I heard about a fellow who set out in a spiritual quest to India. There he was recommended by word of mouth to find a particular saint who lived in a remote village. The seeker went to great lengths to travel to the village, where a shopkeeper told him he would find the saint under a certain tree, teaching disciples. Excited, the seeker made his way to tree, but instead of finding the saint he saw a drunkard blabbing with a couple of guys. Disappointed, he returned to the shopkeeper and complained that he had given him bad information—all that he found under the tree was a drunk The shopkeeper told him, “That was the saint. He is actually a very advanced soul, but his last lesson is to experience and overcome drinking. If you would have spent some time with him, you would have learned a lot.”
It is tempting to judge by appearances, to single out one trait of a person and evaluate him or her by that trait. Yet we are multi-dimensional beings. There is more to each of us than the traits we judge as good or bad. My mentor once explained, “Alcoholics, drug addicts, and people in mental institutions are often highly sensitive souls. They cannot handle the harshness of the world, so they retreat into a private world. If you pierce beyond their addiction or mental illness, you will often find a very creative and loving being.”
The world we see is a result of the perception we choose and the aspects we key in on. A friend and I were having lunch at the restaurant of a tropical hotel where a parrot sat in a cage near our table. When I went over to say hello to the Macaw the restaurant manager saw me and grew nervous. “Stay away from that bird!” he called out. “He might bite you.” Although I was confident with the bird, I didn’t want to ruffle the manager’s feathers, so I stepped back.
During our meal I mentioned the bird to the waitress. “Oh, Keoki is the sweetest bird. He will give you a kiss if you approach him.” She went to the parrot and he gave her a sweet kiss on the cheek. I was stunned. Were those two people talking about the same bird? Then I realized that the restaurant manager was worried about liability, while the waitress valued connection more. Each person was seeing the bird through their own lens of perception—one based on love and one based on fear. Each experienced the result of the perception they chose.
Even if you have chosen a fear-based perception, you can shift to a more rewarding perspective. This is the hidden gift of relationships that trouble us. When you aren’t getting along with someone, you have chosen to see that person through the lens of fear. The relationship as it is will persist (or another one like it will take its place) until you choose love instead. A Course in Miracles tells us, “Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you.
My partner had a friend named Cynthia who used to visit our house and chatter endlessly. I found her quite annoying. One day while I was standing on a ladder fixing a window on the second floor, Cynthia stood opposite me and blabbed while I was working. I fantasized about tossing her through the window, but, being a sensitive new age guy, I restrained myself.
Then one day while I was receiving a massage, Cynthia came to mind. In my relaxed state my resistance was diminished, so I thought about her from a more peaceful vantage point. I realized that Cynthia was actually a very nice person. She had always been very kind to me and my partner. I had been basing my judgment of her on one particular trait. When I looked beyond that trait, I saw someone I truly liked. From that time on I enjoyed her.
Everyone is our teacher. Some teach us through joy and others through challenge. Reframe challenging people as angels who have come to help you clean the glass of your perception. Everyone is potentially loveable, but we must choose to claim the potential of our relationship rather than the limits we have superimposed over it. When we reframe relationships as opportunities to experience love, they shift in our favor.
All perception is selective. Out of an infinity of choices of what we may see, we choose but one. If you do an Internet image search for “spectrum of light” you will discover that the physical eye sees but a tiny range of the many different frequencies of light available. Our vision is quite limited compared to what is out there. William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
Devils and angels are less about ultimate reality and more about choice of perception. We cannot change the people around us, but we can change how we see them. Then, regardless of what they do, we find inner peace, the only perception worth choosing. To love thy neighbor is to see your neighbor clearly.