Here’s a passage in one of my favorite books, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, on impressions.
It is definitely the longest paragraph ever put on my blog, but please read it with care. It might blow your mind.
Chief among these are inappropriate value judgements: the designation as “good” or “evil” of things that in fact are neither good nor evil. For example, my impression that my house has just burned down is simply that — an impression or report conveyed to me by my senses about an event in the outside world. By contrast, my perception that my house has burned down and I have thereby suffered a terrible tragedy includes not only an impression, but also an interpretation imposed upon that initial impression by my powers of hypolepsis (perception). It is by no means the only possible interpretation, and I am not obliged to accept it. I may be a good deal better off if I decline to do so. It is, in other words, not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem. Our duty is therefore to exercise stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error. (Intro, Meditation, page 27.)
You will often hear me say that there is always two sides to a story. Sometimes three.
We can either view our burned-down house as a total disaster, or we choose to perceive this event differently. The latter is probably one of the most difficult things to do. But impossible? Absolutely not. It’s a matter of choice.
Our lives are filled with impressions. Our upbringing and circumstances are unique to the impressions we live by. Many of us share common impressions due to mass media, entertainment, music, etc.
This is important in life because, in essence, it is “our duty is therefore to exercise stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error.”
Many times, we choose to fall prey to the impressions we are faced with — a terrible breakup, fired from your job, a low grade on a test, etc. This creates a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. A lot of this is self-dramatized because in actuality, it isn’t all that bad. How we perceive the event determines how we feel.
And as the passage states: “It is by no means the only possible interpretation, and I am not obliged to accept it. I may be a good deal better off if I decline to do so.” Again: there is always two sides to a story. So you can either view your disastrous breakup as the last time you will ever be loved; or you can see it as a lesson learned, a new page in a new book, a new beginning, etc.
It’s completely up to you.
So make the mindful decision to view the other side of the story and embrace it. Just know this takes practice at every moment in your life. Every moment.
I have probably read that passage 100 times in the last year. It has resonated and influenced me to change my own perception on how I view the impressions in my life.
It would be easy to see my past failed blog or a book that I had to start over as a disaster. That’s one impression to live by, sure. But would it be healthy for my mind and body? No.
There are impressions in your life that you consistently live by. Things that you immediately view as “wrong” or “evil.”
The challenge is to not abide by them. To not view them as the only story or option. The challenge is to think differently about your situation, the impression that is being instilled in you, and “exercising stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error.”
There is so much truth in that passage it would be wise to read it over a few times until it sinks in.
It can relate to many areas in your life: relationship, work, family, goals, passions, etc.
Life will bombard you with impressions. That’s a fact. Your perception, how you perceive the impression, is solely based on you. You can be in control or be controlled. Ultimately, you can choose to defeat yourself by viewing something as a disaster and allowing it to “ruin your life”, or you can free your mind from this distraction while continuously moving forward, adapting, and living.