Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Adventures in anamorphosis

Several months ago, I started writing a blog entry about a startlingly similar situation to the one in which I found myself earlier this week. I was suffering terribly, feeling very sorry for myself and actually being racked by a neurotic degree of self-doubt and defeatism. Fortunately, however, I received what could be described as a priceless little gift from the infinite: a glimmer of enlightenment that spurred me to re-examine my tribulations from a completely different point of view.

Upon doing so, I was struck by some powerful realisations. Firstly, it occurred to me that several of the troubles I was so upset about were actually blessings in disguise -- for example, by having my comfort zone stripped away in one instance, I was forced to take action and solve problems that I had become apathetic about. Secondly, I was reminded that the overwhelming majority of my difficulties were directly caused by my own decisions, which also meant that it was within my own power to overcome these obstacles.

My mood immediately rose from sulky and pissed off to happy, excited and motivated -- an improvement which catalysed the most important epiphany of all. I was shaken to the core when I realised that the actual circumstances of my life had not changed in the slightest -- the only difference was that I had started thinking about the situation from a completely new angle.

As a direct consequence of the change in perspective, a reliable path by which I could negotiate these challenges -- in other words, the way to solve the problems that they had previously appeared to be -- came into sharp focus. It felt like I had applied a colour filter to a cacophony of seemingly meaningless hues and shapes, thus causing them to suddenly arrange themselves into a sensible map with a clearly defined route to my destination.

This reinforced my existing belief that perception is like a filter through which all experiences reach one’s consciousness. This filter can be virtually transparent, but it can also obscure, distort, or enhance what passes through it. Most importantly, by making a deliberate choice about one’s point of view, it is possible to exert a degree of control over one’s perception, in much the same way as turning a polarising filter can dramatically alter the balance of colour and light in a photograph.

Another benefit of shifting one’s vantage point is that it can add an extra dimension to what is perceived. A simple analogy for this is the technique of anamorphic perspective in artwork, as seen in both renaissance classics such as The Ambassadors and contemporary street art. This technique involves rendering an image that is incomprehensibly distorted unless viewed from a single, crucial angle -- which simultaneously ‘unscrambles’ it into a recognisable object, and creates the illusion that it is a three-dimensional form.

In a very similar way, examining the details of daily reality from a different point of view can reveal so much new information that it is possible to transform one’s entire approach to life. It is rare for a single thought to bring about such sweeping changes, but in my own experience, all it takes is a single snowflake of clarity to set an avalanche in motion.

And the power to ride that avalanche, to take control of how we see our lives and to make our own rules about how reality is filtered by our perception, is completely within our grasp.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Where will you be, a year from today...

... if you set out right now?

You may be familiar with a quotation from Karen Lamb that conveys a similar sentiment, and I was thinking to use that as the title for this entry, but its angle is one of potential regret, and my whole point is to avoid that pattern of thinking altogether.

Another quotation that summarises the insight I wish to share is: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” This one is from Mary Ann Evans, writing under the pseudonym George Eliot, which in and of itself is a beautiful example of thoughtfully overcoming a prejudice of one’s time.

It is an unfortunate idiosyncrasy of the human nervous system that we crave immediate gratification, so it follows that living in the present moment can be as much of a liability as an asset. Too often, the things we wish for elude us not because we are incapable of attaining them, but because we choose to avoid embarking on the journey that is necessary to reach them. Or perhaps we do make the first steps, but abandon the greater goal and return to familiar comforts -- which amounts to the same thing.

In most cases, orchestrating a major change in one’s life requires commitment and consistency, but it is an accumulation of many small efforts that tends to be the decisive factor in success. Nobody went from being obese to marathon-ready in a day -- but to continue with that analogy, there was one particular day when such a person took the first step towards their dream. That step was followed by another in the same direction, perhaps the next day, and then another and another.

It is rare to succeed in a mission of great magnitude on one’s first attempt, and failures along the way can be terribly disheartening. But once there is a bit of road behind the traveller, all those small steps that have already been taken will not disappear unless one decides to turn around and undo the work that has been accomplished. Ironically, this model often holds true in real life and it can actually take as much effort to regress as it did to evolve.

Regardless of the inevitable stumbling blocks that will litter your path, and without discounting the importance of mindfully existing in the moment, I think making an investment in the future is also a valid aspect of living consciously. A year may not be the ideal benchmark for whatever it is you specifically wish to achieve, but it is a useful measure of time for the purpose of this argument.

Years typically slip past more quickly than we imagine they will. Think of what your life was like, a year ago to this day: it shouldn’t be too difficult to transpose or extrapolate from that recollection and imagine a future in which you can say, “Today was the day I stopped drinking.” Or, that today was when you took your first music lesson, or started exercising, or began a course of study for a superior qualification, or learnt the first words of a new language.

Regret is an inescapable fact of life for many people, and I for one continue to be plagued by demons that I have great difficulty in making peace with. But the one thing that I am absolutely certain will not make them go away, is to focus my attention on them and agonise about all the things I failed to do, at the time when I should have done them.

Instead, I would much rather minimise the formation of new regrets. I believe that the only way to do achieve this is by learning from my failures and actively move forward by making decisions I can look back on, perhaps a year from today, with a well-earned sense of pride.

I can't think of a better possible moment to set out for that destination, than right now.