What if We Have it All Wrong?
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to become attached to your favorite possessions? Maybe it's the broach your grandmother left you, or the dream car you finally bought, or the Mother's Day card your child made in kindergarten. The thought of losing a treasured possession like these may be difficult. If you have ever suffered through a house fire or flood you know only too well how challenging it can be to let it all go.
What about our attachment to our jobs, our spouses, or our children? There is often considerable pain involved when we have to let go of our work in the world or the people we love. Yet, truly loving means we care called to do just that.
Master teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us "We must love in such a way that the person you love feels free."
And what about our attachments to our way of thinking, or our way of being? What if we have it all wrong? On some level we all must choose to believe in a certain version of reality, but science and esoteric spiritual wisdom tell us that it is impossible to know what really exists - what Reality actually is.
What we think we see is not really what is out there...
During my recent doctoral studies I came across some interesting information that proves just how unreliable our perception of our environment can be. At the University of Virginia, psychologists Dennis R. Proffitt & Jessica Proffitt Witt stood at the base of a hill on campus and asked passing students to estimate its steepness. People’s tendency to overestimate increased by more than a third when they had just run an exhausting race. The same discrepancy occurred when subjects wore a heavy backpack, were elderly, or were in poor physical condition or declining health.
The study's authors put it this way: “Your conscious perception of slant depends on your current ability to walk up or down hills—hard work that should not be undertaken lightly. If you are tired, frail, scared or carrying a load, your assessment of the hill—the one that guides your actions—will differ from what you see. Not by choice, but by design. It is the way you are wired.”
They repeated the experiment by having the subjects stand at the top of the hill to estimate its steepness as they looked down. Some were on skateboards, some on well-secured platforms. Those on skateboards routinely saw the hill as steeper, especially if they felt afraid.
The conclusion? Perception is not fixed: it is flexible, reflecting a person’s physiology. In reality, our perception of life is always colored by our mental, physical and emotional state.
So what if we do really have it all wrong?
Is it worth clinging to our point of view if it is causing pain to ourselves and others? I am not talking about being a pushover here. I am talking about making a conscious choice to let go of our attachment to our way of thinking - especially in moments of conflict - and lean into what else might be true.
Letting go doesn't mean giving up or withdrawing - that's just as problematic as digging in. Rather, letting go means creating space for other possibilities, ones we can only see when we are no longer attached to our viewpoint. It means leaning in and becoming curious about what we might not know and wondering how our current physiology might be impacting our perception of reality.
If we want to experience a more fulfilling version of reality, we may want to practice helping ourselves unhook from the idea that being right means being safe and see instead that safety comes more often from feeling a healthy connection to others.
So the next time you find yourself locked in opposition to another (even if the argument is only happening in your head), try letting go of your own certainty and leaning into curiosity. Try saying, "That's a possibility," when someone expresses an alternate opinion to your own, rather than voicing doubt or defending yours.
There is magic and sweet connection in the space we make for each other. I invite you to make more space for your beloveds by letting go and leaning in...because we might just see something we hadn't seen before.