I’ve mentioned perspective quite a lot over the course of this project, and this is because it’s possibly the most crucial part of everything we do. There’s nothing we can experience in life that isn’t influenced by our perspective, simply because our perception of the world is through a first-person lens.
Everything, as a result, is subjective. Perspective pervades everything - even something as trivial as two people sat at a table outside. They will both see the table differently, because the sunlight will be reflecting off different parts of it. This will make the table appear to have a patch of white on it, but in different spots, depending on which angle they look at it from.
It might therefore seem like ‘perspective’ is an inescapable burden we’re lumbered with, and this can definitely be true in the case of disagreements, where people are too attached to their own personal views.
But our perspective is also a great tool if we can learn to use it right, according to the Dalai Lama. As touched upon previously, even though it is usually the result of external conditions, suffering is always experienced in the mind.
Which means the more control we can have over our mind, and over our perspective, the more control we can have over our suffering.
There is always another way to look at a situation. Unfortunately for readers, there’s another golf analogy on the way…but I think it paints the picture pretty well. You hit an amazing shot, and it’s heading straight for the green, but it just catches a branch from a nearby tree. As a result, instead of being 200 yards ahead and right next to the pin, your ball drops about twenty yards in front of you.
My instinct, and I think just about every golfer on the planet’s instinct (unless the Dalai Lama has a secret penchant for the game that no-one knows about), would be to moan in utter frustration. You couldn’t have done anything better with your swing, your execution, and the conditions were just right for a perfect shot. It was just the dumb tree.
But there’s always another perspective. Instead of having an easy tap-in putt, you now have a chance to practice a longer shot, that will help you in future. It might be the more annoying route to getting your ball in the hole, but it might also be the one that you learn more from.
Or take the example of being in lockdown. It's easy to complain and harbour feelings of resentment for being forced to stay inside.
Alternatively, though, we could approach it with the perspective of this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We now have the time to do things we would usually be too busy to do, to read that book we always wanted to read, to listen to that album that everyone always tells you to listen to, to meditate, and so on.
There’s no right or wrong perspective to have, and of course, it's difficult to flippantly say we should be grateful to be in lockdown, when there's people dying across the world because of the virus.
That’s the whole point of our perspective being subjective, rather than objective. But there can definitely be ways of looking at the world which contribute to more positive, healthier states of mind.
“Oh I've seen trouble more than any man should bear,
But I've seen enough joy, I've had more than my share”
‘Trouble’ epitomises this possibility to see situations from different angles. The singer outlines that they’ve experienced pain, and they could easily focus their attention on this and lament the fact that they’ve had to go through this.
But instead, they inspiringly choose to acknowledge that they’ve also seen plenty of joy, changing the whole tone of the song. It always depends on what you choose to pay more attention to.
“I've been a beggar and I've been a king,
I’ve been a loner and I've worn the ring”
This just adds more layers to the image that’s being constructed, stressing how it’s a matter of perspective whether you choose to focus on the negatives in life, or whether you opt for a more optimistic angle.
“Never been last, but I've never been first.
Oh I may not be the best, but I'm far from the worst”
I think most people, myself included, would instinctively be more likely to say ‘I’ve never been first’, as opposed to ‘I’ve never been last’. The latter doesn’t really seem to be a huge accomplishment, especially given the often competitive nature of Western society. But in any contest, even if you didn't do all that well, why not celebrate the fact that you’ve didn't come last?
In a race, it’s interesting how the person that comes third generally seems to be happier than the person that comes second. This is because the second person tends to feel like they've ‘lost out’ on first place, while the third person sees it as them ‘gaining’ a podium position.
This teaching links back to one of the first posts in this project, about comparing your situation to those less fortunate, as opposed to being resentful of not having as much as those better off. The Dalai Lama tells us not to get too bogged down by our individual situation, but to see the bigger picture too.
“The mind fears the heart, but the heart doesn't mind. Oh I may not be perfect, but I'm loving this life”