It seems that the leading edges of science agree with the wise fool “Nasrudin,” who appears in Sufi teaching tales making illogical observations such as “If I hadn’t believed it, I wouldn’t have seen it with my own eyes.”
Though conventional wisdom insists that seeing is believing, scientific evidence suggests it is likely the other way around. We might feel certain that we know what is “out there” in the physical world, but our conclusions are primarily an interpretation of the mind.
Central to the teachings of all the wisdom traditions I am familiar with is a recognition that the universe is essentially a mental phenomenon. This is considered a keystone to understanding the nature of life. It is further understood that the universe conspires with our beliefs—whatever they are.
The other day I listened to a radio interview with psychologist James Hogan, who was plugging his new book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, which discusses the epidemic lack of civility in social and political discourse these days. Among other things, this book points to a major impediment to most people’s ability to achieve happiness and expanded awareness: our insatiable appetite for certainty.
The certainty principle is at an odd polarity to Heisenberg’s familiar uncertainty principle, a central plank of modern science, which points to the virtual impossibility of being absolutely certain of anything, no matter how hard we try or how fervent our belief. The certainty principle, on the other hand, is based on the observation that most people, when given a choice between a certainty likely to be painful or an uncertainty likely to be pleasurable, will invariably choose certainty.
It is ironic that many of us would rather be right than happy! We all know people who seem unable to accept that their perceptions and beliefs might be flawed or might interfere with their understanding, but this tendency plagues all of us.
It is wise not to believe everything you perceive …
or everything you think
Most of us subscribe to the popular illusion that what we experience as the sights and sounds of the outside world constitute reality; however, as with many cherished assumptions, considerable research evidence suggests otherwise. However, most of us also prefer the familiar (certainty) and continually strive to maintain and replicate it as though it were hard-wired into the brain.
It is well known that the brain has the ability to override our senses, which it often does, constructing what we perceive based on experiences that have calcified into beliefs and expectations. The brain has a strong tendency to reflect what you are feeling even when it is not true or does not reflect what really happened! Feelings are an entirely subjective reality. As neuroscientist Dr. Michael Posner of the University of Oregon points out, “The idea that perception can be manipulated by expectations is fundamental to the study of cognition.”
While we often insist that our view of the world and events is an objective reflection of what is “real,” the truth is that complete objectivity is a delusion. We may do our best to be objective but, as Heisenberg demonstrated, it is basically unachievable.
I have often been compelled to remind couples that their personal truth is their enemy when it comes to having a successful and fulfilling relationship. It is the enemy of understanding. It is also the enemy of enlightenment. We are comfortable with the familiar, but it is our “Achilles heel.”
Everything we perceive is to a certain degree an illusion. Not in the sense that it is not there, but in the sense that it is not entirely as we perceive it to be. What we insist is real and true is a projection of our own beliefs and expectations, which blocks us from perceiving truths that are outside the realm of our own experience. It is also apparent that our brains have trouble distinguishing between memory and fantasy.
Our beliefs are derived from the meaning we assign to our experiences. These perceived meanings are encoded in familiar mental and emotional states based on prior experiences that actually become our biology—neural networks that determine our perception.
Did you know that there is considerably more capacity for information exchange from our brains to our senses than the other way around? Neural bundles that send information from our brains to our sensory organs are 10 times more prevalent than nerve bundles coming from our senses to our brains.
This surprising discovery should give us pause to wonder and reason to celebrate. Understanding the way we are wired opens new possibilities for personal empowerment and higher intentionality.
There is considerable evidence that we can literally create our own reality by re-creating our brains—our neural pathways—by design. This is not just a “new age” wishful notion. In fact, numerous practical tools are emerging from the field of epigenetic medicine that have proven quite effective in accomplishing such transformation.
The more we see the world in a certain way, the more our experience of it conforms to that belief. And the more calcified our beliefs become, the more it seems to us that our beliefs and the perceptions are the only true reality. Repetition does not make it so.
To empower ourselves to create the life we want, we must stop rewriting our stories from our wounds and disappointments and learn to develop flexible perception.
Perceptual flexibility is your ticket to happiness, fulfillment … and wisdom.
Dr. Jim Collins, known as Redtail, is a seasoned psychologist, a wisdom keeper in the lineage of the Laika shamans of Peru, and a many-time Sun-dancer in the Lakota sacred tradition. He blends an extensive background in epigenetic and energy medicine with the ancient wisdom of the Americas to assist self-mastery—helping people find their wings. Private sessions and other transformational opportunities are available through his Redding office at 530-604-8653 or through his website at www.Redtailhealingarts.com.