Perception vs. Reality

Three Worlds by M.C. Escher

We humans are so good at making up stories in our heads about what’s happening, calling them true and then interacting with the story instead of the person or situation at hand.

Fifteen years ago, I decided to attend a 10-day silent Vipassana Meditation Retreat at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. I arrived later than I had hoped due to traffic. About 10 minutes after I got registration handled, the whole group went into silence for the duration of the retreat—no chance to meet and talk with my roommate or visit with other attendees. The instruction was not to read, write, journal, or do anything to distract you from yourself. Also, avoid making eye contact with other attendees to prevent disturbing their experience—tall orders for the gamut of experience in the group.

I put my things in my room, nodded to my roommate and she me (after all, we hadn’t spoken and were about to spend ten days together), signed up for a shower on our room sign-up sheet, then headed to the dining hall for a vegetarian dinner.

I grabbed a tray and got in line, and to my surprise, a friend I had recently hung out with was in line in front of me. We hadn’t discussed the retreat, I didn’t know she would be there. She looked straight at me, I smiled, but she didn’t acknowledge my presence. I was baffled. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s some serious dropping into the silence. She must be a fuckin’ yogi; how is it possible she’s not doing anything in recognition?” Then came the thoughts, “how can she ignore me? And really, I mean REALLY? And wow, she’s so much more advanced than me. I’m a meditation retreat loser.” I might have even wondered if she was truly my friend, but I don’t remember.

The following day, in line for breakfast, she came in directly after me. She smiled, and we nodded, making all the expected motions of running into someone you had no idea would be in the same place as you—without talking.

The ten days passed. A funny thing about being in (mostly) silence for ten days is I couldn’t wait to be able to talk again, and when the time was up, I didn’t want to speak at all. So many words are unnecessary.

But, I did find my friend, and I asked her about that first night in line. I told her I didn’t understand what happened, why she didn’t acknowledge me, and how it confused me. She put her hand on my shoulder, laughed and said, “I didn’t have my contacts in. I couldn’t see anything.”

Perception vs. reality; It’s so good to check-in. Our minds create scenarios based on our old beliefs, experiences or interpretations, not knowing or caring about the truth or facts. And it runs with it. But we don’t have to listen. We can get curious and find out what’s really happening.

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