds of preconceptions, judgments, and meaning making. Our automatic mind, based on our conditioning and our nature, creates perception. And, as the apostle Paul said, "We see through a glass darkly." Why is that? Why is our perception so distorted? Because we allow it. It is easier to let our conditioned mind make value judgments and create meaning for us, than it is to set all that aside and exercise what might be called innocent perception. That is perception that exists only in the moment. That is the ability to see clearly, without judgment. Remember, judgment is the original sin of mankind. Innocent perception takes practice, and we are not like God, judging good and bad, blessing and misfortune. One thing is for sure. We are beyond arrogance. For we rarely see what is. We don't accept what is. We think we know better. When we do, we in effect become God's god.
Shouldn't our primary job be to clear out the clutter, the loudness, the violence, and the hostility in our own minds––that drives our perception––before we act on what we think we see and try to change the realm of our perception?
Why are perceptions so important? Perception is the trigger for memory, for earlier learning through experience, and for emotions. In fact, the nervous system is activated by perception. Moment by moment our primitive brain is trying to decide, "Do we need to fight or flee?" "Do we need to become predator or prey?" It is all about survival. Through early experiences, almost all of which occur before we are five years of age, we lay down a set of survival patterns triggered by our perceptions. There is a system of cortical and sub-cortical structures continually vigilant for any threats to our survival.
The problem is, by the time we are adults, these patterns have attached themselves to non-threatening things...like people we disagree with, or things we don't like, or differences in others. These perceptions are the bars of our self-made prison. But we love our prison––our opinions, our judgments against others, and our philosophies. Unfortunately, as addicted to these things as we are, we also have a brain that left unchecked––keeps us imprisoned. For Lions the prison is built out of the perception of rejection and how everything appears so personal. For Unicorns the prison cell is constructed of the threat of things being out of control and the perceived conflict that is a result of being close.
As we face one another in a relationship, our conditioned ego mind is giving us a perception of the other person which stimulates all kinds of emotions and reactive behaviors. But just as importantly, it prevents us from seeing each otherï¿½s pain. It prevents the compassion that is the fuel of intimacy. Finally, it prevents us from the divinity that is dramatically unfolding in each moment.
Adapted from the Lion/Unicorn theory of relationships developed by Mark Waller.
MARK WALLER, PH.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, speaker/trainer, and an award winning writer. For info on how to purchase his new book: The Dance of the Lion and the Unicorn: The Secret of Conscious Relationships, Please visit his website at www.markwaller.com Mark can be reached at: 714-528-8484 or 909-238-9434 firstname.lastname@example.org