A Perceptual Shift
Our choices in life are dictated by the way we perceive reality. Yet few of us take the time to really explore the personal way in which we perceive, assuming that everyone sees the same reality we do. But that's not true. As we shall see, studies in perception reveal that each person sees uniquely.
This book appeals to the intrepid explorer in you. It invites you to explore your own personal habits of perception and how they affect your life choices. In a broader scope, it is about how we, as a species, view our role on this planet.
We just completed the bloodiest century of recorded history. When you look at the status of life on Earth, the narrow analysis upon which we base our decisions, the lack of common sense and logic, the emphasis on material gain over quality of life ... are you satisfied? Or do you yearn for deeper connection? Are you longing to contribute? Do you ask yourself, "Is this the best we can do?"
It seems we have become "human doings" instead of "human beings." This book is a step toward becoming human beings, by exploring some of the underlying concepts, beliefs, and judgments that directly affect our perception of who we are and what is possible. In a shift of focus it asks, "Who do we choose to BE?"
More precisely, it examines what life would be like if we consciously chose to honor all life in our daily decisions. This is not a pie-in-the sky dream, but a reality that is being explored and developed on every continent - right now - by thousands just like you. It touches every aspect of our daily lives.
It requires both an inner and outer exploration, as it acknowledges the truth that anything we want to manifest into the world must first be present within ourselves. This is important, because each of us has a vital role to play in this gentle transformation of our way of life on Earth.
I have to admit this is not an easy path. In the years since I promised myself that I would explore living a life that honors all, every aspect of my life that wasn't honoring raised it's head in a direct challenge. Yet this journey of self discovery has been such a celebration of Life, that I can no longer imagine living any other way.
This shift in perception has allowed me to be effective in the world, in a way I've never experienced before. When I view the wake of destruction and pain that trails behind humanity's choices in the past several hundred years, it has offered me hope for the future well-being of my children and all life on this planet.
This book explores an intentional shift of focus. Although it can be seen as a brief introduction to many new (and old) ways of seeing life, it is not about religion or philosophy, but about perception. It explores some of the most prominent and profoundly different concepts through which we view ourselves and our place in the cosmos - and how those perceptions color our choices. Each chapter can be considered an introduction to a topic that deserves volumes. They are intended to act as a sort of catalyst for your own exploration.
Moving to Wholeness
Human beings are amazingly magnificent creatures. We are driven by love, highly adaptable, possess brilliant wisdom, and are always learning. Although we may not recognize ourselves as such, nor often act in a way that reflects this innate beauty, our actions reveal more of a need for a shift in the way we perceive ourselves and our place in the living systems of life, than a shift in who we are.
We no longer have the luxury of spending decades "improving" ourselves for the day when we can finally make a contribution to the world. (I don't doubt the value of inner-work and its healing potential. It is the underlying premise that we need to "fix" ourselves, that I am questioning.) We have always had the option of seeing ourselves as whole and complete, because that is who we are.
What has been missing is a perceptual shift from seeing ourselves as sinners or less-than, to seeing ourselves as whole, creative, and competent beings. This subtle shift of perception allows us to finally see the possibility of acknowledging our interdependent world, and then living in a way that honors all life. One in which we care for each other - not because we have to - but because we can't help but do so. It is an expression of who we are.
Assessing Who We Are
When we self-assess we hone our skills with the intention of becoming as efficient and effective as possible. Yet individually and as a species, we rarely self-assess. We rarely question the basic assumptions that constitute the foundation upon which we base our decisions. Are we willing to ask simple questions and then listen within for the answers? In the post-9/11 world, perhaps more importantly, are we willing to ask any questions at all? Most fundamental of all is the question:
What do we want?
We are surrounded by evidence that many of our assumptions and subsequent actions no longer support Life. If I am completely honest, and ask myself if my own choices in life contribute to the best possible expression of life on Earth, my answer is "No." Somehow I've allowed the busy pace of my life to compromise my core values. You know, the ones we all share: love, peace, harmony, unity, honesty.
We say we want peace. Yet instead of seeing conflict as a gift that leads us to discuss deeper underlying issues that can lead to genuine healing; we barely hesitate before using force whenever conflict arises. I'm not just referring to our penchant for war, I'm referring to something much closer to home - the difficulty most of us have in simply looking at conflict (even with our own children or within our own hearts) as a tool with which to discover more about ourselves and life in general.
Instead of supporting life in all its diverse manifestations, we pick and choose which portion of life we are willing to support - while decimating the rest (whether deliberately or through ignorance) - failing to understand that life is a living whole, none of which can be harmed without injuring ourselves and all life in the process.
We say we want our communities based on love, but even in the richest nations we fail to take care of all community members equally. At the same time we ignore or degrade the commons - those aspects of life we all share that are essential for survival (unpolluted arable land, clean air, vibrantly alive potable water, biodiversity, to name a few).
We say we care about others, yet our choices often place profit over well-being, contribute to unhealthy pollution, the unjust treatment of many, and the continued use of domination and control in almost every aspect of our lives.1
These are not the symptoms of a "sinful" and "bad" species, but of a way of perceiving that no longer serves anyone.
PART ONE - A WILLINGNESS TO EXPAND PERCEPTION
This section explores two aspects of perception. First, how we perceive. This includes a deep exploration of the ways in which our beliefs, concepts, and experiences impact our perceptions, and actually contribute to the perceptual filters through which we create our sense of reality. Once we are aware of them, we are free to change them.
Second, it explores ways of perceiving that empower you - the perceiver - to expand the quality of your perceptual experience, and hence your experience of life itself. Each chapter explores an important perceptual filter (or way of seeing) that significantly shifts our sense of the possible - and hence the choices available at any given moment. Understanding these perceptual filters will greatly assist in understanding Part Two.
As I have learned to let go of my own beliefs and ideas about life in a desire to allow new and more expanded perceptions to enter my experience, what I see is also expanding. Life has again become that awe-filled open-hearted exploration that defines the experience of the young child.
PART TWO - HONORING ALL LIFE
As I practiced the ability to perceive multiple points of view and to shift perceptual awareness at will, I experienced life as layers of reality, each one valid within its context. Each moment was alive with possibilities. I began to realized that even though perceptual cues may seem to take place outside of me, all of the processing takes place within me - nothing happens outside of me.
Most of us have been taught just the opposite. We are taught that we have the ability to impartially observe life, and to participate only when we want to. However, from a perceptual stand point, we can't help but participate - we are the space in which everything we experience happens. To understand life then, you must first understand yourself. In short, you need to learn to honor you. By doing so, you open the doorway to honoring all. 2
Finding Practical, Livable Solutions
A Collective Quest
Allowing myself to "re-perceive" life through various perceptual filters has also allowed me to see many of our social structures with fresh eyes. I am not alone in this process. As the evidence has mounted that our ways of living on Earth no longer serve humanity, nor life in general, we are collectively beginning to ask ourselves important questions about our role on Earth as a species.
Incredible books have been written, conferences have been convened, think-tanks have thought, and all have developed more accurate methods for discerning our current status as well as suggested plans of action. One of the best - and highly recommended - is Lester R. Brown's 2003 book, "Plan B - Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble," in which he both outlines a plan for restructuring our economy and argues for the need to do so in "wartime speed." He points out:
Time is running out. Whereas historically we lived off the interest generated by the earth's natural capital assets, we are now consuming those assets themselves. We have built an environmental bubble economy, one where economic output is artificially inflated by over-consumption of the earth's natural assets. The challenge today is to deflate the bubble before it bursts.
Even though thousands are working on "deflating" that bubble, we have just begun to move the discussion from a general level, to address these complex issues within our own selves. In other words, how can we begin to move the discussion from "out there in the world at-large" to a personal dialog within each participant?
Bringing it home
I noticed in my own life, that I was willing to make some changes, but was I ready to shift my living style in a grand way? How "bad" did things have to get before I was willing to address the underlying beliefs, concepts, and assumptions that harbored my resistance? Even amidst overwhelming evidence that our current choices determine the quality of our experience, many of us are reluctant to acknowledge that evidence. Even fewer are ready to act.
The intention of this book is to encourage a shift of perception that allows this change to be experienced as a joyous celebration of the best of who we are, instead of a dismal experience of reluctantly letting go of perceived comforts we enjoy. To accomplish that goal we will examine three things:
- how we perceive our available choices,
- what currently works and doesn't work - without judgment,
- and what possible alternative choices exist right now. (There are many!)
As Lester R. Brown and so many other scientists and concerned citizens have stated, push has come to shove. The time to act is now. I would like to suggest that the feeling of urgency is also a reflection of our own dissatisfaction with our individual and life choices - ones that consistently feel less than joyful. We cannot live in peace and enjoy happiness if there is a constant war going on between our daily choices and our hearts. While many perceptual filters claim that we are all doomed if we don't make more ecologically sustainable choices, I wonder if those choices could more easily be embraced if they were chosen because they truly bring us joy, instead of choosing them out of fear.
Part Two of this book is an exploration of practical ways in which "honoring all" can be accomplished. Ways in which we can make small, somewhat painless changes in our everyday lives that have global repercussions. These are changes that can actually increase our own joyous experience of life, while at the same time include all of Earth's inhabitants in the scope of our decisions.
The second part is also a celebration of those who are already making this choice. Ultimately it is a celebration of the possible human - who we choose to be - not in some far off future, but right now, in this next moment.
Fear of Change
This entire book celebrates our ability to choose the quality of our experience - to self-assess and constantly make changes. But change doesn't have to be a gut-wrenching devastating experience. It can be gentle, similar to Buckminster Fuller's Trimtab4 concept, where small incremental adjustments yield huge results.
Those of us who live privileged lives compared to most of humanity, usually feel fear whenever the idea of change is broached in conversation. We fear that we will have to give up something we truly enjoy; so either the conversation never gets started, or it is met with strong resistance. But we don't always feel that way.
When it comes to our children, we are ready to make whatever changes necessary to provide them with the best life possible. We do everything in our power to keep them from experiencing starvation, violence, or poverty - it is a boundary we are unwilling to cross.
I realize that I am also unwilling to cross that boundary for myself. I love myself enough to know that I - like everyone else - deserve to have my needs met, my voice heard, and my gifts shared. I have found my worthiness, and with it came a quality-of-life boundary I am unwilling to cross. It is my intention that keeps me from crossing that boundary.
Loving yourself means you are willing to set bottom-line boundaries for both yourself and the world you live in.
I now realize that love expresses in this same manner - everywhere. When I feel loving towards myself, I make sure that my needs are met. When I love others, I insist their needs also be met - that is my bottom line. So why not carry this same principle out regarding the entire planet?
I am unwilling to watch our beloved Earth be destroyed - and so I constantly envision my planet as the whole, balanced, healthy place it naturally is. And I choose to live in a way that honors that conviction as much as possible. I am unwilling to treat others as "collateral damage" in my quest to accomplish some goal - and so I carefully examine other points-of-view, aware that there is always more to perceive beyond my current understanding. And I actively choose to see others as an integral part of the interconnected whole of which I am part. I am unwilling to create wars in my heart in order to conform to a need to dominate or control through fear - and so I pay attention to the quality of feeling that accompanies my choices in life, always striving to make decisions that bring a sense of inclusiveness, joy, and expansion to my heart. These may seem like political statements, but they reach into every facet of our daily lives.
It is a lack of self-love, I believe, that keeps us mired in complacency in the midst of overwhelming evidence that change is necessary for our own well-being. Because once self-love exists, the capacity to love everything and everyone blossoms - and also the commitment to live in a way that supports those we love.
The myth of separation
What keeps us from seeing our entire planet as home, and not just the ground beneath our feet? What keeps us from seeing ourselves when we gaze into each other's eyes?
I believe it's the misperception of separation. When we break things down into parts we tend to see them as separate entities, complete unto themselves. This focus fails to take into consideration the relational impact those seemingly separate items have with each other, and their overall interdependence. It perpetuates the idea that you can harm or remove any item and not affect the rest.
A simple shift of focus reveals an entire world of relationships previously overlooked. For example, how do you explain water without including the entire cycle of precipitation or the fact that most of the planet surface - even your own body - is made up of water?
"Honoring All Life" is a perceptual shift that takes us from our traditional mechanistic way of perceiving to a systems-based perception.
It is a shift sourced from the most current findings in biology, chemistry, economics, quantum physics, ecology, and - perhaps surprisingly - the ancient spirituality of almost all religions. It is the model of life that has always been present in every aspect of nature; but because our focus was elsewhere, many of us missed it entirely.
This isn't to say that the lessons of the mechanistic separation-based perspective haven't been valuable. On the contrary, they have taught us much - and continue to do so. But it is now time to step into another perception and learn as much as we can within that context as well. We humans are incredibly adaptable and this is simply another step in the thrill of human exploration.
To ensure that we share the same vocabulary, we need to agree on a few basic definitions. Please understand that the entire book could also be considered a definition of "honoring all." Let's delve into the title: "Honoring All Life".
By "honor", I mean something beyond "respect." The dictionary uses both words as synonyms, but there is a nuance of difference that I'd like to examine. In comparison to "Honor," "Respect" often reflects a hierarchical role as in "respecting elders," simply because they are assumed to be more - in some way - than those doing the respecting. Those receiving respect may not necessarily reciprocate - it implies an element of exclusivity.
"Honoring" means to accept and allow without judgment, because you humbly recognize there is always a bigger picture than the one you see at any given moment. Honoring implies openness -- a willingness to expand awareness and embrace new possibilities. This willingness to embrace new possibilities is grounded in recognition - even a celebration - of a shared essence with whatever or whomever you honor. Honoring is always relaxed, open, expansive, and inclusive. "Honoring" acknowledges that life always creates balance.
In Robert Heinlein's classic science-fiction novel, Stranger In a Strange Land, the main character greets everyone with the words, "Thou art God." Honoring means accepting each person and thing with that same sort of reverence, as if all is God. It is similar to the tradition of greeting people with "Namaste," which roughly means, "the God in me greets the God in you." It honors the divine in everything.
Understanding the phrase, "All life," requires a larger perceptual shift. Our traditional, mechanistic view of the world categorizes things as "living" or "inert." Based on my own expanded perceptual experience in which everything seems to vibrate, and several theories in both quantum physics and systems analysis; I'm not sure I can tell the difference between them anymore. Even when acknowledging a difference in degree of complexity, for simplicity's sake I now include all of creation - flowers, rocks, birds, and their interrelated systems - everything - as alive.5
Online Etymology states that perceptual is taken directly from the Latin percipere, meaning to "obtain, gather," or metaphorically, "to take entirely." 6 I like that definition. It is similar to the word that most closely defines perception in the way I experience it - Robert Heinlein's "grok," (also from Stranger In A Strange Land.) To grok something is "to drink it fully," or "to be one with it".
To explore this perceptual possibility requires thoroughly understanding and embracing - being one with. It is a shift in perception so substantial that everything viewed through the lens of "honoring all" necessitates new assumptions about our roles, thoughts, and actions on this planet.
The Possible Human
This is an exciting time to be alive. As a species, we are at cusp. Perhaps consciously for the first time, we have the opportunity to re-define who we are, what we stand for, and how we want to live. In every moment, we have the opportunity to step fully into being the possible human. This book is intended as a catalyst for this process.
Acknowledging the scope of his work, Lester R. Brown ends the preface of his book with these words:
And, finally, I do not have the credentials for writing this book. Nor do I know anyone who does. But someone had to give it a try. 3
I'd like to echo his statement.
This is not a how-to book. Living life in a way that honors all is new territory for the human species - at least for most of us. I invite you to join me in creating this experience.
In a way, it could be said that this invitation offers a method for filtering one's choices in life. Once you determine if honoring all life is a fundamental expression of Who you are, then you can use this simple question as a means for making choices that align with your essence. Simply ask yourself, "Does this choice honor ALL life?" If your choice produces a feeling of joy and relief, then it honors YOU. How could you possibly honor life more?
1. On December 6th 2004 Oxfam International released its report entitled, Paying the Price, offering a perfect example of our mixed-up priorities:
"A new report from international agency Oxfam today reveals that 45 million more children will die needlessly by 2015, because rich countries are failing to provide the necessary resources they promised to overcome poverty. The report, Paying the Price, finds that rich countries' aid budgets are half what they were in 1960 and poor countries are paying back a staggering $100 million a day in debt repayments. Oxfam also calculates that 97 million more children will be out of school by 2015 unless urgent action is taken.
Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam's Executive Director, said: "The world has never been wealthier, yet rich nations are giving less and less. Across the globe, millions of people are being denied the most basic human needs - clean water, food, health care and education. People are dying while leaders delay debt relief and aid." In 1970 rich countries agreed to spend just 0.7 percent of their incomes on aid. Thirty-four years later, none of the G8 members have reached this target and many have not even set a timetable.
In addition, only 40 percent of the money counted officially as aid actually reaches the poorest countries, and when it does it is often seriously delayed. For example, 20 percent of the European Union's aid arrives at least a year late and 92 percent of Italian aid is spent on Italian goods and services.
At only 0.14 percent of national income, the US spending on foreign aid in 2003 was one-tenth of what it spent on Iraq. The US won't reach the aid target needed to halve world poverty until 2040. Germany won't reach the target until 2087 while Japan is decreasing its aid commitments." From their press release of the same date, "Oxfam: Poor Are Paying the Price of Rich Countries' Failure.
2. As we shall see in the discussion of physics, especially the theories on holography, all information is available at all times, but our ability to perceive it is what can always be expanded. Additionally, according to the holographic theory of both the brain and the universe, all parts of the whole contain the whole.
3. Lester R. Brown's, Plan B - Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Preface.
4. A trimtab refers to the mechanism for steering a ship. The rudder is small compared to the ship, but at times it is still difficult to turn. The trimtab is a sort of rudder on the rudder, that allows the larger rudder to be turned more easily. The significance is that the trimtab can be shifted slightly, but the result is much larger by comparison.
5. "I propose that there is reason to see the whole universe as alive, self-organizing endless fractal levels of living complexity as reflexive systems learning to play with possibilities in the intelligent co-creation of complex evolving systems." Elisabet Sahtouris, Ph.D. A Tentative Model for a Living Universe, Part One