Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Famed author Anais Nin said, "We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are." She wrote those words in 1961, but her words are as timely today as ever. We are living through a global pandemic and experiencing racial turmoil, political division, and economic uncertainty. It feels as though we are more divided than ever. Why? The answer may rest in the words of Anais Nin - "we can only see things as we are." Our life experiences and biology blend to form a lens through which we see each other and the world. Our perceptions are influenced by factors like:
How we are raised, and in what circumstances and by whom
Whether we are raised around conservatives, liberals, or independents
Whether we are a part of the majority or minority
Whether we are wealthy, middle class or poor
Healthy or ill
The oldest, youngest, or only child
Whether we were nurtured, neglected, or abused in any way
Whether we were born male or female
And, our genetic predispositions
Mindfulness practice helps us recognize the lens through which we see the world, so we can understand how our perceptions impact our thoughts and feelings. We must honestly know ourselves before we can hope to understand others. Through meditation and daily mindfulness practice, we can discover where our thoughts and feelings originate and begin to let go of those that don't serve us. Often we find that we are influenced by thoughts and feelings that arose from our experiences as children. They may stem from messages received from parents, teachers, friends, society, and the media. We may uncover negative impressions left by someone whose own lens carried biases and fears. We may even discover ways that we have passed accumulated pain on to others.
These, and other factors, become the lens that grows in childhood and adolescence. Eventually, this lens becomes the unique set of neural networks that we use to process life. No two people have the same biology or life experience. So, no two people will see things exactly the same way. When left unexplored, an individual's lens can cloud the ability to see and understand other people and this can lead to division. Groups of people can also have shared experiences that create a group lens. A lack of awareness of this lens can cloud one group's ability to empathize with another group. This lack of compassion can result in larger divisions like racism, bigotry, and even war.
We are all suffering from this "human condition" that creates the illusion of separateness. But we are not separate. When we understand ourselves and our lenses, we see that being at the mercy of our humanity is our one genuinely shared experience. This can finally dissolve the illusion that we are separate and open the door to greater love, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness.
Countless religions, philosophers and leaders reference this Golden Rule:
"In everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you."
Saint Mother Theresa
"I see somebody dying, I pick him up. I find somebody hungry, I give him food. He can love and be loved...Every person whether he is Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, he is my brother, my sister,"
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
"The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers."
Socrates (470 - 399 BC)
"Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others."
"The golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different points of vision."
"Do not offend others as you would not want to be offended."
"None of you are true believers until you love for your brother what you love for yourself."
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary."
"I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all."
"Nothing in the Golden Rule says that others will treat us as we have treated them. It only says that we must treat others in a way that we would want to be treated."
Dalai Lama (written after 9/11)
"Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience-in your own life, and in the world. Then see if there is another for whom you may be the source of that. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another... If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe...Those others are waiting for you now. They are looking to you for guidance, for help, for courage, for strength, for understanding, and for assurance at this hour. Most of all, they are looking to you for love."
We are all born into this world subject to biology and life experiences that shape us. Mindful and heart-felt reflection upon how our own unique experiences and biology impact our thoughts and feelings can open the door to compassion, empathy, and love. We can leave the world even better than we found it if we can remember that:
"When we shine light
from the heart
on all our light
and all our dark,
then I'll love me
and you'll love you.
And love can grow
between us too."
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