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The Teaching of Misperception


Our mental suffering arises primarily from misperception, misunderstanding, and ignorance. From that ignorance we attach neurotically to the things we want or think we are, and feel threatened by anything that threatens them. However, there is a certain truth that can be derived from the experience of misperception and subsequent understanding of the real truth. Let's take a few examples.

Let's say you are walking into a dark outdoor shed, when suddenly you think you see a snake on the ground. You get scared, frightened the snake might bite you, even be poisonous! So you immediately turn on the lights, but what you see is a rope on the ground, left out from before. This makes you immediately feel relief and you sigh, letting go of all the tension all at once, and what is left is peace and elation that you are safe and free of any worry. Now, the question is, what made you scared in the first place? Was it the rope that had that power over you?

Let's take another example. Say you are stressed out, under pressure from work and all the juggling of life, and you come home at night and your husband says, “Don't come in the kitchen!” Thinking he's being irrational again you get angry, since all you want after a long day is something to eat and drink. So you huff and puff and get ready to give it to him, when you turn the corner and you find that there are roses all over the place, candles lit, and a table set for two. “I said not yet!” he says as he finished lighting the last candle. “Happy anniversary my love!” he says to you in a sweet voice. You are stunned, and all you can think of is how angry you were, and how wrong you were about what he was thinking. Anger quickly subsides and is replaced with love and joy, and you hug him dearly. So what made you angry before? What reality were you buying into?

Finally we'll take the example of a person who works hard in her job but does not feel she is good at it, or adequate. She never really receives any feedback about her work, good or bad, but she is usually down on herself because she was taught to have high expectations by her parents, expectations that could never truly be fulfilled. She then gets a call from her boss that she needs to see her. She gets so nervous that she feels ill, she thinks she is going to get fired, so she thinks of a whole list of things she is going to say to her boss about how she is competent and good at her job, citing recent projects and accomplishments, all the while feeling like she's not good enough. She reaches her boss's door and opens it. Her boss says, “ Please, sit down.” She can feel her heart beating, she feels unsettled, she is acting meek and unthreatening to her. Finally after a while her boss says, “We've been reviewing your performance over the past year, and we are happy to announce that we would like to give you a promotion!” She is stunned, and doesn't know what to say. After she lets all the tension out of her body, she feels faint, but elated at the same time. She manages to say, “Thank you so much!” as she, for the first time, gets validation of her good work. Now, who made her scared, who made her feel less worthy? What reality was she buying into?

The reality is that the majority of the negativity we feel in the world comes from projection. And even if we are actually experiencing something negative from someone else, or something else, how we interpret, react emotionally, and act based on that, is all within the domain of our own thoughts and projections, and therefore is susceptible to our choices. We can always choose how we relate to any experience, though our experiences are not always something we can choose. Our expectations can build up in us a lot of unnecessary tension, and are seen for what they truly are, empty, when we experience that the reality is the opposite. How is it possible that we can suddenly lose all our tension and fear and anger all at once, and have it be replaced by joy and peace when we experience that the reality is the opposite of what disturbed us? Where did all that anger go? What that means is that we have the ability to lose all our tension all at once and replace it with joy at any point of our lives, since our thoughts at any point are just as empty. We need to have the proper belief to do so, to change our thinking about what our situation is, and come from a more wholesome place. Love and understanding of the situation helps us to do so.

Our belief is what gives our thoughts reality, not the reality we believe is true. The reality is in the world, our thoughts are in our head. When we make reasonable assumptions about the world, that is a skillful way to think about what reality is. When we make unreasonable assumptions, based on anger, fear, bias, or the like, we can often come across a misrepresentation of reality. We are not sober. Coming back to a centered, sober place in ourselves, maybe using our breath as an anchor, and then approaching the situation with a wholesome attitude, is the way of transformation. May you come to know the difference between your own projections and reality, and may you always cultivate an openness and curiosity about the truth of your world.

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