one tiny piece of a big puzzle

“I’ve been over what I’m supposed to say and I’ve got to tell you, it’s pretty persuasive stuff, but is it the whole truth? It’s a slice of truth, a morsel, a fraction. It’s a piece of the pie, certainly not the whole enchilada, and now that I’ve been thinking about it, I don’t think I could tell the whole truth about anything. That’s a pretty heavy burden, because we all just view the world through this little piece of coke bottle. Is there such a thing as objective truth I wonder.”  – Jeff Melvoin, producer/writer, “Northern Exposure”

I had a personal lesson this weekend that reminded me how narrow my perspective is, how this narrowness affects what I feel and limits what I understand. First person is the only point of view we know. We can’t choose otherwise, as much as we might like to see the world from other people’s perspectives. We can hear their words, and read their words. We can empathize, we can absorb their ideas into our own. But no matter how hard we listen, it just isn’t possible to turn off our subjectivity—our own minds are all we experience, and even recognizing our own truth is challenging.

Last week I was mildly obsessed with the idea that I’d embarrassed myself out socializing, and a week later, when I had a chance to speak to one of the other people involved, I discovered that he had felt the exact same way. To the point that this person apologized to me, and said he’d been worried that he had embarrassed himself. It’s pretty comical, and also a prime example of how we’re all only seeing a very small portion of what’s happening. We’re telling a story about ourselves to ourselves, and chances are it’s either totally imaginary or only a tiny bit true. It’s one small piece of the larger story, one tiny fragment. In this case, our stories were identical but from completely opposite points of view.

Taking this further, I can look back at my past relationships and see much more of what was really going on between my ex-partners and myself, but that wasn’t the case at the time. The stories have opened up to me now, months or years later, to include a greater part of the truth—I won’t ever know all of it, it’s not up to me to know all of it. I’m able to view scattered scraps and sections, more than what I knew when I only saw my personal sliver, but still less than the whole.

Each story and layer of story is like a jigsaw puzzle—for years I tried to obsessively fit two pieces together that didn’t really fit, focused entirely on those two pieces and nothing else. I couldn’t see that one was sky and one was rocks. I struggled and pushed and obsessed over those two pieces. I put one down and glared at the other one, and then put that one down. It was all I felt able to do. And now, after much thought and processing, I’ve drawn back far enough to see the puzzle they belong to, see many pieces laid out and fitted together with gaps remaining between them, a half-finished jigsaw. And I can finally let go of my two mismatched pieces, placing them easily into their right places, with a better idea of the picture being created.

Every day this is a struggle and an opportunity, and it will continue no matter how self-aware or actualized we become. I’m reminded to keep my mind as open as possible as often as possible, even when I feel stuck in my own perspective. To step outside the narrative I’m telling myself about what’s happening, and to remember that there’s a much, much bigger story in play—and that everyone is seeing it from a different, unique and valid angle.

I can’t stop looking through my tiny piece of coke bottle, but I can remember how limited it is.

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