Tag Archives: Perception

Embrace Your Future

This morning I was out walking on my morning walk. It was an exceptionally nice morning; the weather was cool and clear. The sun is starting to rise a little bit later each day, so the time when I walk is near perfect conditions. Still early in the morning, so it’s very quiet.

I saw a guy (at least I think it was a guy) off in the distance. Part of my walk takes me through a large area where there are many rice fields next to each other. Each are privately owned by the surrounding neighbors, and I think they’ve been in the respective families for quite some time.

As I saw this guy way off in the distance, I couldn’t help but to wonder about him and what he was doing. I think it is really interesting when things like happen.
You’ll be moving along, on whatever path you are traveling on, and something in the distance will pop up. And because it is fairly evident that your paths will eventually cross, you naturally become curious about this, whatever it might be.

Sometimes this isn’t too pleasant. When you see something up ahead, that you will eventually come across, it can cause fear or anxiety. A police car at a traffic stop, a person that doesn’t look very safe, or maybe a hungry tiger waiting to eat you.

You can also look into the future and see things coming up that won’t likely be very pleasant. And the closer you get to them, the more anxious you can become.

I was at a seminar several years ago, and the fellow giving the lecture was explaining that fear and anxiety are largely imaginary. Of course if there really was a tiger waiting for you, that would be different. But more often than not, according to this guy, whatever is causing you anxiety is usually not nearly as bad in real life as it is in your mind.

The trick is to look at approaching events and situations the same way you’d look at some old guy in a rice field you were eventually going to pass by. Based on all my experiences in passing old guys in the street, there is a high probability of safety. Consequently, when you approach something with a high probability of safety, it’s easy to be relaxed and just let things come as they may.

And paradoxically enough, those things that do go bad, and really do create uncomfortable situations, more often than not it is your anxiety that you brought to the situation that did the damage, rather than the situation itself.

The trick is to approach everything with the same, laid back and relaxed attitude of approaching an old man in a rice field. That way you’ll be much more open and likely to see resources that you can leverage to you’re advantage.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. One trick is to simply stop thinking about what might happen in the future and only pay attention to now. A good way to do this is to simply follow your breathing, and pay as close attention as you can to the physical sensations in your body.

Of course, with more practice, this gets easier and easier, and pretty soon you’ll be as cool as cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce in every situation.

Peanut Butter Magic

The other day I was eating a peanut butter sandwich. I don’t eat peanut butter sandwiches much anymore, but I use to eat them all the time as a kid. I even experimented with different ways to make them. Grilled, toasted, microwaved, roasted, I even tried leaving one outside on our backyard deck to see how it would taste after sitting in the sun.

The one I was eating recently was a normal variety wheat bread with some extra chunky peanut butter, nothing special. It was pretty good, and it got me thinking.

I watched this documentary once on how they made peanut butter. (It must have been a night when there was nothing else on TV.) I had always thought that there was some peanut butter continuum between raw peanuts, super chunk, chunky, and creamy peanut butter. I assumed they started with peanuts, and then ground them until they were at whatever level of chunkiness that were required.

But according to the documentary, all peanut butter is first made into creamy peanut butter. Then they add chunks later to make it chunky or super chunky. This completely turned my assumptions about the peanut butter industry upside down. It’s interesting when something that you are completely sure of being true is completely flipped around from the way things really are.

There was once an episode of I Love Lucy where the focus, or the crux of the episode was on a creamy peanut butter sandwich. Ricky had hired a maid to help Lucy out while he was off at work singing Babaloo. He thought he was doing her a great favor, when in reality he was creating an extremely uncomfortable situation.

The metaphorical focal point came of course when the maid made Lucy a peanut butter sandwich. She kept offering it to Lucy; sure that she would enjoy it. Lucy, was of course, too shy to turn her down, and dutifully did her best to eat the sandwich. The sandwich had way too much peanut butter on it, and caused quite a funny scene.

I don’t know if you’ve done a favor for somebody, and you thought you were really helping them when in actuality you were causing them all kinds of grief and frustration. Sometimes it helps to take people at their word they give us a simple “No Thanks.” If Ricky had simply asked Lucy if she wanted a maid, then the whole disaster would have been averted.

I’m sure you know how imposing somebody can be when you are forced to do something, under the guise of somebody else doing you a favor. Not only do you have to go along with what the other person wants you to do, but you have to pretend that you grateful for them. Doing this to others is a sure way to make yourself less popular. Be careful.

Of course, now that I know the secrets of peanut butter, I can fully enjoy my sandwiches. It has given me a whole new paradigm of peanut butter. I can even add my own peanuts to make my own super super super chunk.

The best peanut butter sandwich I ever came up with is peanut butter on toasted sourdough bread, with the outside of the bread buttered with regular butter. It makes for a messy sandwich, but boy is it tasty, especially if you eat it while the bread is still hot, and the peanut butter is slightly melted from the heat.

Outside of Your Perceptual Awareness

The other day I was sitting in the park, talking to a friend of mine. It is a fairly large park, and there is both a large concrete area, for skateboards, and break dancers to practice, as well as a large grassy area, for little kids to run around and chase Frisbees without worrying about what happens when they fall over. The grass is very soft. And although they have several signs advising folks not to feed the birds, there are always a few people tearing apart pieces of bread for them.

As I was talking to this guy, a flash caught my attention. It’s funny how that works. You’ll be talking to somebody, or watching something, and your attention is pointed her, and then something happens just outside of your conscious awareness but not so much outside of it that you can’t at least notice some kind of activity going on off to the side. It’s like your brain is monitoring what is going on all around you, in case somebody drops a suitcase full of money, or a hungry tiger suddenly materializes. That way you can put a bookmark in your conversation and come back later after you’ve picked up the money and escaped the tiger.

I remember seeing a study done once on human perception and memory. It was done at a University. During a lecture, one with one of those big lecture halls you see on TV, a professor was giving a lecture. The professor was in on the experiment, and all of his students were test subjects. Off to the side was the professor’s briefcase. On the other side of the brief case, was the front entrance. Because the lecture hall was very large, it had two entrances, one in the front, and one in the rear. During the experiment, both doors were closed.

Right in the middle of the lecture, somebody burst in the room, ran across the front of the classroom, grabbed the professor’s briefcase, and ran out. When this happened, most the students were facing forward, so they wouldn’t even have to turn their necks to see the thief (who was also part of the experiment.)

What happened next is very interesting, and has been a known fact within police forces for many years. All of the students were told it was an experiment shortly after the incident, and given a detailed questionnaire regarding the appearance of the “thief.” Most all of them got his description completely wrong. Some even chose the incorrect ethnicity of the thief. Others didn’t remember the right colors of his clothes; some imagined he was wearing a hoody (perhaps as to explain to themselves why they couldn’t remember his face,) and many other things.

One thing a police detective will tell you is that if all they have is eyewitness testimony, they don’t have much, and it is incredibly difficult to get a conviction, let alone a warrant for the arrest if that is all they have to go on. For the police, physical evidence is key. Without physical evidence linking the suspect to the crime, they usually don’t even bother.

One reason I’ve heard for this is that memory is something that you have to “pre-frame,” meaning that you have to consciously choose before you see something that you want to remember it. If you see something that you weren’t expecting, you aren’t likely to remember it. This is perhaps due to an aspect of evolution. The brain isn’t really set up to remember stuff unless it is important to us. And the only things that are important to us automatically are food, predators, and sex. Of course in modern society, food, or resources, is in the form on money, and predators is in the form of anything that we deem a threat to our safety. And of course sex, is and will always be, sex.

Perhaps because the students didn’t recognize any of these three in the experimental thief, their brains didn’t deem it important enough to remember. Had it been their own briefcase that was stolen, they would have likely remembered it. Especially if the briefcase had been filled with money and phone numbers that would likely lead to easy sex. Then you can be sure that they would have remembered every detail about the thief.

So after I turned my attention to the flash I saw in the park, I noticed it was a street performer, doing a juggling act, and he had thrown something up in the air. When it (whatever it was) had reached its apex, it exploded into three balls that came crashing falling down, which he of course caught and started to juggle. I suppose that is a great way to get attention if you are juggler. It certainly got mine, as me and my friend actually stood up to go over and watch him juggle, as so many others did in the park, most of whom gave him a sizable tip in his juggler hat after he’d finished.

Make All Things New

I was taking a bus last weekend to a town not too far from here. It’s in another prefecture, and they have a really good museum there. They’ve taken five hundred or so of the most famous paintings from all time, and reproduced them using some high tech ceramic imaging. (Gotta love Japanese technology!) Supposedly they are completely weather proof and everything, so they will last two thousand years or so. So if mankind decides to destroy ourselves through global warming or nuclear holocaust, at least the aliens will find all of our best art work when they come scavenging in a thousand years or so.

So as I was riding this bus, I was reading through this guidebook. When I travel, I usually don’t like taking tours or planning my trip out extensively, like some people do. In fact, all the times’ I’ve traveled overseas, I’ve only booked the first one of two nights in advance over the internet, and after that I sort of make it up as I go along. It’s much more fun that way. So I usually read whatever travel books are available, get some information online of what I can see there. That way when I get there, I kind of have an idea of what is available, and based on my mood, and the weather, and whatever else happens, I can plan my trip accordingly. When I came to Japan for the first time, I was in one city (I honestly don’t remember which one) and I was deciding on what city to visit next, and I made my decision by taking a poll in the bar I happened to be drinking in at the time. That’s really a fun way to travel.

When you really look at some of the decisions you make, most people would be surprised at how many of them are really made by taking other peoples opinions into consideration. When people spend their valuable time and money on packaged tours, as is common in Japan and in other countries in Asia, they are pretty much letting somebody else make ALL their decision for them. Which is good in some ways, because it allows them to completely relax and just enjoy their trip without worrying about what’s coming next. It’s good when you can release anxiety like that.

So as I was flipping through what information I could find about my destination, I started chatting with the girl sitting next to me. As I turns out, she was from the town I was going to. Only instead of being excited to be going there, she was a little bit depressed. She was going back home after a long week of vacation in the city where I live. And like most people, as I’m sure you can imagine, she wasn’t looking forward to going back to the daily grind. Coming home after a vacation can be a depressing thing indeed.

It’s interesting when two people can look at the same thing and feel completely different interpretations of it. There’s that old story about two guys in prison, and one guy looked out the window and always look down at the ground, and was always depressed, while his cellmate would always look up at the starts and feel inspired and uplifted. The guy that looked up at the stars went on to win the Nobel Prize in Bio-Medical Economic Literature, while the guy that looked in the dirt all time turned out to be the guy that invented telemarketing. Or something like that.

But once I told her I was going on vacation, and asked her opinion on the fun things to do in her town, she got a little less sad, and a little more excited. Although she had to work the next day, so she wouldn’t be able to show me around personally, she seemed to find herself in a much better mood after telling me all the cool things about her city, that only a few moments ago she was dreading returning to. I guess putting things into a different perspective can really brighten your mood if you want it to.

And sometimes when you can do just that, you’ll be surprised to find that some of things around you will take on a whole new meaning when you allow yourself to see something that has always been there for the first time.

Notice This Opportunity That is All Around You

So there I was. Sitting in the middle of a third semester test in calculus. Three dimensional integrals. I was panicked. There was another method that we had recently learned, but I could remember it. I was panicking. Surely I would fail. The harder I tried to think, the more difficult it became. My mind was frozen like a turkey a week before thanksgiving. I checked the clock. Fifteen minutes left. I looked at the half solved equation. No idea what to do. I looked at the girl sitting next to me. She always did well in class. Maybe looking at her calm face would give me inspiration.

It was just like when I was driving down the freeway. I had just bought a new Toyota. And I was amazed that there were so many Toyota’s around before. And so many just like my car. But then a car, just like mine, began to tailgate behind me. They were driving really close. I was getting nervous, but not too nervous. I kept driving, still amazed that there were so many cars just like mine. Maybe the person behind wanted to make friends because we had the same car. Maybe she wanted to exchange emails or something. I looked back and she had no license plates, which meant that she had purchased her car recently as well.

It’s weird the way that works. You do the same thing day after day, and you don’t really stop and notice what is around you. It’s easy to not realize that there is something wonderful right in front of you. Some wonderful opportunity. And once you see this opportunity, you can’t help but to imagine now, what wonderful things will happen when you take this opportunity. And opportunities can come in many shapes and sizes too. They can be something that you never would have expected before. All you have to do is relax, open your eyes, and appreciate what is right in front of you.

So I finally realized the car behind me was a friend that I worked with about five years ago. When I finally recognized her, we exchanged hand signals and pulled of the freeway. We went to a fabulous Indian restaurant and caught up on old times. That’s another strange thing. I’d driven down that street literally hundreds of times and wasn’t aware of that particular restaurant.

And as soon as I glanced over at my classmate, something about her shirt reminded me of the new method we learned to solve three dimensional integrals. After I realized that, the test was a snap. Because I did sit there with a frozen brain for a few moments, I didn’t finish the test, and only got an 82, but that is a lot better had I not distracted myself so I could look around and see what was there. Wonderful things happen when you do that.


Don’t Stop, Go!

Last night I was walking home from the movies. I had to walk through a bunch of rice fields. Because each rice field belongs to a different house, the road kinds of curves around. Not being very familiar with the area, I had to kind of guess where I was going. I knew the general direction I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure if the path I had chosen would take me directly there, or through some roundabout way.

When came around a turn, I noticed a car that had passed me only a few moments before going the other direction. Hmm. Maybe he forgot something. When I turned the corner. I saw the reason he turned around. There was a big flashing sign saying that the road was under construction. When I approached the sign, sure enough, there was a large piece of road construction equipment parked there, and the asphalt portion of the road ended. On the other side of the fence was a rather ‘in progress’ looking surface. What to do. I checked me watch. The train station I was heading for was perhaps fifty meters in front of me. If I turned back, I would have to walk through the rice fields again, and go all the way around. Which would be about an extra kilometer or two. Which would mean I would miss the next train which was due in about ten minutes, and would have wait for the next one. Which meant that I would miss my connection train at the main station. If was only  an extra kilometer of two of walking, it would be a no brainer, since I love walking through rice fields. But when you factor in all the added delays I would experience, it was also a no brainer.

I jumped over the “Do Not Enter Sign” and negotiated my way over the ‘in progress’ road they were building. I had to hop over a couple holes, but I finally made it to a walkway, and to the station in time.

Sometimes when we go through life, we come up against what we think are stop signs. Many times we see the stop sign, and turn around, go all the way back around and take extra time. But are they really stop signs? The one I saw above was. It was real. But what happens when you come up against a stop sign in your imagination? If you ask out a girl, and she says, “no,” is that really a stop sign, or an invitation to try something different.

If you are working on a project, and you come up to some problems, are they really stop signs? Or just an invitation to use your ingenuity to jump over the imaginary fence and go around?

The car that was ahead of me had no choice, because the road beyond the stop sign wouldn’t support the weight of his car. But because I was walking, I assumed the stop sign was only for cars, not for pedestrians. What happens when you encounter imaginary stop signs, but you assume they are only for other people, and not for you?

Bad economy? No problem. They aren’t talking about you. You can jump over the fence and think of another way. Limited budget at work? Not for you. They mean somebody else. You can think of other ways to get the project done. You have to run thirty minutes a day and eat only oatmeal to lose weight? Nope, that’s for those other guys that are really overweight. You can think of a better, easier way to get in shape.

When you think about it, the only real stop signs that are the ones that are shaped like an octagon and pained red with the word STOP on it. And you know as well as I do that it’s really only a suggestion, anyways. For those other guys.


Dig Into The Meaning Of Life One Hundred Percent

One of the reasons I like to study Chinese Characters is because each particular character has it’s own individual meaning. So even if you don’t know how to pronounce a group of characters, you can sort of figure out what the meaning by guessing the combinations. Although sometimes, due to historical anomalies, you get some strange combinations. For example, the combination of “parents” and “cut” yields “kind.”  Most make a bit more sense, but they are interesting nonetheless.

English words, on the other hand, may require a bit of etymological investigation before breaking a word into parts (if that’s the kind of thing you are into.)
For example, ‘century,’ which means one hundred years, is based on the same ‘cent’ which is one hundredth of a dollar, and the ‘cent’ in the centigrade that means one hundred grades (between freezing and boiling of water.) Also in centimeter, and centipede. ‘Ped’ of course meaning foot, as in ‘pedal’ and ‘pedestrian.’

These are just some basic examples, but words are really fascinating when you look below the surface. You can really discover interesting things if you stop and think of the story and history behind things.

Like when I was taking the bus the other day. I was sitting next to this really interesting older woman, who was telling me about her granddaughter who just became engaged to this guy from Bangladesh. And he comes from a very large family, I believe she said six brothers and four sisters, if I recall correctly. And one of the brothers was showing her recently how to make this really spicy Thai dish, but that’s another story. Anyway, this guy was saying that each moment in time space continuum (those are his words, not mine) is an opportunity to really dig underneath reality to discover what is really there.

If you take the time to stop and watch the ‘unfolding’ as he referred to it, you can catch the moment when your thoughts and reality merge. When humans give meaning to events. He said that it is a lot better to stay open as long as possible when interacting with reality, because once you give meaning to something, while it’s not set in stone, it’s a lot more efficient to create the possibility for a more resourceful meaning beforehand, rather than waiting until after the fact.

I wasn’t sure I understood her when she was describing this too me, and I don’t she was able to completely understand it either, because it sounded a lot like some Eastern Philosophies that I’ve read about. I think the gist of it was to stay open, and make sure you don’t give away any meanings to events unless you are really one hundred percent sure you know what happened. And since we are almost never one hundred percent sure of what really ever happens, it’s best to keep an open mind.

Like when you pass by somebody in the hallway, and you say “hi,” and they don’t say “hi” back, it would be best to give the benefit of the doubt, and not assume they are angry at your or something. Otherwise you might get your feelings hurt over something that was only in your head. 

Although the fellow described this in eastern philosophical terms which might have been a bit esoteric, I think we are all talking about the same concept. And because you are reading this, you are likely wise enough to have known about this anyways. I’m sure you already know that giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming they are most likely operating from some kind of positive intention is usually a good idea.

I just think that the concept of standing back and watching the unfolding of reality is a beautiful concept, one that we don’t take the time to really appreciate, since it is happening all around us, all the time.


Pay Attention to Expanding Neural Networks

I was chatting with a friend of mine from overseas last night on Skype. It’s been a while and we were catching up on old stuff, like you do when you haven’t done that in a while, because it’s a natural thing, right? And she was telling me about this new guy that she’s dating. I think she mentioned in passing that he was English, although I can’t be sure. I say in passing, but I’m I don’t know if that’s the correct grammatical description of what happened. She mentioned something that sort of led me to believe that he was English, although she didn’t say what specifically. Like his uncle who lives next door owns a fish and chips shop that has been in the family for several generations, or something else random like that. 

It’s weird when that happens. You’ll be talking with somebody, and you’ll make all kinds of inferences about what was said, but you don’t really don’t pay attention to the underlying intention of the conversation. Like somebody will mention their boyfriend, and then they’ll switch topics completely, and you think they are still talking about their boyfriend, but they’ve switched referential indexes completely so you don’t know exactly who they are talking about.

Like once my other friend was explaining to me the grammatical structure of the Laotian language. They generally don’t use grammatical modifiers, like past tense or familial references. Everything is modified by context. If they start talking about something that happened last Tuesday, everything in that conversation from then out is referenced from Tuesday unless otherwise indicated. I suppose in different languages you develop the ability to pay attention to different levels of intention.

Which I guess it’s a good reason to learn several things, like languages, because they can really help you to develop a rich outlook on life. It’s been proven that an easy way to really have the ability to see things from a different perspective is to learn another language. And not only just words, but to actually think that way. They’ve shown it actually creates new neural pathways that are used differently from other ones. Some of the smartest people in the world can speak several languages. And one tends to wonder, do they speak several languages because they are smart? Or do you become smarter than you already are because you can speak several languages?

Well, at any rate, I hope my friend can get along well with her new boyfriend, regardless of how the fish and chip restaurant pans out.


Shadow Acting

Have you ever stopped to realize that something in your experience wasn’t exactly quite what you thought it was? An event or a situation that you interpreted one way, but as you look back, it takes on a new light?

For example, think of something in your past, something that happened, say five or ten years ago. And imagine as you were, just before that situation took place. And now imagine yourself as you were going through that situation. How does that feel? What do you see? What do you hear?

What meanings do you choose to give the events unfolding around you, now, as you remember what happened to you in your past? What was the one element of that experience that you chose to define it for you? Was it the way something appeared, or what somebody said, or something about the way somebody looked at you? Perhaps it was the way you felt afterwards?

For example, once I saw a guy talking into a mirror at the gym. He was standing really close, and he was really animated.  Talking with fluidly changing and almost chaotic facial expressions, arms flailing around. The meaning that I chose to give to that situation was that the guy was crazy. I could have given another meaning, since I really didn’t know what was going on, but that was my best, my quickest guess.

Now what happens if you take your earlier situation, and then move forward in time  a couple of years, or even right up until recently. Can you find another similarly structured situation, but with a completely different meaning that you decided to give it? What was different? Why was the second situation, which was similar to the first, different in the meaning that you gave it? Were there different, more familiar people involved? Was the setting more comfortable? Had the weather changed for the better?

In my situation, I saw another guy talking to himself in the mirror. I didn’t know him, but I surmised he was practicing for a performance, because he was standing outside of a theater that I go to sometimes. I saw two different guys, that I’d never met before doing the same thing, but I gave them two different meanings. One guy was loony, and one guy was a professional actor practicing his craft.

What was different for you?

One of the more interesting things about this, is that as you increase your understanding of your experience, and naturally apply different realizations, it follows that you can vastly increase your potential for flexibility in your perception. And when you can apply this flexibility in real-time, so you discover different choices for the meanings that you used to give automatically, your world will astoundingly open up.


You Want Fries With That?

“Dude why does this always happen to me?”
“Why does what always happen to you?”
“They always mess up my order.”
“What’s wrong?”
“I ordered the chicken burger with mashed potatoes, and they gave me the chicken burger with fries. I can’t eat fries, my doctor said so.”
“What does your doctor have to do with this?”
“He told me not to eat too much fried food.”
“I see. So is that why your order always gets messed up, because your doctor told you to stop eating so much fried food?”
“No, I’m just saying. They always mess up my order.”
“Waiters, waitresses.”
“Both waiters AND waitresses?”
“Mostly waitresses.”
“So then they don’t ALWAYS mess up your order, only waitresses?”
“Yea. Yea, that’s it. Waitresses always mess up my order.”
“All waitresses?”
“Well, now that you mention it, usually only cute ones do.”
“Hmm. I see. Do they know they are cute?”
“The cute ones that mess up your order, do they know they are cute?”
“Dude, what?”
“You said most cute waitresses mess up your order. How do they know that they’re cute? Is there some internationally agreed upon scale of cuteness that they have to check themselves against every day to see if they can qualify to mess up your order?”
“Huh? Dude, what are you talking about? Of course not. There’s no standard.”
“You’re not saying that cuteness is subjective, are you?”
“Of course it’s subjective!”
“So they’re psychic then, right?”
“Since there isn’t any international standard for cuteness, and cuteness is subjective, they can only mess up your order if they can read your mind and decide that you think they are cute. Right?”
“Um, I think I’ll just eat my fries…”
“No, no, this is getting interesting. Maybe, they read your mind, and because they realize you think they are cute, it makes them nervous and that’s why they are all messing up your order. Or maybe, they all hoping that because you think they are cute, you might want to ask them out, so they mess up your order on purpose so they’ll have a chance to apologize, and give you a chance to ask them out? Whatta you think?”
“I really just… dude, you wanna fry?”
“Do you have any other explanation?”
“Can we just drop it?”
“No, no, I’d like to get to the bottom of this. Perhaps there is another explanation. Maybe YOU are the one that is messing up your order. Maybe you actually said ‘fries’ when you meant to say ‘mashed potatoes.’ Did you ever think of that?”
“Seriously, these fries are pretty good, you should try one. They have like garlic or something on them…”
“What is cute, anyways? How exactly do you know that a girl is cute? I mean, say look over…there! Is she cute?”
“Dude, you really are starting to embarrass me.”
“Have you ever had a cute waitress that DIDN’T mess up your order? Or did you ever have a waitress that was really uncute, and HE messed up your order? I mean, that’s not really a cute thing to say, you know. Cute people have feelings too. I suppose I could order you to just be thankful you have some pota….dude, what happened to your fries?”
“I finished them while you were rambling on about whatever you were rambling on about.”
“How were they?”
“Great, I think I’ll order them again next time.”