(Originally posted 21st April, 2004)
Everyone perceives the world in our own way. There are no two people on this planet who think in exactly the same way. Each of us have had a different set of experiences that have guided our thinking and established our set of preferences and beliefs And it’s through these things that we come to see and understand the world around us.
Every day, each of us makes decisions about the things that we experience, tings like is a particular occurrence good or bad? The basis of these decisions come from the things we have learned in the past. As we are growing up, different things are emphasised, so we begin to see those things as being good or worthwhile spending time and energy on. We are discouraged in other areas – either through active discouragement through punishment, or through sheer apathy.
When we’re young, we lack the general knowledge and experience to determine for ourselves whether something is good or bad. So we tend to adopt the beliefs of those around us that we look up to. In the very early days, this is our parents and as we get older we learn from teachers, friends and a whole swag of other people. It doesn’t matter if the beliefs that we take on board are actually useful to us or not.
Serge Kahili King gives a couple of corollaries to the first principle. The first is that every thing in a dream. Everything that we perceive or experience actually happens inside our heads. Our senses just feed electrical impulses into our brains, and it’s in our minds that we interpret and filter those sensory inputs. And something that we experience only in our heads is normally referred to as a dream. It’s like Peter Gabriel says in his song Mercy Street: “All of the buildings, all of the cars, were once just a dream in somebody’s head.”
It’s a strange concept, but it can help to teach us that if we want to change our reality, we just have to change the way we think. By consciously making decisions to look at things in a new way, we can often radically alter our lives and have experiences that are much more beneficial to us.
Serge’s second corollary is that all systems are arbitrary. I always find that this point really floors me. Despite what we may think, any system of thoughts or beliefs started with one person trying to figure something out. They selectively filtered their experience and worked it out into a series of premises that they then shared with someone else. Over time, that system becomes accepted as the “truth” by the world at large and the general monkeymass tends to punish those who challenge the consensus.
The thing is though that the only real basis for the validity of a system is whether or not it is effective for us. Does the acceptance of the system lead to a better quality of life for us and those around us? If the answer is yes, then you could consider the system to be worthwhile. If it doesn’t lead to those things, then you would normally reject it. But you’ll also find someone else who thinks that the system that you’ve rejected to be the one for them and there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise.
You can see this all the time in the “real” world – capitalism vs communism, differences in political ideology, even computer operating systems (the dreaded Macs vs Windows debate). There is no one universal truth that humans can express. I think that Lao Tsu sums this up beautifully in the first verse of the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao that can be written down is not the true Tao.”
If you can come to grips with this concept, it becomes possible to take a step back and examine which elements of a system work for us and which elements limit our thinking. Once you can do that, you’re free to change systems depending on the situation, so that you can come out on top all the time.