This quote by Anais Nin lies at the heart of our struggles in life. The inference here is that we create our reality based upon our own conceptual framework, rather than objectively perceiving what is ‘really out there’. I love this quote because it turns our perceptions back to front, exposing our over-identification with our own thoughts and ideas. Even though I do not agree with the extremeness of her solipsistic position, this idea can help re-balance our own inversely extreme view that whatever we think is really factual.
Interpretations are unreliable
During the mindfulness courses I teach in London, we do a simple exercise that illustrates this: if you go to meet friends for coffee after having had a fight with a loved one, and your friends fall silent as you approach the table, you may interpret this as a slight. “What have I done?”, “They are mad about that email I sent ”, etc. If the same objective event, of your friends falling silent, happens after you have received a promotion or won the lottery, you may have a totally different understanding of what has happened. The event is identical but the interpretation may be wholly different. The important question here is: which of your inner explanations for the conversation stopping is the correct one? Of course it is neither. You really do not know.
Training our Minds
It could be said that our thoughts contain a nub of truth surrounded by a shell of inference. Therefore, if we really want to get closer to ‘what is really out there’, we need to open our minds to the wider possibility of different perspectives. Mindfulness is all about training our minds to be able to do this better, sitting quietly, just watching the mind ‘secrete’ random thoughts, often without rhyme or reason. We do not necessarily believe them as fact, identify with them or even reject them. We just watch impartially and learn about our minds, even if it is a repetitive B movie that our minds are playing!
Perspective is Freedom
The purpose of this is to free ourselves from what can be seen as the tyranny of thought: the “inner dictator”. Can you imagine the freedom of not having to believe all the stories you constantly tell yourself? I am like this, she is like that, I’m no good at this, I am a failure if I can’t do this, etc. It is endless.
Ironically, cultivating impartiality towards our thoughts does not turn us into indecisive, opinion-less bores. If anything our minds broaden and we are able to harbour all different perspectives, seeing a larger picture. We become less narrow minded and more engaged because we are seeing things more clearly and accurately. As a result we start to develop more peace and balance in our minds. We feel more harmonious with the way things are, and even if the inner dictator is ranting we no longer believe his rhetoric.
I will leave you with this great advertisement from 1986 that gave me my first insight into this concept. Please click link below to watch it.
(Please press the replay button bottom left of the screem if it does not play automatically)
Christopher Gaia is a mindfulness teacher, teaching courses in Chelsea, London. He has a 5 year MSc. Training in Teaching Mindfulness Based Courses from the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, Bangor University. He has over 20 years of experience of mindfulness practice and has completed post graduate research into mindfulness and self-compassion. He is also a registered Osteopath, working in Chelsea and Balham.