I've been thinking a lot about perspective and projection lately.
We view the world and each other based on how we think and perceive. In this subjective situation we're all in, it's so easy to be a little bit off, or a lot off. Despite our best intentions, our ideas are often distorted by fear, confusion, and self-protection.
And yet when we open to curiosity and beginner's mind—even when some of what we see isn't what we wanted—we feel often so much better.
An example. Another organization I work with was a little less timely than we should be in responding to a client with a request. After several messages without a response, the client sent a message with a little exasperation in it asking that we please let get back to her. That message ended with the line: "I hope this teaches you."
I could see my mind contracting instantly on reading this line. I could feel heat rising in my face and my gut clenching. I think this teaches you?! What is it teaching me? That we don't have it together? That I should be a better leader working with the people who were supposed to have answered her already? That I, or we, are simply sub-par? What does it teach me?
Then I was grateful for the germ of curiosity arising in the middle of that little fit of defensiveness. "I don't know this person, I don't know what she meant by that. Take a breath." So I simply responded to the actual request she's been making all along. "Let's see where this goes."
And she responded right back, simply and with gratitude and appreciation.
And with a side note: "Tim, funny typo in that last message! I meant to type 'I hope this reaches you.' I bet it that came out a little odd with 'teaches' you!"
Funny? I laughed out loud. I was grateful to feel the tension I had been feeling evaporate into joy and I was also very grateful that the practice of mindfulness had supported me in not getting too tight in the first place. Curiosity and not-knowing had stayed present through the exchange. And some gratitude was there that I had this relatively easy opportunity to practice with defensiveness and reactivity. Sometimes we receive triggering experiences that are not so mild.
And it made me wonder how many of our interpersonal stresses and conflicts are 100% misunderstandings and misinterpretations. And if not 100% at least 50%. Consistently. Across the board.
Some interpersonal situations are of course a lot more complex - full of history and wounded feeling on both sides. To meet them we need all of our wisdom and understanding and a lot of curiosity. Sometimes we do need to stand up for ourselves, and firmly. And of course things don’t always work out the way we hope and some relationships may simply need to end, or go on a long pause. Sometimes two people are just too far apart in their perceptions and understanding.
This work isn't suggesting that everything works out if we take a breath. But it sure does help to increase our self-awareness and foster our curiosity and feel that gap between stimulus and response that Viktor Frankl speaks about so eloquently in his famous quotation.
It's all making me appreciate anew the suggestions that Jon Kabat-Zinn made early on around the key attitudes to bring to mindfulness training (see chapter 2 "The Foundations of Mindfulness Practice" in his ground-breaking book Full Catastrophe Living).
- Beginner's Mind
- Letting Go
These are 7 facets of a healthy attitude that supports kindness and non-reactivity. I was grateful to be visited by this 7-sided jewel at least in this one case. Other times lately I find the mind dipping into judgment, impatience, and the expert's mind. It happens. We're all human.
May we all notice the inner pain and constriction that arises when there's presumption and judgement; when we're so sure we know what someone else is thinking of us. May we find that gap, and breathe into that space. May some of these qualities of being not-so-sure-we-know arise in a helpful way - so that we can hold our idea lightly until a little more light shines on the situation.
All the best,