The way in which we perceive life can be both our greatest asset, but also our greatest limitation. Although nobody perceives the world in a completely accurately way, we like to think we do for the most part. Therein lies the problem. We build up a lot of certainty about our “knowledge”, and may even be willing to die for it.
On deeper examination, this thing we call “Reality” is very evasive. We can access it only through our senses, which convey these impressions to our brains. That data was not 100% accurate to begin with. In fact, it was not even all that was present and available to be perceived. Our senses only detect a small portion of what is out there. On top of that, the brain then filters and interprets that small portion. Thus, we receive a highly deleted and distorted summary of Reality at best.
Mariah Nemeth, in her work, calls this a “structure of knowing”. Others may call it a “perceptual filter”. Whatever you call it, it’s what stands between you and Reality. It creates the structure with which you can deal with the world and understand it. However, it also limits you. It is never the whole story, and yet you can easily fall into the trap of assuming that it is. However, every structure of knowing we have is false in some ways.
Some practical examples should drive the idea home for you…
How do you perceive your parents? Loving or unloving, smart or stupid, competent or incompetent? Either way, it is your perceptual construction. It is not what they really are. It may not even be true outside of your own head, since you probably do not know the causes that made them what they are. However, for you, it seems very real indeed.
Once your perceptual structure regarding anything becomes deeply embedded – becomes fact as far as you are concerned – it is increasingly difficult for you to perceive reality any other way. Hence, if you perceive your father as unloving, that is reality for you. Your brain will tend to filter out those acts he commits that contradict this view. It tends to notice and reinforce those acts that confirm your negative impressions of him. They probably also carry over into your reactions towards him. Before you know it, you have a self-fulfilling prophecy on your hands. In other words, people will usually behave the way you expect them to; in the manner that your structure of knowing about them tells you they should.
This is sad because what you think you “know” limits what might otherwise might be. Yet, this is “real” for you. This is the “truth” of the situation.
Another example is the many ways in which people interpret and live their respective religious beliefs. Whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any other, we see a similar pattern. There is one interpretation which is basic and very literal: these people literally believe everything that is stated within their scriptures to be historical and scientific fact.
Then there is a group who take their religion more as a system around which to base their ethics and morals, without being too strict or serious about any of it. We see another group take the scriptural stories on a more symbolic mythic level: rather than believe in the literal interpretation, they try to see the hidden symbolic underlying them. Yet another group are the mystics – people who take the religion as the basis for developing a rich inner world and becoming explorers of spiritual realms. And so on…
Hence, the same starting base can be used for a wide variety of interpretations and uses. This in turn develops into a very specific structure of knowing, i.e. how each person perceives and reacts to the world, whether it is actually real or not. For example, one type of Christian will see the world as a battle of Good against Evil, will see demons behind every event, will consider other faiths as not just mistaken, but actually inspired by the supreme force of Evil, and will be watching the skies for the promised return of the Savior. Maybe it’s self-righteous notions like these that can lead two current world leaders of this religion to plunge their countries into a disastrous pre-emptive war: the “War of Good against Evil”.
The point is that each person “knows” that what they perceive and interpret is the “truth.” Yet, nobody actually has it all. This is one of the major causes for the major human problems in the world today. The literalist viewpoint (e.g. fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, Communist or whatever) is by far the greatest culprit in this sense, as it creates a worldview that is essentially divisive. For instance, it’s not enough to say “I’m right and you’re wrong” (which is bad enough), but rather “I’m right, and you’re EVIL! And I know so because God’s book, the ——-, says so!” [Place the holy book of your choice in the blank space].
Overall then, we cannot see “reality”, but just a sense impression brain filtered dilution of it. This is worth bearing in mind at all times.
You might do well to examine your own structures of knowing in as many areas of your life as makes sense to you. You too may be mis-perceiving, and causing yourself needless distress as a result. This is particularly valuable with your discordant relationships; be it parents, children, work colleagues or significant other. Are they really the way you think they are, or is it just a perceptual structure that you have created to deal with them?
Likewise, examine your work situation, your relationship with money, your political affiliations. How well do your structures of knowing serve you? Clearly, you have to have some sort of structure of knowing. The question is, how helpful is it to you and others, and how true is it? Or is it simply a gradual growth out of your own prejudices and subconscious motivations?
It may not always be possible to tell in every area. However, the willingness to change and improve precedes actually doing so. Therefore, strive always to be open to examining your own modes of perceiving; how you know what you think you know. This is a gradual process of unfoldment – it takes time and patience – but it will reveal rewards as you apply yourself to it.
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.