“We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anais Nin
The power to shift our perception is one of the greatest powers we have. When we look in a mirror, our physical reality is reflected back—a mirror image of what we look like—but in truth, our perception of ourselves can be wildly different than what we see. And in that moment, our perception can outweigh what is actually reflected back to us. This holds true not just for how we perceive ourselves, but the entire world around us, our lives, relationships, everything.
Merriam Webster defines perception as “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.”. Our five senses give us the ability to perceive and interact with our physical reality. But just like the mirror analogy, the physical experience of anything is just the tip of the iceberg and is rarely the star of the show.
This is a beautiful example of the kabbalistic principle of the physical and unseen worlds. Our physical experience accounts for 1% (or less!) of our entire experience. The other 99% lies in the unseen. The unseen is emotion, energy, intuition, and thought. Our five senses may be the most “real” to us, but they really are just tools.
Let’s look at some science:
Vision involves light striking the retinas of the eyes, hearing involves pressure waves, smell is mediated by odor molecules, and touch involves our skin and our nervous system, namely Meissner’s corpuscles, which are receptors/nerve endings in the skin. But perception is not the passive receipt of signals. Perception is shaped by our history – learning, memory, and expectation. And very often the process itself happens outside of our conscious awareness. Our brains are constantly processing data; data of which usually we aren’t even aware.
Behind how we perceive the world is our whole story. We come with our baggage, our past, and all of the events our lives that have influenced and molded us. When we gaze at our lives and the world around us, we do so through a filter built by every experience we have had. We see our flaws, the choices we have made that brought us to where we are, our hopes and fears, and the events that affected and changed us. We see all of our pain, trauma, joy, and sense of peace.
This perception of ourselves continues to be influenced every day by our families, our loved ones, our work colleagues, and by our environment; everything provides feedback whether we are aware of it or not. Every moment is of value, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Understanding the power of your perception can change your reality almost instantly.
Think of someone who has suffered amnesia. An adult with an entire past – family, friends, heartbreaks, accomplishments – wakes up one day with their memory wiped out. They see the physical world for “the first time,” and everything is strange, new, and miraculous simply because they perceive it purely, untainted by experience and memory. We can train ourselves to perceive without past experiences informing us. The deciding factor is our consciousness.
Speaking of this, as we were leaving the house today my 5-year-old daughter Abigail pointed at these yellowed flowers, and she said, “Oh look, Mommy, aren’t these so pretty?” I responded that they were actually yellow because they were dying. She frowned and replied, “That’s such an ugly word, Mommy, no. They’re still pretty.”
Abigail didn’t know that the yellow meant they were dying; she just knows she likes yellow so to her they were beautiful. To me, when I saw the yellow of the flowers, I knew it meant they were dying and I thought “ick!” The two of us were observing the same thing with the same five senses and had two totally different experiences—all because of our perception.
Think of a recent challenge or even something that is currently challenging you. What are the defining thoughts that you have about this circumstance? How do those thoughts make you feel?
If the thoughts are negative, ask yourself if you are perceiving this experience through the lens of your past. A good way to tell is if thoughts like “I always mess up” or “nothing works out for me” pop up. These are clues that your perception is skewed. The simplest way to shift this is to find and list all of the positives in the experience. By doing this, your perception becomes observational, and you’re no longer imbuing reality with a negative story.
Be kind to yourself through this process. Because it is often easier to see the bad, everything we see reflected back to us reminds us of our troubles or things we feel are flawed. Some of these worries are healthy; some not so. Kabbalah teaches that nothing we see is a coincidence. Everything—particularly a negative event—has a reason and a purpose. The point is to see everything that happens in the world as a purposeful signal sent to us from the Creator to assist in our transformation. Change is key to transformation, and we can’t begin to change until we shift our perception.
Choose to see the good. The things you may seem attracted to and/or admire in people are the things that you have the potential to be! You may admire someone strong who goes after what they want, and although fear may be in your driver’s seat, you have the potential to be that strong and go after what you truly desire, too.
Now, this isn’t about comparing. This is about recognizing the things you admire in the people around you and nurturing those qualities in yourself. When we shift our perception, we no longer feel paralyzed or demoralized in comparison to someone who we may “think” is smarter, funnier, more attractive, has more money, a better job, or a bigger house.
Be aware of how you focus your perception, and learn how to make the things that plague you or seem challenging for you work for you instead. Learn to trust yourself by listening to your intuition and start tapping into the everyday clues, whispers, and mirrors around you.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
When it comes to perception, your consciousness is key. How do you perceive yourself? Are you carrying unnecessary baggage or telling a negative story? How are you hindering the way you present yourself to the world?