“And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
I settled in for my yoga class and awaited the customary reminder to set an intention for the class and the day. Setting an intention is such a great mental exercise, as we remind ourselves that we can CHOOSE how we want to be each day: Compassionate. Kind. Productive. Energetic. We focus on that intention through a mindful hour, and then live by it for the day.
On this day, my glowing, wiser-than-his-years instructor told us a little story to ponder first. A very famous indie film writer was asked how he seemed to have endless ideas for bizarrely funny, interesting characters and storylines. His answer was simple – his lens. He chooses to view the day-to-day as possible comic material. He imagines back stories for the people he encounters; he views the places he goes as quirky environments for the bizarre. The stories come to him because of the lens he has chosen.
This lesson from my oh-so-Zen little yogi is one I return to again and again because it is more than just a reminder to shift from a glass-half-empty to glass-half-full perspective. This message challenges me to see it all differently, and to hopefully gain new exciting, enlightening perspectives.
The view from down here
I went home from my yoga class and gave my 5-year-old daughter an old digital camera. She found the magic of photography to be way more entertaining than even Dora the Explorer. The collection of photos from those weeks discovering photography are still my favorite of all our family photos, because they show her perspective so clearly. They are a tiny peek into what the world is like for her, from her angle, which is completely different from mine. We put the the best of them in a small book with a selfie of her 5 year old eye on the cover, and the title, “The Way I See It.” She is 13 now, still obsessed with photography and videography, and I still love the glimpse I get into her mind’s eye from her photos.
If the shoe doesn’t fit
Pushing ourselves to see from a child’s perspective is both enlightening and appealing. A more difficult lens to try may be one we find annoying, difficult, or here – I’ll say it – wrong. Couples counselors will tell you it’s a great skill to hone, however, as walking in the shoes of your mate is at the core of empathy, understanding and compromise.
Human beings are naturally primed to embrace empathy. According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathize wired into their brains – a built in capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives. The shame is, we rarely do. (1)
Who am I today?
A shift of perspective can be used for more than conflict resolution and developing empathy. How about imagining yourself as a tourist in your own town? An undercover officer? An old man looking back on his life in the park? An astronaut on her way to Mars? That homeless man at the bus stop you just drove by? A comedian looking for material? Just a five minute trip in your imagination to another person’s life stretches your boundaries, your creativity, your compassion, your sense of humor, and it can be just plain entertaining. It is certainly better than standing in that DMV line surrounded by nameless, faceless people you know nothing about. Yawn.
The Zen conclusion
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” The Dalai Lama knows a thing or two about perspective. Like a muscle, shifting our perspective requires exercise, otherwise we get can get stuck with the same lens as we always use. Whether motivated by compassion, curiosity, creativity, or a bout of boredom, challenge yourself to pick up a different lens. Try it on for size, observe your reactions, and learn from an alternate universe going on right next to your own. The bonus is the realization that you can CHOOSE the lens, the lens doesn’t have to choose you. Enjoy.
Some great sites that discuss the hows and whys of shifting your lens:
Sherri Nyguen. 5 Ways to Shift Your Perspective. Mindbodygreen. August 1, 2012.
Erin Smith. The Power of Perspective. Huffpost Endeavor. Jan 27, 2016.
Creative Thinking. Exercises. Jan 25, 2015. http://creativethinking.net/exercises/
Can you Teach People to Have Empathy? BBC News Magazine. June 29, 2015.