Can you see your lenses? Or are they guiding you blindly?
This is me in an eyewear store. We were buying glasses for my husband Matt. On our way home he asked me: did you see any glasses you liked for yourself? My answer: no, coz I was looking for men's glasses.
I saw hundreds of pairs of women's glasses that day, but I didn't remember any of them. Why? Because the lens I had on what I saw was: men's glasses, geometric shapes, dark colours.
There's no way our minds can process all of the data that comes in through our senses. So these lenses (through the mechanism of attention) filter how we see.
This happens with all of our senses, but it also happens with our minds (which, interestingly, the Buddha treated as a sense). These filters primarily take the form of beliefs and views.
The Buddha, was very wary of views. He was often asked his views on things like the existence of a soul, the beginning and end of the universe etc.. His response: silence. He wouldn't be drawn into such topics and indeed warned against getting tangled in a thicket of views.
But to function in the world, we need to have some views. The questions are:
Are we aware of them?
What impact are they having?
How aligned with reality are they?
I'm not exaggerating to say that views can be lethal! Think of the people dying of COVID 19 right now because of their views about vaccines; the heart-breaking plight of women in Afghanistan because of the Taliban's views about the inferiority of women; every war that's ever been fought.
These are obvious and extreme examples, but we engage in micro-harms every day because of views.
That might be views about conflict that lead you to abandon a friendship rather than work together through a disagreement.
It might be views about life being a level playing field that lead you to judge harshly people who are unemployed.
It might be views about what makes a person worthy of love that lead you to starve yourself while desperately trying to look like a magazine model, or over-achieve at work and lose touch with your loved ones, or over-please others while leaving your own needs out in the cold.
Our lenses can cause a great deal of harm, and we often don't even see them which means they are in the driver's seat of our experience and we don't even know it!
Cognitive psychology has known for a long time that our thoughts shape our experience. The 'cognitive bias' trainings that abound in the corporate world these days are an example of attempts to be more mindful of our views and their impact on things like employing, developing and promoting people.
When it comes to personal growth, the practice of mindfulness is essential to help us see our own lenses, which allows us to then perceive more accurately what's going on - to see all of the glasses in the eyewear shop. Essentially, this is what the Buddha's awakening was - a clear insight into the way experience works, relatively unfiltered by views.
As we get better at this, we can declare the filters we're looking through and this helps us avoid locking horns with others in the thicket of views. An example of this is the preface of my book The Buddha for Modern Minds where I attempt to declare my lens on the dharma (the Buddha's teachings) so that people can see it in that context.
Seeing our lenses also helps us to question and adjust them so that they become more in line with reality. This makes us more free, compassionate and kind. We're more able to respond rather than react to our world because we see more of the picture, not just our own angle. We unhook from our emotional attachments to (often over-simplified) views and see the struggle that is being human.
What are the main views you use to filter the world? Ideas about what should happen in the world, or how people should behave are often a good clue. Do you know many of your lenses? If not, try asking someone who knows you well. It's often easier to see others' views than our own.
Here's a little challenge: identify one of your views and ask yourself what impact it has on your life. Then see if you can test it against reality. Which glasses in the eyewear shop are being filtered out?
Until next time.