Perception really is everything. At the end of each day, there are ultimately only two views or ways of seeing things: Either everything sucks without a purpose and life is total chaos, or everything is leading to fresh, new, and exciting things. One is dark, depressing, and full of turmoil; the other is constructive, encouraging, and uplifting. Of course, there are fluctuations between the two that we all seem to flounder between at times, but at the end of the day we’re either seeing the glass half full or half empty.
I came to this realization (yet again) on a previous morning when I decided that instead of going for an obsessive-compulsive bike ride where I could pedal all of my problems away (at least until I came full circle back to my car where they were still waiting for me), I would break yet another habitual process and start jogging again. It was an absolutely glorious morning, the kind of calm weather morning that aviators and retirees alike dream of, especially when it’s after a previously gloomy day riddled with t-storms. It was 62 degrees at 8 am (in mid-July in South Carolina), the treetops were picture perfect still, and the sky a crystal-clear pure azure. My senses interrogated me: Was it spring or fall? Even the crisp morning air seemed to have it confused. For church folks, it was comparable to a religious experience–at least for us hippie kind who feel connected to the natural world.
For days now, I was seeing everything through filters that stressed the undesirable side of life. Everything was destined to fail and fall apart, and entropy enveloped my perceptual understanding of the universe. In other words, everything was eventually doomed to break down, and the bottom line for all of us was that it all came down to luck. Some of us were lucky, getting to live affluent, comfortably existential lives with little to no pain and suffering, while others (like myself) remained chained to our perception that seemed to consist of little more than a lot of pain, depression, and regret, not to mention landfills full of bitterness towards those who seem to have it “made.” Life sucks, and then at the end of it, I get to die…. Yay. But there’s more; there always is.
I pulled up to the stadium and was greeted by a nomadic young twenty-something living out of his minivan who seemed to have spent the night in the parking lot. I greeted his ferocious little Pomeranian who thought he would protect his territory like a pit bull, so I put my hand out and said hello. He didn’t bite.
As I stepped on the running track, all I felt was the pain in my joints. Too many body aches (a certain number of them that exceeds comfort) taunted me from the bench with ridiculing laughter like a bully on the sidelines, which made me ask myself, “why bother… This was going to hurt even more. What am I thinking, anyway? My knees aren’t going to like this.” Well, sometimes you’ve got to say “f#ck it.” Hell, I’m beginning to think that this should be more like a daily meditation… And so, it became my momentary mantra. Let’s do this thing.
I ran my first quarter mile, and while I mustered the courage to keep going with little more than the piercing blue sky above and the slight breeze that encapsulated me to take my mind off the pain, I watched as a gal came marching down the bleachers with purpose. Then, a school bus pulled through the gate. On board was a school official training a bus driver to-be for the next school year. I rounded the corner and noticed where the smell of fresh cut grass was coming from: Someone had started to mow the football field.
I persevered onward. On my iPod a song called “New Sensation,” by INXS, a rock band from the 80’s, began to play. Among other lines that spoke to me, the lyrics in my ears declared, “You’re only human what can you do, it’ll soon be over, don’t let your pain take over you.” I had to replay the song just to make sure I wasn’t losing it because like most of my life here lately, like “David After Dentist” (a decade old viral YouTube video), I questioned myself, “Is this real life?” Now, I could make this up, but I’m not. You’ll just have to take my word for it. But the caveat is this: When you start becoming more conscious of daily life, things seem to be quite strange sometimes.
I rounded the corner of the track in a slow jog and watched as the gal went through some sort of CrossFit-like routine exercise going up and down the bleachers, lifting a medicine ball repeatedly above her head. The school bus weaved between and around the orange cones in the parking lot. The grass on the field remained partially mowed. And I trotted along the asphalt while my body screamed in my ear as the voice of Scottie from Star Trek demanding, “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!”, even though my pace and canter suggested I might quit around the next corner. And that’s when it hit me.
Instead of focusing on the pain that was discouraging me and telling me to quit, instead of profiling the gal who was working out and thinking that she didn’t seem to be making any progress, instead of anticipating the student bus driver running over a cone and failing the test, instead of focusing on the unbalanced, partially mowed field, and instead of focusing on all of the flaws and the failure that the critical mind tends to obsess itself with, I had a choice.
The gal was breaking a sweat. She was determined and motivated. Maybe it was in part because she had an audience. I don’t know. But she was doing it. She was choosing to make it happen. The bus driver carefully drove around the cones and pulled out of the parking lot. I smiled as I watched it triumphantly pull out of the gate. Meanwhile, the football field that was still only partially mowed continued to perfume the air and enhance the senses. And while I worked on shifting my perspective, I finished the miles I set out to complete. Granted I didn’t break any records, but I persisted, slowly and steadily. The gal working out continued her drive to lose weight, and the sweat that ran down her face spoke of her determination and how it would pay off if she continued her efforts. The student bus driver passed that part of his test. Life continued onward, forward, with purpose and vision.
At that point, I realized that I had spent too much time being negatively influenced by other people’s perceptions including the predominantly negative world that seems so evident at times. I was choosing to listen to the discouragement that seems to bombard us from every direction these days. But no matter the situation or circumstance, no matter the cards that you’ve been dealt in this life, no matter what your credit score or bank account tells you, and especially no matter how society and status quo classifies you, YOU have it made because YOU can make it that way. You and I can choose our perceptions and choose to believe, to know, to see, and to expect and create a better life and a better world. But it starts with a decision about what we focus on. We can give up and we can keep pushing forward. We can wake up and learn and create, or we can sleepwalk to the grave with fear of failure holding our hand (or rather maybe it’s got us on a leash that we choose to put on ourselves).
Napoleon Hill once said: “You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct, and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” After being unconscious for so many years to the negative perceptions that some folks may call realistic, I choose to keep pushing forward. I choose to continue choosing to see the constructive, the beneficial, the positive, for the glass IS half full. There IS progress being made and growth all around us. Being realistic is being able to understand the reality of matters, but reality is what we all make of it. Define it for yourself, consciously, and see what happens. It’s up to you and no one else, and the sooner you realize that part of reality, you’ll be better off in present and the future.