Tea for Two: On Reality and Perception

We seem to talk about reality in limiting ways. Reality as a constant, as a larger force beyond our control, a life truth. The thing is, reality is all of these things because we create it to be that way. Often, when returning from a vacation or doing something fun we’ll say, “Back to reality!” as if the relaxing and happy feelings we were having are not sustainable in our daily lives. I mean, certainly every day isn’t a picnic, and the expectation for joy all the time is hardly attainable. Few of us can afford to minimize our life stresses. This makes the return to routine harsh. How come “the grind” “is what it is” and anything else is to believe in an illusion? Might we be able to accept more joyful moments as real?

While beginning to examine how we might create our own realities, like paying attention to our thought narratives, noticing how deeply we rely on them as truth, or noticing what changes in perspective can do for our feelings and how we live our lives are all great practices, there are still plenty of stopping points. Maybe doing all of that inner work feels like it takes you only so far. What about the reality that seems impending on us, the reality of world that seems to happen to us? To deny the realities of war, disease, injustice, climate change, etc. is dangerous, but changing our perception of reality does not mean we have to reject what is in front of us (or behind us!). Instead, maybe we ask more questions. Maybe we do more listening. The best way I can understand the realities of the world, the ones we individuals don’t seem to have much control in creating, I remember that the world realities are still created, only on a system level. And it takes a collective of individuals to form a system. I suppose at the very least the relationship between an individual and society is bi-directional. That is, they affect each other. Do you ever wonder how much of your worldview, your outlook on life and how you know what you know, is shaped by the systems by which we live? I began to explore this in research about generations, how the state of the world impacts the way an individual or group of individuals (a generation) form a perspective. In many ways we are products of our society. But going back to the idea of bi-directional relationship, the way we understand, act and react to societal system creations is the way we fuel (or dismantle) the creations on the larger scale and apply it smaller scale to our personal day to day. 

The lens we see through

When you explain something to someone or are thinking, which direction do your eyes go? Those who interpret the world mostly visually glance upwards, those who are mostly auditory glance sideways/off to the side, and those who are feelers glance downward. Perhaps this relates to your learning style; those who follow a recipe only with pictures or video might be the visuals, avid podcast listeners might be the auditory side glancers, and the hands-on learners and DIYs might be the feelers. This also shows up in language. Visual people will say “I see” a lot, like “I see potential…”. Auditory people of course say “I hear” a lot, like “I hear you” and the feelers are all about “I feel” as in, “I feel like that’s been happening a lot lately.” Sometimes these sensory perceptions replace “I think” statements. A therapist, who is also a professor of mine, talks about how noticing the way people perceive is a key to better communication and understanding, even persuasion! His clients respond to him better as a therapist when he begins to “speak their language” and shows that he is willing to accept the perspective they’re coming from. If you respond to a visual person with “Hear me out”, their ability and desire to follow what you have to say might be less than if you were to say, “Look at it this way.” Each of us takes in the world through our senses and then makes sense of it. To meet people at their way of knowing is to bridge better understanding both ways. 

Speaking of language, there’s a TEDtalk where a woman explains cultural differences in view demonstrated by language use. An example she uses is the response to an image of someone accidentally falling while knocking over a vase. English speakers are more likely to say “They broke the vase” rather than Spanish speakers who likely would say “The vase broke.” The way different languages are constructed imply different meanings. One imposes blame, and one indicates an accident. Neither are wrong, only different ways of expressing the reality of a situation. 

We can become aware of the reality we create by noticing our habitual ways of perception(seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking), and how we express it in language. We can better understand others’ perspectives and nature of reality by noticing their expression and modes of absorbing the world. Since our reality often informs us of what we know, we can challenge that source of knowledge by perceiving from a less dominant sense. Sometimes examining sources of knowledge unravel what we think we know. This can be unsettling to a point where many people choose to repress or ignore it and continue to live by the “truths” they’re accustomed to. Others find that shifting is creating a better life for themselves than they could have imagined. 

This Goddess helps us to experience from different perspectives: the four elements, other living creatures, etc.

So, technically I’m suggesting in this post that because we create reality that much of what we experience is an illusion. Yikes. Followed by, connecting more deeply with others and ourselves is to determine which of our senses is our primary way of experiencing reality. Now, to the former statement one could argue that to believe reality is an illusion is also itself an illusion. This argument however is in some agreement that reality is an illusion. How easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole of madness while exclaiming “What is real?!” What is real, indeed. Personally, I think the idea that to grip reality is coming to terms with “what is” is misunderstood. I think that it is very simple for us to believe that “what is” has to be the reality in which we are “grounded,” the one that is constant, happening to us, and the apparent ultimate truth. We feel like we have to stay grounded in this “what is” because it seems to be the only way to function in society, contribute to it, and survive. Our society has quickly condemned anyone who disturbs this order by giving them disorders. Systems don’t fit to us, we must fit to them. I won’t go further here; the point is that maybe coming to terms with “what is” is to be more present, to acknowledge our existence in more moments. 

A mad conversation at tea from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Narrowing in to moment by moment allows us to see, hear, smell, and feel the “what is.” A grip on reality doesn’t have to be accepting everything that seems “to be” all at once or giving over all power to whatever it is that is making things happen to you. This is ego talking! Instead, reality might be surrendering to the breathe you take, experiencing what existing is like in a contemplative moment to apply to all other moments, and understanding your role as a co-creator so things are happening with you and for you. Easier said than done, of course. I think to better understand reality and to understand the purpose of existence is to begin by really experiencing what it feels like to simply exist because your perception of existence is what truly informs your experience. 

Here’s to hoping this wasn’t as difficult to read as it was to write! But I mean, it’s all relative right? *Wink ; )

3 thoughts on “Tea for Two: On Reality and Perception

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