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Participate in the unfolding

There’s a whole field of attention studies illustrating that what we see and what we perceive are different things. Sight is governed by one set of structures in the brain, and perception by another. So we actually see far more than we perceive or are cognitively aware of. [For an example, check out the YouTube observation test .]

What happens is that part of the brain is only responsible for processing what enters our visual cortex; that’s all it does. And another part of the brain is busy paying attention to something in its perceptual field: an object, a thought, a sensation. When our attention is on one thing, it tunes out and misses lots of other things–even external objects that the other part of the brain “sees.”

So the act of looking at–and perceiving–what’s in front of us is simple to understand … and hard to do. If we’re unaware of this, it’s easy to confuse the sliver that has our attention with “reality.” We think our perceptual world is the same as the larger world; it is not.

The challenge gets more complex when we add the complicating power of our mental models, which are the lenses that we filter everything through: our beliefs and assumptions, our judgments, our expectations, etc. When we don’t see how these color our perceptions, “reality” gets even messier.

I came across the following recently. It speaks to the importance of knowing what’s going on in the world behind our eyes. It was written by Peter Senge, who introduced the notion of mental models to the business world in The Fifth Discipline.

If we could only see reality more as it is, it would become obvious what we need to do. We wouldn’t be acting out of our own histories, or our own needs, or our own purely reactive interpretations. We would see what is needed in the moment. We would do exactly what’s required of us, right now, right here. This is … living one’s life by “participating in the unfolding.” You can’t do that unless you can actually see what is right before you.”

Learning to see is harder than it sounds. What have you noticed about your own efforts to see? What’s unfolding in your life right now? And what is it requiring of you?


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