I didn't realise it at the time, but I was taught the secret to life when I was in middle school. As a kid, I was recognised as being talented in the area of visual arts. Because of this, I was fortunate enough to receive 1-to-1 tutoring from a professional artist in our local community whose name is Michael Munday. Here is what he said to me during one lesson when I was becoming particularly frustrated with my (lack of) results:
'Anne, you have to paint what you see, not what you want to see.'
This week, I want to pull apart this idea of "reality" with you, and see what goodness we can unearth by coming into a healthier relationship with it. We're rattling the world again, but this time, taking a more philosophical approach.
ONE MINUTE INSIGHT
I offer you the premise that what you see and experience is not reflective of reality. We explore that more deeply below if you want to follow my thinking. For now, because all big change starts with small steps, try "seeing" the world differently. Here a couple of lenses to work with: ▶ Take a "beauty walk" (yes I made that up). Go outside by yourself. No phone. No music. Just you and the outdoors and whatever surroundings you're in, be it a city scape or deep in nature. Look intentionally for beauty. The way the light falls. Notice the detail on plants, animals or buildings. Hear the birds. Watch people. Notice their expressions. Notice their hurriedness. Or how easily they meander. Notice the different colours you see, and imagine how you might mix such a colour if you were to try to paint it. Whatever you look at, look through the lens of beauty. What happens? ▶ "See" with a different posture. While being in a usual context, adopt a different posture. For example, say you're a leader or team manager and you're in a brainstorming session with your team. If you usually sit at the table with the team, see what happens if you stand up and lead the conversation from there instead. If you usually stand, notice what happens if you sit. Be aware of your energy. Posture transforms perception. Play with it. What happens?
DEEPER DUE DILIGENCE
Reality is a very strange concept. Maybe you've never thought that thought before, but I hope by the end of this investigation you'll be sufficiently confused and in agreement with me about its absurdity (at least in the way we use it most commonly). I am quite sure that there is such a thing as a "base reality", one that is unequivocally true. But most of us humans operate at a different level of reality. We operate from perception. One might say: ego. One of the best descriptions I have heard for this mechanism is from a modern day alchemist by the name of Avery Hopkins. He disappeared from the public eye under a bit of mystery back in 2020. But you will still find threads from fans on Reddit where his brilliance is likened to that of Isaac Newton. Avery explains: 'No belief is true. Every belief is an opinion, and an opinion is a preference for thinking. We prefer how we want to perceive ourselves and others and our world at large. This is what creates ego.' He goes on... 'If we are trying to know truth, we are going to identify and create beliefs.' If you want a tangible example of that, consider time. I assert that time ≠ reality. We measure blocks of time using a calendar. Before the Gregorian calendar we use today, we had the Julian calendar. Before that, we had the Roman calendar, which was based on the lunar year (as opposed to the solar year). That only had 10 months, which is why we have that weird thing going on with the Latin prefixes on the months September to December, which represent numbers 7 to 10. March was the start of the year cycle, which made a lot more sense because that's spring time in the Northern Hemisphere, where the calendar was developed. Have you ever questioned that before? Probably not. Because this is simply one of those world-at-large preferences that we take on board and accept as "true". Wild right? Time really is just a construct. (The physics of quality actually suggests time itself is a pulse...). Painting is very much an embodied experience of trying to know truth. I have so much respect for visual artists, because I believe there is a certain madness that we risk falling into in questioning reality by way of trying to reproduce some interpretation of it. As I opened with, Mr Munday taught me at a young age that my mind was trying to create an image of a world that was sense-making, but did not reflect reality. For example, a car wheel is round. But when drawing a car, that is not how we draw it. Amongst other things, it depends on the perspective, the angle of the axle, the width of the tyre, tyre pressure, and also the shape and height of the body of the car, which will dictate how much of the wheel will be visible. I must admit to you, I didn't continue with art beyond school. Accounting seemed like something I could more easily grasp onto and use to remove uncertainty. I craved such precision. The trial balance either balances, or it doesn't. Perhaps my drastic career change into the humanities is my way of coming back to a creative endeavour. Because I can tell you now, working with people to help them lead their mind in more powerful ways is not much like looking for an unreconciled difference! I digress. Last month, Dr Edgar H Schein passed away at the ripe age of 92. Schein was a Swiss Psychologist who founded the discipline of organisational behaviour. He said: 'We do not think and talk about what we see; we see what we are able to think and talk about.' ― Edgar H. Schein (Read that again.) So now we have this same idea set out in three different ways from a painter, an alchemist and an organisational psychologist who are completely unrelated. Our thoughts create our (perception of) reality. It must hold some "truth". (😉) You may ask, why am I writing to you about this in my personal development digest, doesn't this just completely mess with your thinking and lead you to a distrust of reality? Am I luring you into Nullius in verba - to take no man's word? Why yes, yes I am. Because there Anne, there is where your freedom resides. French novelist Marcel Proust asserted that 'The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.' And the idea that reality is up for investigation means that you get to discover new and wonderful things right where you are, in your existing context, whatever that is. You don't need to quit your job and go and study to be a yogi on the mountaintops (though, if that would really float your boat I have nothing against it!). You can instead work on renewing your perception - on having "new eyes".
Yesterday I shared a post on LinkedIn suggesting that by adopting more powerful thinking we can obtain more time, money, love, knowledge, energy, peace and vitality. And I wholly to believe this to be true, because powerful, high quality thinking is the product of being in right relationship with your mind. Right relationship with your mind means being in right relationship with your preferences for thinking, and seeing them as that:
Preferences. To share a quote from yet another wise mind, J. Krishnamurti said 'There can be no order inwardly, and outwardly naturally, if there is no self-knowing.' If you would like to create more order in all of this chaos that emerges when we realise that reality is debatable, and if more order means more of those things listed above, then it might be wise to work on understanding that which resides inside of you. This task might be described as bringing down the water level on that metaphorical iceberg of (un)awareness that resides in the mind:
There is, what we know, the conscious mind, which is said to account for 5-10% of all thoughts, actions and behaviours. And then the unconscious or subconscious, which accounts for the rest. The effects of those unknowns are all those mysteries and misunderstandings that make their way into your visible world... for better or for worse. The more we can courageously, compassionately, carefully, curiously, calmly and connectedly reveal the truth of ourselves, the better we are equipped to reason with reality in a healthy and productive way, so that we can align ourselves with it and create real, desirable outcomes. As we find what preferences, thoughts and beliefs no longer fit, we also get to choose new ones that do. We get to establish a belief in an outcome (or at least the possibility of an outcome), and then set about collecting evidence for why that thing is possible. Actually, why don't we all make a joke of it and consider wonderfully ridiculous things that are on the very edge of what we believe is possible, and then throw everything we've got at creating evidence for the existence of that "reality"?! Think along the lines of creating a civilisation on Mars, and then working out how to build better rockets than NASA! Oh wait, that one's taken. I'm in to play. Are you?
MORE TO MUSE ON...
What I am listening to: Writing this newsletter reminded me of Eminem's classic Lose Yourself. If his isn't a story of overcoming "reality" then I don't know what is.
Recommended reading: Speaking of alchemy... have you read The Alchemist? It's a beautiful story and shows up in many top 10 books lists, mine included. It's one of those books you can read several times over and take something new each time. It's a fable, but it's a transformative one.
Something to listening to: Did you know that I have a scantily used YouTube channel where I share conversations I have together with a fellow coach and friend in New York, Mike Trugman? Our last episode was all about responsibility, and the importance of allocating it appropriately. Watch it below, and please subscribe while you're there to get a notification when the next episode drops (every ~2 weeks).
Cultivating Courage Ep. 18: On Responsibility
Today was fun. I hope you liked this edition which was a little more philosophical. Before I close, let's not pretend. Life is hard. Harder than some of these conversations might make out. But if we can meet it with a little more openness, then I think we can all start to see that life is also infinitely pregnant with possibility. Remember we play the both/and game, not the either/or.
P.S. Do you have a burning topic or question on your mind when it comes to personal growth and the power of the mind? I'd love to hear from you so that I can use your curiosity as inspiration to write coming editions of the newsletter.
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