Do you live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe? – Albert Einstein
For the past month we have been bombarded with natural disasters. Hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes leaving many of us feeling vulnerable and helpless.
When the 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico City this past week, 32 years to the day after the devastating quake of 1985, my anxiety peaked. I felt raw.
I don’t live in Mexico City now, but I did in 1985. Back then we felt isolated. Sirens blared night and day. Without electricity, getting information even about our own circumstances was difficult. News came slowly passed from person to person as new horrors were discovered.
There was no Internet in 1985; no cell phones with video capability. I notified my family in the U.S. that we were safe via telegram. Yes, telegram!
This week (from Iowa) I sent messages to my friends and family in Mexico on social media, asking them to check in. I waited. It seemed like forever.
A Fawn In My Yard
The next afternoon, sitting in my office trying to focus and get some work done, I perceived movement out the window to my left. Even before I turned my head to see what it was, my peripheral vision and my mind were working together imagining what it could be.
Thanks to brain research we now understand that our unconscious brain interprets situations nanoseconds prior to our conscious brain. This is the primitive self-preservation mechanism that resides within the amygdala, always alert to potential danger.
With peripheral vision we have awareness but not clarity. Clarity requires sharper focus and analysis.
Relying on peripheral vision, my mind guessed: a neighbor walking a dog; the black crows that sometimes gather in the yard, the skateboarder from up the street?
It turned out to be a fawn grazing unfettered on my lawn. Raising its head from time to time, watching cars pass, looking at me curiously as I stepped outside to snap its picture.
The scene was one of serenity: the young deer, the warm day, the relative peace of my neighborhood. It was in violent contrast with the anxiety within me. At the moment I was safe, yet the memories I carried had sparked emotions felt 32 years prior, resulting in physical sensations of fear: anxiety, shallow breath, queasy stomach.
Perhaps you’ve heard this popular quote: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This is more than a clever play on words.
In fact, studies have shown that people can witness the exact same event and “see” it quite differently. Both witnesses believe their interpretation to be factual, and they are right.
Because we filter the world through our attitudes, past experiences, and our current state of mind, our “truths” can be quite different.
I posted a picture of the fawn on social media with the simple caption “visitor in my yard”. Of course, the responses I received revealed each viewer’s interpretation.
Two responses stood out for me. They are both are valid, and quite different. It made me reflect on the way we look at things.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Respondent 1 wrote: ….you may enjoy them but they wreak havoc on my yard. I work hard to plant and they destroy…
This person lives in Iowa, not far from me, where we are enjoying a beautiful, warm and sunny autumn. (But, that’s my perception, through my filter.)
Viewer 2 wrote: Precious! I wish we had something like that here. Seeing this gives me comfort and makes me think there is still beauty in this world.
This person lives in Mexico City and was actively participating in recovery efforts after the earthquake.
That night I watched footage of a man squeezing himself between two tight slabs of cement in the earthquake’s rubble, working to free a survivor trapped within. Watching this I felt all the physical sensations of fear, the reaction of my unconscious mind.
But on another level I felt joy. The beauty of it, the selflessness, moved me to tears. One human being risking his own safety to save another. Precious!
Question of perspective? Do we choose what we see? Can we choose differently? Please share your thoughts and comments with this blog community.