“The world exists as you perceive it.
It is not what you see, it is how you see it.
It is not what you hear, but how you hear it.
It is not what you feel, but how you feel it.”
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, known as Rumi in the West, was a 13th century Persian poet, theologian and Sufi Mystic. Nearly one thousand years ago his acute insight into the nature of man and consciousness had already laid bare the truth about our world. The truth is that there are as many versions of the world, life and existence as there are people alive to experience it.
OUR PERCEPTION OF THE WORLD IS ENTIRELY UNIQUE TO EACH OF US
The truth is that nobody sees the world as it IS. Instead we see the world as WE ARE. Science has proven that the human eye can see up to ten million different colors. The notion of “blue” is an approximation of a million shades of a similar color we experience similarly to one another, but never exactly the same. You can be standing next to your twin, and looking at the same exact painting in the same exact lighting, and you’ll have two completely different impressions of what you’re seeing.
Pair the variability of our impressions from the world with the fact that our brains are always juggling data, senses and perception to form a mental picture of what we’re experiencing, and you can begin to grasp the chasm of variability in human experience. Everyone’s brains are doing this, every second of every day, and no two narratives their brains have created are the same. There are no two people on Earth who will have the exact same experience, regardless of how identical and timely their experiences are.
HOW WE INTERPRET THE WORLD, AND WHOSE DEFINITIONS ARE BEING ASSIGNED TO OUR EXPERIENCES, FORGES OUR BELIEFS ABOUT THE WORLD
Moving beyond the minutiae of the variability of our physical impressions of the world around us, meaning the uncertainty of something as simple as the uniformity of a shade of blue, how we interpret situations becomes even more muddied and varying between people. These variances in how we interpret the physical input of the world makes a huge difference to how we react to it. This is where marketing gurus, political spin masters and others have found a way to insert their agendas and drive the narratives that we assign our experiences, and each other, in very subconscious ways.
There are two parts to this process. The first is sometimes called the ABC Model of Emotions. Bearing in mind that thoughts that illicit emotions within us are almost always given more weight and seen as “truth” in our minds, let’s explore this process further.
THE ABC MODEL OF EMOTIONS
The “A” represents the literal situation itself – what a video camera would record. The “B” is the interpretation our brains give to the scene – the narrative, or story, that we create out of the situation. This often flows just beneath the surface of awareness. It’s not something we think about doing consciously, and in the middle of the experience we rarely stop to reflect on the “story” we’re assigning to the experience, and yet we often accept the story we’ve created about what is happening as fact. The “C” is our reactions: our emotions, our bodily sensations and our impulses to act in various ways as a result of the experience.
Typically most people will see the A and C portions quite clearly, but are not usually aware of the B part. Which is unfortunate. The B portion of this process is automaticity in action. It’s part of the automatic processes of the brain, as it attempts to accept an abundance of information and data all of the time, and to make symmetry and sense out of all of it so that it’s useful to us. This is how human beings survived for millennia.
If every time we saw a sabre tooth tiger we had to stop and contemplate when and how we’d seen one before, we’d have been eaten to extinction a long time ago. The B portion of this process allows us to come to quick conclusions about our experiences so that we can also quickly move on to the response, or C portion of the model.
HOW OUR BELIEFS ARE TAKEN FOR GRANTED AND INFLUENCE OUR OBSERVATIONS AND LIVES
The B part of this process is the reason behind all of our actions, beliefs and more in this world. The narrative we assign to experiences is the impetus for every action we take. It’s entirely subjective, and unconscious. For anyone who’s not in control of their mindset, or not running a conscious program to be aware of their thinking, their belief systems, and where the definitions they accept for people, places and situations come from, this is a very dangerous thing.
The truth is that most of us have been programmed with certain beliefs our whole lives and haven’t thought about them once. If you’ve allowed outside influence to write your mental programming, to convince you that certain people are certain ways, or that falsehoods are truths, then the entire reasoning and determination behind all of your actions is a false narrative and a disservice to your entire BEING. One you’re not even aware that exists.
People think that the situations and experiences they find themselves in are what arouses their feelings and emotions, based on irrefutable facts they hold to be true. When, in fact, it was their interpretation of their situations and experiences that caused their reactions. They may feel vindicated and righteous for feeling and reacting a certain way. When the truth is that their entire conclusion and visceral reactions are entirely of their own making and in no way founded in truth in reality.
THIS IS THE CRUX AND TRUTH OF HUMAN DISPARITY. THIS IS THE BASIS OF THE MYTH OF ‘US VS THEM’. THIS IS THE APPARATUS THAT POLITICAL SPIN MASTERS USE TO SWAY THEIR GROUP/BASE. THIS IS HOW THE FOOD MANUFACTURERS HAVE CHANGED OUR BELIEFS ABOUT WHAT CONSTITUTES HEALTHY EATING AND WHAT WE SHOULD FEED OUR CHILDREN.
We have allowed outside forces to create and reinforce our definitions of the very fabric of our lives. And by the very nature of the human mind, they’ve therefore defined all of our experiences and very existence through the lens of their own definitions. They’ve sown discord and untruths to suit their agendas and created immense pain, separation and dishonesty into everyone’s lives and most people have no idea it’s happening.
THE WORLD IS A SILENT FILM, AND WE THE DIRECTORS
Think about the world and your place in it as if the world were a silent film. The sounds and drone of constant information input fades to background noise, and then there is silence. All that’s left is our perceptions of the experiences we go through, and how we write our own commentary. That might be okay, if we’re awake and aware of the trappings of our minds and are careful of whose definitions we’re buying into to define our experiences. But most people aren’t.
And the commentary we’re writing to define our experiences, with our explanations of “what is going on” happens so fast that most people don’t even blink at what they see as “truth.” They take it to be part of the film, part of the fabric of reality without subjective input. Blue is just blue, right?
HOW OUR MINDS PROPOGATE LIES (INACCURATE CONSTRUCTS) THAT KEEP OUR EMOTIONS AND EVEN ENTIRE SOCIETIES DOWN
As time passes it can become progressively more difficult to separate the “real” facts of a situation from its interpretation. And once such a propaganda stream has begun, it can be more and more difficult to argue against it. By our very nature, all future events will be interpreted to support the narrative we’ve written as status quo. Any competing information is ignored and cajoled. Any supporting facts will be wholeheartedly embraced.
An example would be the milk industry. Milk does a body good, right? At some point it started as a marketing slogan for the milk industry, and after generations having been told as truth, most people believe it. We see beautiful celebrities with milk mustaches telling us it’s true, and a handful of studies that say it’s possibly true. So is it true? The American Pediatric Association doesn’t recommend children be given whole cow’s milk AT ALL under the age of one. Children ages 2-5 aren’t recommended to drink more than 2 cups of milk per day. After that there’s no recommendation for children (let alone adults) to be given milk to drink at all. Why is this? Because milk is not healthy. While it can increase stores of vitamin D in children, it also decreases their stores of iron. Milk, as it’s sold today, has an allowance for pus. Because the animals are unnaturally kept in a lactation cycle their entire lives, their bodies are fighting inflammation constantly. Which is why they’re fed a diet of antibiotics, which we are drinking in their milk. Sugar and sweetening agents are also added to cow’s milk sold commercially to suit the American pallet. So does milk really do a body good? Not so much.
The entire American diet is another example of how our belief system was written by someone else, and not for our wellbeing. The average American will consume 154 pounds of sugar every year. You read that right. It’s not the sugar you add to your coffee either. It’s the ridiculous amounts of sugar that’s added to processed food. There is sugar in literally almost everything you eat that comes out of a box, or out of a can, or a squeezy bottle. Why? Because sugar is addictive, and it makes you hungry again faster. If you’re hungrier, you buy and eat more food. The obesity epidemic today is a direct result of the food industry trying to increase its profits. Add on top of the that the false narrative that sandwiches, cheese, canola oil, eating lots of meat and more are healthy that’s been passed down through generations and accepted as fact, and you have a recipe for a health disaster.
We’ve been told what to believe, and by the automatic processes of our minds we’ve accepted supporting evidence and dismissed contradictory evidence and have accepted their inputs as our own belief system. To our own detriment, and that of our children and future generations.
YOUR MIND’S RUNNING COMMENTARY ON THE WORLD IS LIKE A RUMOR
The mind’s running commentary on the world is like a rumor. It might be true, it might only be partially true—or it might be completely wrong. Unfortunately, the mind finds it very difficult to detect the difference between fact and fiction once it has begun to construct a mental model of the world. For these reasons, rumors can be incredibly powerful and derail not just the minds of individuals but of whole societies.
Our thoughts are like rumors in the mind. They might be true, but then again, they might not be.
Take self-criticism as an example: when we are feeling stressed or vulnerable, we only hear the inner critic and not the quieter voice of compassion. If we do hear an alternative to the unsettling self-deprecating thoughts, we mostly likely won’t believe them. The emotional punch behind the negative thoughts is so powerful that they overwhelm all of our logic. Any time a thought carries heavy emotional weight behind it, our minds tend to believe it as true. If we dismiss our thoughts as “nonsense” or tell ourselves to “get a grip” or to “pull yourself together” then this further lowers our morale, leaving us wide open to further feelings of weakness and inadequacy.
To make matters even worse, every time the tape of self-criticism begins to roll, we immediately start embellishing the story. We begin trawling our minds for supporting evidence of our ineptitude and ignore everything to the contrary. It’s the same way with our beliefs about others. If your belief is that a certain nationality, religion or race behaves a certain way consistently, you will accept supporting evidence and reject any evidence to the contrary until your beliefs becomes conviction. Conviction is a very dangerous place to be, where the need for conscious thought is removed entirely from your reasoning and your belief is accepted as truth regardless of experience.
Is it any wonder then, that the rumor mill in our minds can cause us so much unnecessary suffering in our own lives and in the lives of those around us?
RECOGNIZING THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES FOR WHAT THEY ARE CAN HELP US TAKE BETTER CARE OF OURSELVES AND OUR WORLD
Instead of confronting the mind’s rumor mill and disputing its assertions with logic and “positive thinking,” it may be easier to step outside this endless cycle and just watch the thoughts unfold in all their fevered beauty. If you are able to recognize your thought, or belief, as just one possibility instead of truth, you can derail the process whereby your mind accepts supporting evidence of that “truth” and dismisses evidence to the contrary. If you believe every person who wears blue shirts are selfish narcissists, but consider the possibility that your belief may not be true, you open yourself up to accepting opposing evidence and broadening your mind and living a much more positive way.
The truth is that developing the ability to stand outside of your thoughts and reflect on them objectively can be difficult. Even people who are adept as mastering the mind, like those who practice mindfulness, can struggle to detach the label of “truth” from many of their own beliefs. Personal growth and development, in this way, takes great effort.
If you look closely at the “rumors” that start washing around the mind when you feel stressed, you’ll see how much a part of you they really appear to be. They carry quite a punch and may be central to what you believe about yourself and the situation in which you find yourself, and life in general.
When we feel stressed and life is frantic, negative self-deprecating thoughts about yourself and others feel like the absolute truth about us and the world. But they are, in fact, symptoms of stress, just as having a high temperature is a symptom of the flu.
Becoming aware that these thoughts are symptoms of stress and exhaustion, rather than facts that must be true, allows you to step back from them. And this grants you the space to decide whether to accept them. It’s also a form of self-care and compassion. If you’re starting to fall into snap-judgments and mean thinking about yourself and others, it’s a red flag that you’re in need of care. You may need food, a nap or simply a break to reclaim your head space.
A WIDE MIND AND BROAD WORLD DISPELLS SMALL NOTIONS
Enhancing your ability to sense when your mind and body are signaling that things are turning negative and self-attacking or judgmental, being able to notice the times when your reactions are pulling you into a downward emotional spiral of small thinking, is the beginning of freeing yourself from mental programming and a negative self-narrative that is keeping you down.
Start by noticing that you’re sensing your thoughts and feelings turning against you or others when it happens. This isn’t only the “I’m such a loser” self-speak that we all experience. This includes the quick and baseless judgements about people who are different, or cultures that are outside of your world.
Noticing those thoughts, and how they’re working behind the scenes in your mind is one thing. Learning how to prevent them from gaining unstoppable momentum is quite another.
The truth is that most people are completely comfortable living in their small worlds and small minds. It takes zero effort to just continue existing in the same way that you always have. It’s easy to accept the narrative of others who may sound smart, or convincing, especially if they’re reaffirming a belief or conclusion you had already begun on your own. After all, it’s human nature to accept the evidence to support our beliefs and to reject the ones that don’t. It’s easy to narrow the focus of our lives until everything the same and similar as us is comforting, and everything outside of that box is bad, or less valuable, or unsafe. It’s easy to live in that small frame of mind in a small vanilla world, but it’s not better. It’s not safer, not really. And it’s not as interesting as embracing the wide expansiveness of reality outside of WHO YOU ARE.
THE CURE TO THE COMMON, SMALL MIND
It’s easy to have a small mind and live in a small world. But we’re growers here, we’re overachievers and evolvers, not small thinkers. Today is the best day for throwing off the notions, definitions and programming we’ve suffered at the hands of others.
Experiences are the answer. Have as many experiences outside of your home, and your comfort zone as possible. Take a dance class. Eat at a new restaurant. Travel. Meet new people. Better yet, find people you don’t know much about, or believe the worst about, and let them change your mind. Let them show you evidence to the contrary of what you believe and accept the possibility that your belief can be changed. Then accept that evidence as your new truth. Break the constraints of your small-minded past and stretch to become the next, best version of yourself.
Broaden your mind to accept evidence to the contrary of what you believe. And through it all carry an awareness within your mind of the B section of the ABC Model of Emotions and how others work to write your narrative in their image, with zero interest in your wellbeing.
If you remember one thing you’ve read today, when you’re responding to situations and experiences keep in mind the narrative you’re creating. Question the voracity of your own conclusions. Dismiss the propensity to judge others harshly and poorly, after all we’re all just human. Most importantly embrace compassion at all times, both for yourself and for others.