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Marcus Aurelius is often attributed with the quote, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective not the truth.”
This view is quite possibly the only truth. (Although there is debate as to whether or not he really said this.)
Any search for truth cannot avoid consultation with ancient wisdom.
Patanjali, a sage from India, created the yoga sutras, which includes guidelines for our interaction with self, the world, and others (yamas). In here, we find the concept of aparigraha, which means non-greed, non-possessiveness, and non-attachment. Greed and non-possessiveness is not just about things and people. For some, it can be having a sense of entitlement that their view is the only one. There is a need to possess the right to be right and to disregard all that is left. There is no crossroads considered, merely a single path to a “final destination.”
Connotations of imminent and unavoidable demise, that emerge from the “final destination” phrase (and scary movie scenes) may also offer us a clue to the costs of not practising aparigraha. If we constantly cling to an idea or view we have and expend energy needing others to see it the way we do, we prescribe ourselves a good dose of frustration, hurt, anger, and disappointment. If this happens for years and years, then this toxic concoction eats away at our mental state and physical health before heading for the final goal of our soul. We only have to think of the image of a tug of war, where hands cling tightly to a rope being pulled, to know that holding on does more damage than letting go.
Holding on, just for a moment, to the “final destination” analogy, we can learn from the epic film image of the truck where a huge log ploughs through a windscreen with intent to kill. Being at loggerheads with others can never end well. We are constantly activating our “fight or flight” survival mechanism, living in trauma-based high alert, and flooding our systems with acidity, creating inflammation and chronic distress and pain. Attaching to the outcome of being right and needing certainty can really only ever go wrong.
The yogic text the Bhagavad Gita tells us the importance of not being attached to outcome. If we are attached, we are never truly present where we are. Part of us will always be focused on the future. If we are present, then voicing our opinions will be about self-expression for reasons of sharing and showing passions rather than enforcing the other to agree. A wish to gain acquiescence to our views will be likely to mean that we are already thinking of what to say next when someone expresses an alternative. Therefore, we can never truly listen.
If we let go of a need to be agreed with or praised by others, our happiness is no longer determined by what others think. We do and say what we do as it has meaning to us and evokes a fire within. This then naturally attracts abundance in all areas of life as it’s a huge relief to not be controlled by the world around us. This is how we create our own reality. This is freedom.
In searching for this relief, without attachment to finding it, what if we were to be curious about the journey and not the destination? We could consider how someone made sense of their experiences to have the beliefs they do. What if we really listened to this and didn’t interrupt with our own views? What if we had no need to attempt to get others to see through our eyes but were happy that they heard what we saw.
An approach called “PACE” used in psychology to help parents learn to foster secure attachments (the relationship bond between a child and caregiver impacting sense of self, overall development, and future relationships) is outlined by Daniel Hughes. PACE stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy. This is a way to therapeutically engage in conversation with a child that makes them feel safe and holds space for self-expression. It lets them know the parent is there for them, even if they are upset with them or disagree with their behaviour.
Playfulness is about creating an atmosphere of lightness and interest when you communicate. It means learning how to use a light tone of voice as storytelling rather than an irritated or lecturing tone. It’s about having fun and expressing a sense of joy.
Acceptance is about actively communicating that we accept the wishes, feelings, thoughts, urges, motives, and perceptions that are underneath any outward behaviour. It is about accepting, without judgment or evaluation, the child’s inner life. The experience simply “is.” It is not right or wrong.
Curiosity, without judgment, is how we help children become aware of their inner life, reflect upon the reasons for their behaviour, and then communicate it to others. It is wondering why, without believing we already know.
Empathy lets the child feel compassion. Being empathic means actively showing the child that their inner life is important, and the child is not alone in difficult times. Ruptures may occur in the relationship but empathy can aid repair.
If we approach our adult-to-adult interactions with the PACE model, as a framework for responding, we would be far less likely to be attached to outcome, as there is no right or wrong; it simply is. We would attune to the fact that being accepted and loved is not conditional to our views and behaviours. This would leave us feeling able to express our truth, bringing the concept of soul into the model creating space—a safe place.
The more we attach the label of “fact” to our own perspectives, the more we detach from the truth of our soul, and the more the world feels unsafe. With attachment, the focus is external not internal—so moves us away from the soul. This makes the journey home a far rockier path, as we can’t control what is around us.
At its worst, the search for certainty, external to self, can create “learned helplessness.” This is a state of mind where people feel constantly exposed to aversive stimuli. In this case, they present their views as “fact” in a confrontational manner, and then they feel there is no other way to be, even if presented with strategies for being less rigid.
Rigid thinking patterns display attachment to set processes. These can become a personality trait, like a well-trodden path, and the person is at risk of being alienated from others as they are experienced as interpersonally abrasive. People with this pattern will often find themselves in numerous disagreements even with strangers. Blame attributions inward or outward will be made instead of seeing interpersonal dynamics as co-created. Blaming is attachment to the idea of causality and a need for certainty to know who is at fault. This way of being is seen beyond individuals and in many systems in society in the form of laws.
As an expert witness in court, I have to take an oath saying, “I will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I am expected to express my certainty. Essentially, what I should be saying is, “I will tell my truth and nothing but my truth.”
There is a “certainty conundrum,” as we can have certainty if self-appraisal has no attachment to the outcome of how others react to our views.
Detachment means we can then, in fact, be certain that we have entered a space of freedom.