“We are not responsible for what our eyes are seeing. We are responsible for how we perceive what we are seeing.” ~Gabrielle Bernstein
One of the things I love about this journey of personal growth is that we get to learn the same lessons over and over again, until they finally sink in on a visceral level. I love it when I hear or read the same insights repeatedly, from various sources and at different stages along my own path.
Recently, at a low point in my life, I re-encountered this fundamental teaching in Gabrielle Bernstein’s book The Universe Has Your Back:
Every single situation, thing, and person in our lives may be seen through one of two lenses: the lens of fear or the lens of love.
These are profoundly different ways to view the exact same circumstances. Nothing on the outer level has to change for you to experience a radical shift in perception: you simply have to change the lens you’re looking through.
When I read this, I realized that I’d been caught in a downward spiral of negative thinking. Yes, seemingly “bad” things have been happening in my life recently, but was it true that I had no choice but to feel bad about them?
As an experiment, I decided to try describing my current life and circumstances from each perspective. This is how things looked through the lens of fear:
I am a woman in deep middle age, alone and completely without romantic prospects. My financial situation is dire. I do almost nothing that is fun or exciting. I work an unskilled job and fritter away the rest of my time without meaning or purpose.
It isn’t pretty, is it? I challenged myself to be brutally honest, knowing that what isn’t acknowledged can’t be changed. No wonder I had been feeling hopeless and depressed, with this story running through the back of my mind! Just reading it makes me want to crawl under a rock.
Here is a look at my life through the lens of love:
I am learning all the time, and am deeply engaged in understanding life and growing as a person.
I’m a great mom; I have a wonderful, nurturing relationship with my daughter and am actively supporting her in growing into independence. I am helping my parents make an important transition. I’m nurturing my relationships with my siblings and friends.
I help and inspire many people through my writing and coaching. I have prospects of financial security through multiple avenues.
I’m healthy and young-looking; a loving, kind, and fun person who attracts others easily. I really enjoy my work and my colleagues. I live in a cute apartment in a fun and vibrant neighborhood. My present is meaningful and my future is bright and full of hope.
That feels so much better! Same life, different lens. Nothing changed on the outside, but everything changed on the inside. You can do this exercise with literally anything or anyone. I tried it on my ex-husband, who has been at the root of many of my recent troubles. Here he is through the eyes of fear:
He’s a total loser and impossible to work with. He’s selfish and unevolved. He’ll never learn or change. I’m powerless to remove myself from this situation.
And through the lens of love:
He’s scared and feels bad about himself. He doesn’t know how to take responsibility, so he lashes out at others instead. He feels out of control and thinks he has no choice but to do what he’s doing. I am learning tons through this experience!
This exercise (probably) won’t change my ex-husband, and it doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy about him, but it does help me feel less triggered by his behavior and is thus more likely to contribute to a positive outcome. At the very least, it simply feels better to think this way—and that’s worth a lot!
Can you think of something in your life that you might be seeing through the lens of fear? Try describing it, in all its negative “glory”—don’t hold back. This is not the time to be enlightened; you want to really know what story is running the show. Acknowledge that on some level, at least some of the time, this feels like truth to you.
Then do the opposite. What does he/she/it look like through the eyes of love? What’s the most positive spin you can put on the situation? Don’t make anything up. This is not an exercise in fantasizing or sugar-coating. This is not about talking yourself into believing that something or someone that’s bad for you is actually good.
Instead, it’s about trusting that even the worst situations hold the seeds of good, if only for the learning they bring about. It’s looking for the silver lining. Choosing to see yourself as a hero rather than a victim.
When you read or say each of these stories, how do you feel? We can choose between these two feelings—but it’s a choice that must be made multiple times a day. Fear is a habit that takes sustained effort to conquer. What helps me is to remember that it doesn’t matter how many times I fall off the beam, as long as I keep getting back on it!
One of my teachers often quotes the Course in Miracles: “I chose wrongly, but I can choose again.” Gabrielle Bernstein says that a measure of our progress is how quickly we realize when we’re out of alignment with love and make the choice to re-align with it. Though we’ll never be completely free of fear, we can learn to quickly return to love.
Another thing that helps me is to acknowledge and have compassion for the very real emotions I feel when caught up in my fear story. I don’t find it effective to simply “will” myself into a feeling of love and joy. Instead, I say something like: “I recognize and honor that I’m feeling sad and scared, and I choose to realign with love.”
This reminds me that there is a choice to be made, because when we’re in the grips of the fear story it can seem like the only possible interpretation of events. It gives me a little bit of breathing space just to acknowledge how I’m feeling and to follow the trail back to the story that I’m telling. Then I can choose a different story (by looking through a different lens) and wait for my feelings to catch up.
Your feelings will always reflect the story you’re telling, so they are your best indication of whether you’re looking through the lens of fear or the lens of love. This is how it works: Lens –> story –> feelings.
It’s tempting to think that we have to wait for something external to change before we can feel good, but it’s incredibly freeing to realize we have the power to change our feelings by changing our perception and choosing to look through the lens of love.