“The tragic or the humorous is a matter of perspective.”
—Arnold Beisser, American author
and Gestalt therapist
It was late or, depending upon your perspective, early – around 2 a.m. I was riding my motorbike down the silent, empty streets. Most of the houses were dark save for the occasional porch light with a swarm of moths and small insects around it.
I felt a little guilty for riding my motorbike. In my mind, I could see my father rolling over in bed, sitting up and cursing.
“What kind of damn fool is out riding around at this hour?”
It was 1980 and I was living alone in Medicine Hat — far away from family and friends. I had chosen to live away in order to assert my independence, show that I could make it on my own and to find myself.
So far, I my search had eluded me, and in the process I’d grown lonely and depressed.
I was making my way toward an outcropping overlooking Kingsway Avenue, the railway tracks and city beyond. I had found it quite by accident one morning when I decided to walk to work. The trail I had been following ended abruptly at the outcropping, which stood about 30 metres above street level. I had been there many times since.
From this unique vantage point, everything below looked small and insignificant. I had developed the habit of going there when I needed to gain perspective — when I needed to see my problems for what they were. On this particular night, I needed my problems to be small and surmountable.
Over the years, I have done a lot of reading and writing about perspective. Recently I read an interview with Todd Goldfarb, American author, publisher and creator of the website Worldwide Tipping Point Dot Com — a website committed to global change and awakening.
In the interview, Goldfarb claims there are four effective practices for gaining perspective.
Goldfarb says that all of us suffer occasionally from feelings of sadness, hopelessness and even depression. This can be a general malaise that creeps up on us, feelings triggered by health, personal or job-related issues or by the sense of hopelessness we feel when we look at a world filled with corrupt political system, wars and images of starving children.
Says Goldfarb, “Living with perspective means always looking at your life from the 10,000-foot level. When you entrain yourself to pull back and view yourself from this height, things begin to look a little different. More often than not, they begin to look much better.”
Even though these practices where recommended by Goldfarb and drawn from his experiences, they could easily be mine.
Goldfarb’s first recommendation is that we “delve” into a well-written book that really speaks to our soul. Not just any book on any topic — though that could certainly serve as a distraction — but a book that teaches us, inspires us and fills us with a sense of hope and well-being.
My personal library is filled with hundreds of such books, many that I have read over and over again. May I recommend you consider reading anything by Mitch Albom, Andy Andrews, Don Miguel Ruiz or Dan Millman? It’s great soul medicine.
The second practice is to seek out an older adult — someone in his or her golden years — with which you can have a “purpose-filled” conversation. I have done this many times and have written about it often.
Suggests Goldfarb, “Ask them about their most cherished memories and listen to them as they talk of the past, when they were young and vibrant and full of hope.”
I have found this to be an instant way to gain perspective and top up my knowledge and wisdom. Almost without exception, every older person I have spoken to has talked to me about the importance of going for my dreams and risking, challenging the odds — despite what others might say or think.
Seriously consider what stories and insights you’ll be able to share when a younger person sits down with you someday and asks about your most cherished memory.
Number three is a powerful, insightful way to gain perspective, and that is to volunteer your time for a worthy cause. There are people everywhere, nearby and around the world, in need of your help and energy.
There is no more powerful way to grow in your self-esteem, wisdom and awareness than to be of service to others — to give freely and selflessly of yourself.
Goldfarb’s final practice is especially close to my heart, as the father of five amazing children and one delightful and precocious granddaughter.
It is to spend time talking to and being around children. (If you don’t have children, make certain to get permission and to clarify what it is you’re hoping to accomplish from the experience.)
Children are amazingly tuned-in to who they are and what they want and they act with joy and reckless abandon. They simply do exactly what they want to do all of the time.
Aside from the fun, there’s a serious lesson to be learned and that is not to take yourself or life so seriously. Relinquish your need to be the serious and responsible adult occasionally and let your inner child free to laugh and play.
I would add one more practice, and that is to look at the path you’ve been travelling and seriously ask yourself if it’s taking you to where you want to be in future. Where will it lead you in five, 10 or even 50 years? It’s never too late to strike off in a new direction.
I love the words of Charles Simic, Serbian-American poet: “Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships.”
What are you making?
I’m not sure how long I sat there on the outcropping watching street lights direct non-existent traffic. Sometime during the night I did gain some perspective. I hope you can find your outcropping and perhaps in the process, find yourself sitting there waiting for you.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca