Lost in Distorted Perceptions

Lost in Distorted Perceptions

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 29, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

A few weeks ago, my husband, David, and I were delighted to attend the wedding of my younger sister in rural, coastal Maine. We arrived a few days early to help and to have time with family and longtime friends. David rented a car so we could drive to see my relatives and attend the festive activities. I was excited and I noticed I had a lot of anxiety, too. Mostly, this was from being with a large group of people—some I didn’t know and some I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.

My husband and I often felt lost on the Maine country roads. Because the cell service was spotty, I wrote out most of our directions. One time, I realized I’d written down the wrong address. The cell signal was nonexistent. Even in the midst of scenic beauty, I experienced a familiar sensation of my stomach dropping in panic. Because of my visual disability, I particularly dread being lost. No matter how much I steadied my breath, the anxious constriction and sense of being overwhelmed persisted. After a frantic search, I discovered the correct address in an old email. Our destination was just a little further down the same winding road. I felt intense relief and was now able to appreciate the canopy of green trees above and around us. Immersed in my panic, I hadn’t been open to or aware of nature’s soothing, calm beauty.

Afterward, I thought about how I have trouble trusting life, and believing that things will turn out well.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living,

Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.

Near the mountain, there is a lake with clear, still water reflecting the mountain and the sky with pristine clarity. You can do the same. If you are calm and still enough, you can reflect the mountain, the blue sky, and the moon exactly as they are. You reflect whatever you see exactly as it is, without distorting anything.

Have you ever seen yourself in a mirror that distorts the image? Your face is long, your eyes are huge, and your legs are really short. Don’t be like that mirror. It is better to be like the still water on the mountain lake.

We often do not reflect things clearly, and we suffer because of our wrong perceptions. Suppose you are walking in the twilight and see a snake. You scream and run into the house to get your friends, and all of you run outside with a flashlight. But when you shine your light on the snake, you discover that it isn’t a snake at all, just a piece of rope. This is a distorted perception.

We need to make our water still if we want to receive reality as it is.

When we see things or listen to other people, we often don’t see clearly or really listen. We see and hear our projections and our prejudices. We are not clear enough, and we have a wrong perception. Even if our friend is giving us a compliment, we may argue with him because we distort what he says.

If we are not calm, if we only listen to our hopes or our anger, we will not be able to receive the truth that is trying to reflect itself on our lake. We need to make our water still if we want to receive reality as it is. If you feel agitated, don’t do or say anything. Just breathe in and out until you are calm enough. Then ask your friend to repeat what he has said. This will avoid a lot of damage. Stillness is the foundation of understanding and insight. Stillness is strength.

Probably there are times when we all are unable to access our inner stillness. My aspiration is to keep practicing mindfulness and cultivating compassion for my inner young, fearful self. I long to narrow the gap between my panic response and my ability to hold and soothe my anxiety, whatever the outer circumstances.

This Thursday night, after our meditation, we will share our experiences of wrong perceptions and coming to clarity, as we consider these questions:

  • When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, how can we avoid acting on our own projections and fears?
  • How can we be like the still water on the mountain lake?
  • What helps us feel compassion for ourselves when we have stirred things up?

You are warmly invited to join us!

Peace,

Eliza King

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 29, 2023


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