East West Wisdoms

Interweaving Spirituality and Therapeutic Healing

East West Wisdoms

It’s all about perception!

Posted on Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

There are days when it all changes. Suddenly a new view is born! So there I was, basking in the sun and lazily contemplating a bird in the tree a little way from me. As I was enjoying its song and antics as it searched for food, I suddenly realised that the bird’s perception of its environment and my perception were completely different. If it had eyeballed me, as I was eyeballing it, it would have perceived something quite different to my view of my body and the environment we were sharing.

Its bird consciousness, different to my human consciousness, would have been almost unimaginably different. What does a small bird see with its eye consciousness? If food, mating and danger are its prime preoccupations, how are the vision, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling (if birds can smell) consciousnesses shaped to meet its particular needs?

And what are the mental perceptions facilitated by a bird’s brain? Perhaps it is with regard to the feeling states of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral that we would experience most commonality? The commonality might be in the pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensation, rather than the object eliciting such a reaction. I rather think that the bird’s reactive feeling state to the taste of a juicy worm might be a bit different to mine! And then, again, it might not show the same interest as me in my cup of tea!

I can imagine that the bird’s view of the tree in which it moves, and the leaves surrounding it, might have infinitely more detail than I perceive. No doubt a biologist would have a more accurate opinion on some of the aspects of bird consciousness, perception, feeling, predispositions and form, but it is not scientific differences that I am exploring here.

Similarly, the biologist, or the farmer, might have a different view of the cow I see peacefully grazing, or the wallaby and joey grazing just below the deck.

Certainly, the cow and the wallaby are experiencing their surroundings, and their beingness, in their own particular way that bears no resemblance to what I perceive.

My interest is in the sudden ‘knowing’ I experienced as I recognised the uniqueness and fleeting nature of my view. This view I am attempting to describe was not, in fact, ‘my’ view. What was most striking about the shift in perception was that ‘I’ was no longer centre stage. There was a deep, embodied recognition that the habit of viewing ‘the other’ in relation to ‘me’ was just a habit. What’s more, it was a habit that supported the illusion of me as a separate self, perceiving everything else as separate entities.

However, we are but a perception in the mind of the perceiver! And all perceivers, whether of the same or different species, will perceive the apparent ‘object’ (maybe me!) differently. Not only does each being perceive differently, shaped by the peculiar characteristics of their sense consciousnesses, their particular bodily form and abilities, plus the influence of their environment in all its splendid complexity, but the object of its perception will be impermanent, interdependent with the causes of its beingness: an unbroken chain of cause and effect. With no beginning and no end, what we habitually perceive as separate beings are, in fact, interdependent and  empty of inherent existence! Not only will the object of perception be empty, the perceiver, too, has no separate, inherent existence.

I, too, am but a fleeting manifestation of a succession of impermanent perceptions as my sense consciousnesses react to the ever-changing flow of phenomena, all born of preceding causes that have no beginning and no end. So I, too, like all that I perceive, am empty of separate,inherent existence.

Wow! And all this from watching a bird and realising how its perception of me (if it saw me at all) would be different in every respect.

Have you any similar experiences to share? Times of insight when ‘reality’ changes? I’d love to hear them…

Warm wishes,


9 responses to “It’s all about perception!”

  1. Shannon says:

    I was surrogate mum to 2 just-born Striated Pardalote, and cared for them till they were old enough to go their own way. On their very first day outside the warmth of the house to try their tiny wings out I got a blessing.Both birdlings were on my shoulder as we neared the tree near the creek, and this was their first sight of the ‘big world’. Without warning, I suddenly saw through their eyes. What had previously looked only like sadly damaged bush to me was utterly transformed. There was stunning scintillation of light and shade, incredible depth of pattern in every leaf and twig – and the beauty and clarity of it all!! Oh my God, it was so utterly thrilling!! Everything was quivering with vibrant LIFE. No wonder birds sing!

    • Jacqui says:

      What an inspirational story! Thank you so much for expressing and sharing the thrilling nature of your sudden seeing with different eyes. Wonderful! It’s interesting how these numinous experiences not only stay with you but retain their numinous nature when shared with others. Thank you!. Jacqui

  2. Nyima says:

    Hi Jacqui and William,

    Please accept my apology. I was not trying to detract from your realisations or reflections which are indeed beautiful and profound, and certainly I did not wish to engage in polemics.

    However as a Buddhist of the Karma Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma traditions and a student of cognitive studies, I felt it incumbent on me to draw attention to the love of the 16th Karmapa for his huge aviary of birds and his stating that after all they too posess the Buddha nature.
    Even our own little parrot displays quite a lot of intelligence not to mention emotions such as love, shame, jelousy, pride, arrogance and stuborness. She also readily displays affection and despite the language problems inherant in the situation, we manage to communicate well enough for all to be happy. Her curiosity, is like that of a toddler and to me this is a vital sign of intelligence – no matter how basic it may be. It is worth commenting on the observation that her prime emotional need is to be loved and to feel as a full fledged part of the family which has replaced her instinctive “flock”.

    Anyway, you have a wonderful website so best regards to all.

    • Jacqui says:

      Hi Nyima,
      Sorry for the delay in responding to your earlier comment and thank you for adding some subsequent thoughts.
      Your warning about how little we know about what other species feel, think, etc is certainly apt. I remember, for example, hearing a scientific discussion on the radio a few years ago about the high levels of intelligence observed in certain birds. Many of us will have heard references to high levels of intelligence, communication, emotion, etc attributed to dolphins and whales. I really have no specialist knowledge in this area and am open to all possibilities.
      My main point in writing about the unique qualities of every perception of every being was not to suggest a hierarchy of conceptual ability but rather to share my experience of realising, at a depth level, my habitual tendency to place myself (and my current perception of ‘other’) centre stage and that this is a false and misleading view. In imagining the completely different view that the bird would have if it were to even notice me, I felt the insubstantiality (emptiness) of all perception, thought and form. This is an experience that still slides in and out of focus for me, as I cling to or let go of a separate identity.
      Warm wishes,

  3. Nyima says:

    For me, I have had similar experiences to Dawa.
    However, please consider the possibility that a lot of what we think/take for granted about the perceptions of birds, animals etc is assumption filtered thru our own prejudices, most of which are coloured by religious beliefs in a Judeo Christian society.
    We are so convinced of our superiority that we create a blindness to what is going on with other species. For example we assume that the most intelligent animals are primates first and then others. This, for example, could be perceived as a form of arrogance.
    It is possibly true that birds do not contemplate existentialism or quantum mechanics but – How do we KNOW???
    May I sugtgest before thinking, saying or assuming too much more, that we give some consideration to the work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her dear friend and collaborator Alex, who unfortunately passed away recently.
    The website is well worth a visit before we assume any further and my point isn’t to convince anyone of a new view but to caution that considering how little we know, we are in danger of falling into old traps. Surely people who have had close relationships with pets such as birds mostly will agree that they do feel the same range of emotions as humans including self awareness and even have theory of mind. Maybe we should seek what is common before seeking the differences. All life on this planet appears to be based on the same DNA, so Ockham’s razor would suggest more incommon than different even though there is a question of degree and specialization. Please remember that it was not long ago that white people had black people as slaves and were convinced that they were savage automatons who do not “feel” and more importantly do not have a “soul” – so there is historic precedence to be cautious about further assumption regarding cognition and those who are “different”.
    Love to all

  4. William McILwain says:

    Hi Jacqui, love your discussions may I share my theory about perceptions with you? I feel that animals percieve things as safe or dangerous and act accordingly for instance the parrots felt safe as long as you behaved as you were but if you made a sudden movement then they would have acted accordingly as would the Kangaroo so I believe that animals see things as good/bad, safe/unsafe where as humans see thewhole picture, or the grey areas so to speak which gives us a more rounded perception of things. On the surface it may seem that animals have it over us in respects of an uncluttered mind but when you see the whole picture things that may seem bad can actually be beneficial, but an animal only sees the good or bad that is why I believe that ignorance leads to rebirth in the animal realm. I would appreciate your thoughts on this observation, and thanks once again for your web site Bill

    • Jacqui says:

      Thanks, Bill, for your comment. I take your point about animals, birds, etc being limited to seeing only in terms of ‘good and bad.
      My understanding is that this is because their consciousness is limited to the instinctive (i.e. danger, food, mating, etc) and does not have the human consciousness capacity for self awareness, reflection/contemplation of abstract (versus concrete) phenomena – ie conceptual thinking.
      Curiously, it appears that conceptual thinking is a two-edged sword. It gives us the ability to think beyond our own self interest, to see a wider picture, but it also distances us from direct sense perception and therefore leads to confusion (ie many interpretations/concepts around the phenomena being perceived, thus triggering aversive, desiring and ignoring reactions). Chogyam Trungpa describes the animal realm as a dull, ignoring state of mind that fails to question and take a range of perspectives. We all tend to manifest this quality from time to time and blindly lurch from desire to dislike to ‘don’t care’ but it is only when this mode characterises our behaviour and mindstate that there is rebirth in the animal realm. The ignorance we are referring to in relation to the animal realm is a bit different to the common Buddhist interpretation of ignorance as the lack of understanding the true, empty, unborn, nature of reality. At least that’s my present understanding of the teaching on the six realms.
      Warm wishes,

  5. Dawa says:

    HI Jacqui.
    I haven’t responded to your postings before, but always enjoy them.

    When I was in my twenties I was on a long bus trip once. I love travelling and was fully enjoying the journey. The bus passed an isolated old house set near the road in the middle of nowhere. A young man was lolling in an armchair on the front porch with his feet up on the rail and it as the bus flashed past I realised that even though I am the centre of my own life – filled with its worries, joys and sorrows – I didn’t exist for him as anything more than the side of a bus speeding past his house – one he possibly didn’t even notice if his mind was on something else.

    It was a visceral understanding of how we are all the centre of our own universe but peripheral to everyone else’s. The whole experience happened in less than a second and in many ways I’ve never been the same again. Something loosened up. without having the words for it I realised my sense of self was only a point of view.

    Well – now I’ve commented and that’s all.
    Be Well,

    • Jacqui says:

      Many thanks Dawa for sharing your experience of a sudden visceral change of view. Your experience sounds remarkably like my experience shared in this post. I find it very interesting how one ‘knows’ when a change of view is really significant and results in “never being the same again”. I really appreciate your little story, particularly as it shows that you have heard and relate to what I was saying in my story.
      Warm wishes,

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