Perception, assumption and suffering

How much of our lives are based around incorrect perceptions? How often does our emotional state and relationship with others fall apart based on incorrect perceptions? And just what is perception?

Perception is how we interpret the world, through our own subjectivity. We have a store consciousness built on our past experiences and those experiences related to us by others. We use this store consciousness to help inform us on our view of the world. It helps us to survive. We know that fire burns, so we don’t touch it. We know that cougars are dangerous, so we don’t approach. We look both ways (hopefully) before crossing the street. However, as our perception of the world is so subjective, how often do we get it wrong?

This is not to say that we should throw out all useful perception and experience. What we need to do is to become aware of our perceptions, and to see if we are making assumptions that aren’t based on actual fact. So much of our lives are built upon this, which is a rather shaky foundation.

Incorrect perception can lead to all sorts of problems and can create a huge amount of suffering. We might have the incorrect assumption that we are alone, which gives us the false perception that we are completely isolated from the rest of the world. We may react to a situation based on what we think someone said, rather than what they actually said, and thereby create a false perception of the actual event. We may assume from past experience that all politicians lie, and create a false perception that we cannot trust anyone, much less bother to vote. We might get angry at someone for their behaviour, without seeing the root causes behind it. Changing your perception leads to understanding, which is the essence of compassion.

We will still make mistakes, however. We have habits, ingrained learned behaviour that is difficult to overcome if we are not aware of it. However, once we see the patterns formed in learned behaviour, we can unlearn it. We can break free of negative, destructive cycles, beginning to heal ourselves and then work towards healing our community, our world.

By nature I judge everything – it’s simply a part of my personality. While it’s worth having to some extent, it’s also a detriment. What I have had to learn is how to judge without being judgemental. It may not sound like that great a difference, but really it is the foundation of trying to understand the human being.

Daily meditation helps with this on so many levels. Practising awareness for 10 to 20 mins a day in mindful meditation begins to seep into every aspect of your life. Once you become aware of your thought patterns and behavioural patterns, you can then learn to break free of these in order to live with more intention. Everyone can meditate to some extent – you just have to want to. You have to want to spend time with yourself, and thereby doing some pretty deep examination, coming to terms with the less than glowing aspects of your self, as well as embracing those parts of your self that nourish and bring peace. It’s very simple and sometimes very difficult. However, if you want to get off that treadmill of constant running, out of that vicious cycle you feel trapped in, it’s well worth the effort.

Next time you are angry, depressed or sad, take the time to look deeply into your perceptions. If you find that they are based on incorrect or unsubstantiated views, perhaps they are not perceptions but assumptions. You will have to let go of the anger, depression or sadness as well as the ego in order to fully see – things we like to cling on to for various reasons, ie. because we know we are right, because we know we are not good enough, etc. This knowledge is not true knowledge, but assumption based on false perception.

Doing this work can lead to a life filled with less suffering, and in doing so even bring more joy into the world. May we do the work with a peaceful heart and with pure intention.

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6 thoughts on “Perception, assumption and suffering

  1. Thankyou Joanna for this, some very valuable thoughts.

    I remember Thich Nhat Hanh once said (or something roughly like it) that the best way to approach the Buddhist concept of Right View was to always ask yourself, in relation to any thought, perception, or opinion, ”are you sure?” And if the answer was yes, then you know you’re wrong!

    I understand what you mean when you talk about the problems with judgement. For me, I try to make a distinction between judgement and assessment. To assess something is essentially cerebral, analytical with clear measures and variable and (relatively) free of value judgements. A judgement, however, I take to involve a moral and value-driven weighing of issues. Both are fine, but have different applications and challenges. But that’s just how I break it down anyway.

    Thanks for your thoughts Joanna 🙂

    Beannacht

    Fionnbharr
    druidways.org

  2. I don’t know whether more people are becoming aware of and commenting on the disconnection between our perceptions and the world or whether it is simply me becoming more aware of it and noticing it. Even yesterday, I read somewhere about how the new and expanding quantum deciphering of our world tends to the idea that we (the perceivers) play more than an active role in the creation of our reality the moment we observe the universe. That’s all to say that I appreciate your thoughts above and they resonate with me. Stopping, slowing down, putting our finger on that gap between our thoughts and the world around us, I believe for me personally and everyone else for that matter, is the missing ingredient.

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