The first time I came across that saying, I thought ‘Yeah! Some hippie-style, deep and meaningful observation suitable for contemplation during meditation’. Having thought some more, I now see it in a different light.
The illusion is that we don’t see the world ‘As it is’, instead we perceive it through the tangle of beliefs that we hold around how the world operates. We construct a ‘make-believe’ world in our head, a world comprising layers of meaning around perceived actions (or inactions).
In our unique world, there are actions and words that we interpret as wanting to help, deceive, insult, love, snub, judge and so on: trouble is, no-one else can see these barbs and hurts. At best, other people are only vaguely aware of what is going on for us – also, they are busily living in their own creation!
Why does any of this matter? It matters because, we assign meaning to the actions of others and then act on those interpretations assuming them to be true. For instance, you are walking along the footpath and you see a friend approaching, one with whom you recently had a minor tiff. As you get close to your friend, s/he crosses the road and carries on walking. Clearly, this friend could not have missed seeing you (after all, you did give a little wave) and deliberately snubbed you, probably in retaliation for the earlier tiff. Now you are primed for endless ruminating over what happened and, more importantly, what to do next. Incidentally, your friend crossed the road to take a short-cut home and hadn’t seen you because her glasses were being repaired.
You are now in a self-fulfilling cycle, one in which you have two opportunities to effect change: a) change your beliefs (the long-haul) or, more immediately, b) interrupt your self-talk to reach a new position regarding what you will do next and thereby create the next moment.
Peter Ustinov observed “If we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our duty is to furnish it well”. We are each totally responsible for ‘furnishing our minds well’ – and for what happens from this moment on, terrifying though the thought may be.