Before diving in, I would like you to imagine the following, for a moment.
The Flat Tire
It’s Monday morning, you walk out of your door with a fast pace and you reach your driveway, only to find a flat tire on your car. Obviously, you will feel frustrated about the event, maybe angry and perhaps stressed because you are already late for work.
Now, look at this event from the perspective of the garage owner that you take your car to fix your flat tire. You bring him work and money, so he sees your flat tire as a good thing – perhaps, he secretly wishes for people to have troubles with their cars, regardless of whether those same people don’t wish for the same thing.
The situation remains the same (flat tire), but the perspectives and ultimately each person’s emotions are different.
So, in the words of Epicetus: ‘people are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them’.
This is actually my favourite quote from the ancient stoics. And the stranger it sounds, the more truthful it often is!
The benefit of consciously changing our perspective is that we stop being stuck in a close-minded attitude – that is, looking at the bad thing that happened to us just from our side.
Now, you may think: “Ok, but how can I avoid becoming frustrated when a bad thing happens to me?”
Well, it is not about not being frustrated. And it is not about being in nirvana.
If we feel frustrated, then, by all means, let’s be frustrated. Without holding it back, let’s take the time to express our feelings.
The point though is to NOT remain stuck inside a monochromatic emotional whirlpool.
And the first step for moving out of this point is to BE AWARE that there are OTHER PERSPECTIVES (completely different from ours) of the situation we are in.
For example, if there was a recent situation that frustrated you, ask yourself:
“How would another person have viewed my situation?”
The Cute “Misfortunes” of Our Kids
And to elaborate more, let me share with you a story.
An evening not so long ago, my son was crying out loud, because it was time to go to bed. I found that cute though and I smiled, while I was wondering how could he see the bigger picture. Was there a way for him to change perspective or just zoom out of his misfortune?
When a toddler is outraged, laying on the floor, hitting arms and legs on the ground, it may seem like the biggest disaster that could happen to the kid at that moment. But almost magically the child forgets about the situation ten minutes later.
We appreciate that crying, because it is bedtime, is not really an issue, and presumably, we have all cried for the same reason. Now, and having seen the bigger picture, we, the adults, the parents, smile only because we find it cute.
Our Own Misfortunes
Maybe similarly, God* also smiles at our misfortunes; when we are struggling, when we are angry, when we are depressed and desperate.
*By the way, with the word “God” I don’t mean any particular monotheistic God. I use that word only to allude to something above and outside of human perception. Other appropriate synonyms here could be “Source”, “Higher Power”, or “Universe”.
So, perhaps at a higher level (one that we cannot grasp from our everyday perception), these are not really calamities or misfortunes.
Sure, there are tough periods in our lives, that we can definitely feel on our skin and deep inside our minds, but we categorise them as such only through our personal and temporal way of perceiving them. And so, God, who supposedly exists in another level, smiles at our misfortunes, because he/she/it finds them cute.
Zooming in and out of Pictures
And so, to come to something tangible, a technique to help us out, consider this thought experiment with a picture.
So, the other day, I was browsing through the photos on my computer and I encountered a beautiful landscape photo. I wanted to focus on a particular point at the top of the mountain and I zoomed in. Then, I zoomed in some more. And then some more, till I could only see scattered pixels, which do not make much sense on their own.
It is only when we zoom out, when we elevate our point of view, that we can see what the whole picture represents.
We are the pixels in the bigger picture.
What if we, as individuals, are the pixels in a picture that we call the universe?
What if we could zoom out and discard any magnifying glass (that is, our lenses through which we see the world, our beliefs and values that we hold for people, situations, ourselves)?
It seems to me that only then can we see how our individuality merges and collaborates with other beings and entities in the world around us.
What If We Zoom Out?
So, what would be the benefit, if we could see our problems from another angle? What if we could elevate our minds so high, that we would see people, animals, trees, rocks, events, not as separate, but as interdependent features of the bigger picture?
Could we recognise humanity’s issues and misfortunes then?
Would we smile too?
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