Have you ever been cut off by a motorist while driving your car? Do you remember how it made you feel? Did you get upset? Perhaps you thought to yourself, “How dare they!” or “What a jerk!” Did the event disturb you so much that it ruined your day?
Recall the situation as vividly as you can. Perhaps you were on a high-way and another car sped up alongside. You may have thought, “I just know they are going to cut in front of me.” So what did you do? Did you slow down and give them room to move over safely? Or did you keep your course, perhaps even speed up a little so as not to let them in? Why do you suppose you acted the way you did?
When startled or threatened, we tend to react to the stories in our minds, usually without even realizing it. You may have had thoughts like, “Why should I let them in? They have no consideration for me or anyone else!”
Yet, is this the absolute truth or a story created in your mind? Given the same situation, your mind could have created a different story like, “Wow, they’re in a hurry. Perhaps they are rushing to the hospital to be with their child, who is seriously hurt. Let me do what I can to make way for them.”
How would this story have changed the way you felt? Can you see how one story leads to anger and anxiety, the other to peace and compassion? Have you noticed that it’s not the person in the car, rather the story created in your mind about the person in the car that causes you to feel the way you do?
This happens all the time. It’s occurring this very moment as you read these words. Your mind is translating the words into what it believes they are attempting to say. It may sound strange, but in a way, you’re reading not only what’s on the page but also what’s programmed in your mind. This is because our minds automatically assign meaning to everything we perceive, based on our past experience. This all happens at a subconscious level—we are not even aware it is occurring.
“It all depends on how we look at things and not on how they are themselves.”-Carl Jung
The way we relate to others and to the world at large has less to do with outer circumstances and more to do with the stories in our mind. Our feelings arise in response to our inner interpretation of the world around us, which in turn drive our actions and behaviors to create our current life experience.
For example, when you and I look at a tree, we may agree that it has a brown trunk and green leaves. However, your inner experience may be completely different from mine. The tree may remind you of a backyard tire swing you built for your daughter, filling you with feelings of love and joy. It may remind me of a tree in my mother’s yard that, since my mother’s recent passing, causes me to feel empty and sad. You might turn to me and say, “Wow, what an incredibly beautiful tree!” while I experience it as distant and alone.
The same holds true for everyone and everything we perceive in life. Though we may be looking at the same thing, whether it’s a tree, a person, or a world event, what we feel and experience has more to do with our individual interpretations. How can you be certain that you’re seeing people and situations as they truly are and not the way your mind has uniquely made them out to be?
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”- Henry David Thoreau
Though we do our best, we can’t always control the events and circumstances in our lives. But we can always control how we respond to the stimuli of life, which ultimately determines how we feel.
Consider again the example of being cut off in your car and the two different mental responses and corresponding feelings we discussed surrounding the event. Can you see that it doesn’t even matter if the person that cut you off was really a jerk or not? All that really matters to your emotional state of being is what you make of it. Can you sense how much power lies behind your perception?
When you gain the freedom to consciously choose, your personal experience of reality becomes whatever you make it.
A Course in Miracles teaches that nothing has any meaning except the meaning we give it. At the end of the day, at the end of your life, your power and freedom lie in making reality mean what you want it to. Your attitude toward life determines what life becomes for you.
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