Welcome to week six of this free series. Go ahead and settle into your own comfy chair, grab a mug of something nice to drink, and read on.
(The following content is excerpted from The Fricken Map is Upside Down: Notes from a spiritual journey, by Carrie Triffet © Copyright 2019.)
A high speed chase seen through backward binoculars
I was being taught to step away from my own personal view-
point with good reason. For years I’d been exploring the
theme of enemy consciousness (and how to live beyond it),
because the flip side of that tug ‘o war is true inner peace.
I was learning that an enemy is only an enemy, because I
have perceived it as such. But the human perceptual view-
point is a freaky thing. It was slowly dawning on me that I
probably shouldn’t have been relying on it as an advisor in
the first place.
A human being’s perceptual lens can never be trusted as an
accurate reflection of the way things really are. Your percep-
tion and mine are not clear, factual representations of what
we see. They’re made up of our own highly personal sets of
Some of these associations are cultural or religious, others
are supplied by the society we live in. Any of these may give
the illusion of common ground with those who seem to share
our general view. Education and family influences (or lack
thereof) also play big roles in shaping perception.
Our own personal prior historical experiences, paired with this mélange
of tangled associations, inherited assumptions and unexam-
ined group expectations forms the lens through which we in-
terpret everything we see. It’s all relative, and no interpretation
is ever truly accurate.
To illustrate how it works, here’s a small example of my own
from many years back:
I was driving through South Los Angeles one day with a school
friend I hadn’t seen in ages. We had
just been to a trade show together, and were on our way to
another appointment someplace deep in the garment district.
In that section of the city several freeways converge in a complex
series of cloverleaf curves, the on and off ramps weaving under
and over each other in every direction. It takes a fair amount of
lane merging to get where you need to go. Jabbering excitedly
with my friend about all the changes in our lives since we’d last
seen each other, I barely noticed what I was doing.
Having made it safely onto our chosen freeway, a few min-
utes went by before my friend observed, ‘Um, there’s a guy
who’s been driving alongside us for a while now, and he keeps
looking in the window at you.’
‘Really?’ I asked, my eyes on the unpredictable antics of driv-
ers in front and behind me, ‘What do you think he wants?’
‘I dunno,’ she said. ‘But he looks pretty mad.’
I felt a cold stab of fear. Partly because my own prior associations
had long ago led me to the conclusion that other peoples’ anger
was unsafe, and I should always tap dance my way to a state of
mutually agreed upon harmony whenever possible.
And partly because of another prior association: This was Los Angeles,
famous around the world for the occasionally lethal effects of road
rage. I prayed the guy wasn’t carrying a baseball bat or a gun.
I stole a peek over at him. A very dark skinned man of pow-
erful build glared back at me. Oh man. Oh shit. I had no idea
why he was mad at me, but prior societal associations of mine
made his anger a little bit extra-frightening.
I grew up in an economically depressed Rust Belt town in the
1970s, where racial tensions ran high. My junior high school
years in particular saw semi-regular flashpoints of pent-up
student frustration, the racial lines often clearly drawn. I never
got beat up, back then or ever. But sparks and fists flew all
around me with a certain amount of regularity.
Decades later, on this Los Angeles freeway, I couldn’t help
but filter an encounter with this angry stranger through that
junior high school lens. It was automatic; it’s how our minds
process new information.
I made that unconscious linkage instantly, and promptly
broke out in a nervous sweat. For the
next ten miles his car kept pace with mine while I steadfastly
refused to look at him, fervently hoping he would get bored
and go away. He didn’t.
At last I reached my exit, dismayed to see he was taking
it, too. He followed behind me for another ten minutes as I
made my way to our destination. I pulled into the parking lot
and he brought his car to a screeching halt next to mine. We
got out of our cars and stood face to face, him shaking with
rage, me with fear.
I braced myself. This was many years before I knew anything
about empathic tendencies and what it means to feel other
peoples’ feelings; all I knew was, his anger tore into me like a
hundred knives hurled straight into my body. But there was
something else too, something besides outward-directed rage.
And in a peculiar way it hurt even more.
‘You cut me off,’ he snarled. ‘Like I wasn’t even there.’
Like I wasn’t even there. That was it. A focused pinpoint of
white-hot searing torment, aimed with surgical precision not
at me, but at himself. Although I had no words to describe the
phenomenon back then, I felt his inner pain and frustration
for one blinding instant as if they were mine.
His momentary jolt of fear as I’d cut him off on the freeway
(a normal reaction to being put in danger), had quickly turned
to boiling fury at my apparent cavalier disregard for his inher-
ent right to exist. (Instant linkage.) How dare I think his life
I listened quietly, looking into his eyes as he spoke. When
it was my turn to talk, I apologized humbly for my error, ex-
plaining truthfully I never even saw his car. It must’ve been in
my blind spot, and I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to
what I was doing, I admitted. I was genuinely sorry for taking
him so many miles out of his way just to speak with me, and
I said so.
He nodded, processing this new information. As I watched
his face, I could see it was almost as if his inner GPS unit had
originally taken him down a well-worn route marked
‘Favorites.’ But now it was recalculating an entirely different
pre-programmed route. A route called ‘Lady Drivers.’ This
road held no rage, just an exasperated handful of patronizing
gender assumptions. He sighed heavily and turned away.
‘See that you don’t do it again,’ he instructed almost offhand-
edly over his shoulder, shaking his head with a sour grimace as
he pointed his car back in the direction he had come.
My point here is not to suggest his prior experiences of life
weren’t real. Or that his conclusions about his experiences
weren’t accurate. Of course they were. They were valid and
real to him, as my prior experiences were valid and real to me.
It’s the way we each pasted those historical assumptions onto
our present circumstance that highlights just how unreliable
and arbitrary the personal perceptual lens really is.
By seeing through the lenses of our separate histories, we each brought
wildly divergent and completely irrelevant ideas to the in-
teraction. And because we believed what our separate lenses
showed us, we each perceived ourselves as the potential victim
of the other one’s intentions.
It’s the inner satellite navigation system itself that can’t be
trusted. It can never be relied upon to give an accurate read-
ing. By analyzing its millions of data points to formulate its
conclusions, that very process guarantees every road it takes
us down will be faulty.
Our inner GPS unit does its very best to
help us navigate our world, bless it. But in truth, all of its data
points are meaningless. And the destinations even more so.
Learning to take the personal point of view with a large grain
of salt is fundamental to spiritual and emotional freedom.
Strangely enough, I didn’t fully recognize the deeply flawed
nature of my own (or anyone else’s) personal point of view,
until my softened stance toward the ego self helped me notice
firsthand the fallibility of its perceptual lens. The egoic lens
just isn’t built for accuracy.
I realized then that I am endowed with a personal viewpoint,
simply because that’s what allows me a sense of being a sepa-
rate personal self. Not because there’s anything inherently true
or right in my way of seeing anything. So my egoic lens isn’t
worth a lot. And honestly, that personal self business? It ain’t
what it’s cracked up to be.
~ Carrie Triffet, excerpted from The Fricken Map is Upside Down: Notes from a spiritual journey, © Copyright 2019