Whatever is in me is stronger than what is out there to defeat me. Caroline Myss
What is the point of perspective? You know those times when things are pretty shitty and life seems difficult then something happens to you, someone you know or in the world and BAM everything is suddenly put into perspective. What’s the point of that perspective gaining moment?
Numerous times I have had cause to pause and consider this, either as a result of my own experiences or those of others I have witnessed. Numerous times I have experienced the clarity that comes from such a wake up call and the conviction that I will live differently, be different as a result. Then, as often happens, the perspective fades, the conviction dwindles and the clarity smudges and becomes murky again. Why does the perspective fade?
In search of some answers this is what I have discovered, so far.
The definition of perspective , which originates from the Latin word perspicere meaning transparent, clear, to see through, is a term used today, especially in art, to refer to a process of representing, on a flat surface, an image as seen by the eye. From this Wikipedia definition I get the sense that perspective, related to my questions, is about seeing something in relation to where we stand and seeing something from another person’s view-point. This led me then to the Dalai Lama (Yes, it’s a leap but go with me on this).
The Dalai Lama believes the purpose of life is to be happy. He discusses how humans naturally prefer happiness to suffering. I do not wish to misquote the Dalai Lama but in the interests of expediency I hope to paraphrase what I learnt. Happiness and suffering fall into two categories: physical and mental. From what I understand, our mind can influence the degree of our happiness and suffering. It’s there, in our mind, that our suffering inflates, drags us down, consumes us. It’s there too that we can learn to heal from the tragedies, upsets, upheavals we face.
Suffering helps us develop compassion and love for others, this aids us in supporting our own sense of wellbeing too. Compassion and love help us to maintain hope. If we are discouraged and lose hope, says the Dalai Lama, we risk diminishing our ability to face difficulties. The reality of other people’s suffering helps us improve our determination and capacity to address not only theirs but our own suffering as well. So, if I understand this correctly, when our ability to develop compassion for others grows, our own inner strength and peace increases. Therefore, regardless of the severity of what we ourselves are facing, be it minor first world problems or nightmarish injustices, these issues become easier (perhaps marginally) for us to deal with, their weight becomes less burdensome, the edges softened and, through this, our mental stability increases which in turns allows our physical wellbeing to be addressed. I guess, in this way, there is a small shift in the balance of the universe also.
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. Rumi
I know for myself, whenever faced with a ‘perspective’ defining moment, I realise how very small I am in the grand scheme of things, how tiny I am in the cosmos, and then come the resolutions to live differently, to think and to act differently. This mental state lasts for a few weeks, or months, depending on the severity and impact of both the initial situation and the ‘wake up call’. I determine to focus on what really counts in life and then, slowly but surely small issues creep up that become over inflated problems and the cycle begins again. Am I, through this process, increasing my resilience? Am I, through this process, increasing my compassion? Am I, through this process, making any progress or contributing in some minute way to the greater good?
Caroline Myss talks about healing being a type of pain that allows us to become aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and of our ability and capacity to love and do damage to ourselves and others. She talks of how the most challenging person to control in life is within each of us. Myss says that if we define ourselves by our wounds (our suffering) we lose our physical and spiritual energy and therefore risk illness. So, these wake up calls, are they designed to pull us back from the brink of whatever small or large tragedy we are facing to repair us a little so we can continue to function purposefully in the world? Are they designed to allow us, through our empathy and compassion, to lighten the way for another, so they too can step back from the brink of suffering, if even just a few inches, to catch their breath?
If what Myss and the Dalai Lama say is true, that what affects the mind affects the body, is there some grand universal plan to keep us on a somewhat even keel so that what drains our spirit is not allowed to completely drain our body? So that when one is addressed the other is also addressed? Is this too grand a leap to make?
Is this why our perspective fades? Is it because, once we have righted ourselves a little the urgency dissipates? Is it because once liberated from the crushing weight of our problems, once our head is again just above water and we drink in more resuscitating air, our quest to change is abandoned in the luxury of the respite? Is it because these tiny moments of grace are enough to transform us and the world by infinitesimal increments? Is it part of a beautiful and elegant design that we each must improve ourselves and make continual small contributions to ensure the cultivation and preservation of compassion and love in the world?
I fear my thoughts have steered me off course. Perhaps my initial conclusions are outlandish and naive. So, where am I as a result of my initial pondering? I’m not greatly more enlightened and I now have more questions than answers. What I do I know for sure is: that suffering is part of life; that we will have things put into perspective for us is inevitable; that this helps us regain a semblance of equilibrium in our search for happiness; that perspective will fade is also inevitable. I know too that to make change as a result of our experience is hard and not always actioned (how to address this and ensure our resolve counts is too large a question to tackle here). Something else I know for sure is that the beauty of the human spirit lies in its strength to overcome, to feel compassion for others in our darkest times and to continue to love despite the travesties and trials of life.
What in your experience is the purpose of perspective and why do you think seems to fade?