As I sat to write this blog post, I glanced down at my feet and the sight of my fresh pedicure with bright red polish instantly took me back to early childhood, as if I’d stepped into a time machine and been swept away in a flash to being about three years old and watching my mother get ready to go out to dinner with my father. She was putting on red lipstick. She wore red lipstick exclusively for many years, and I thought it was simply wonderful. For special occasions, she took time out of her busy life — raising a big family, sewing our clothes, cooking incredible meals including baking, also gardening and sundry other activities that I am much more grateful and appreciate of now than I was at the time (amazing how much we take for granted, isn’t it?) — to put on matching nail polish. One day, I borrowed the nail polish, took it with me into the bedroom my two oldest sisters shared — because it was a sunny room and I needed good lighting for what I had in mind — sat on the floor and carefully painted my toenails. I can remember looking down in satisfaction at what a wonderful job I had done. A bit later that same day, I was playing at a neighbor’s house and my friend’s mom came into the room where we were playing dolls. The mother caught sight of my sandaled feet (this was summer in Texas) and said something like, “Oh my, you painted your toenails!” I remember being astounded that she knew I was the one who had done it. I really expected her to assume my mother or one of my older sisters had done it for me. Now of course, today, I am sure that red polish was all over my toes and clearly the artwork of a three-year-old, but at the time I was amazed that she guessed it was a DIY project.
But what has this little trip down memory lane got to do with perception? Perception is our point of view, and we use it every waking moment of the day. From my viewpoint as a three-year-old, I’d done such a spectacular job painting my nails that I assumed people would think a teenager or adult had done it for me as a special treat. From the perception of my friend’s mother, who had seen pedicures before, it was clearly the work of a little girl. In cases such as this, the difference in perception didn’t have much impact on the world or on the lives of the people in that room.
However, our perception of our life purpose, of our ability to create what we desire, of events going on around us in our community, our country and other nations, all do have an impact, because we make our decisions based on our point of view. As we go through a normal day, perception helps create an efficient way to filter the bombardment of sensory perceptions and information that our brain must process. We choose what we eat, what we wear, what we like and dislike based on many thousands of judgments made over time, starting in early childhood and highly influenced by our family, teachers and peers. Have you ever met or known someone who seemed to be living in a different era? Perhaps they’re long past middle age and still wearing their hair the same style as in high school, eating the same foods, driving the same color of car, and pretty much repeating the life they’ve lived before, year after year. To that person, the sameness of living out a familiar point of view feels safer than changing or shaking things up with something new and different. Usually we say that person is “stuck in time.”
We also gain our perception about major events in the world based on the mindset we hold and the news channel we tune into–it’s easier to listen to what the newscaster is saying and nod in agreement. It’s easier to not have to think much about upsetting situations. It’s easier to say to ourselves: Let someone else do that. After all, I’m just one person so what can I do to change situations?
An important situation that we have collectively formed a “perception” about is that the Dalai Lama, who was forced to flee to India to escape the Red Army in 1959, can never go home again. I realized one day that we were–again, collectively, in the millions–holding an image of the Dalai Lama that was actually keeping him boxed in. Together, we can change that perception, and I invite you to join the movement I’ve founded, called “Restoring Tibet.” By changing our point of view to envision him back home in Tibet, we can and will create a peaceful demonstration of the power of the human mind to affect events.