Our perspective arises from within, so we can see things and people out in the world all around us yet are nearly blind to ourselves. Sounds simple, but this is one of the most interesting and agonizing aspects of being human, and insights around it have shifted my inner state and outer behavior. We can’t see our faces without a mirrored surface, yet if we pay attention we notice even the mirror lies – or rather bias distorts our vision. Feedback from others often gives us a different picture, both from our reflection and from one moment to another. We see our bodies in the mirror, or from one limited perspective. Further, we notice a wide spectrum of different appearances in ourselves and others depending on circumstances, so we can never be defined by any one set of terms. Our health and emotional state, expression, posture, and surroundings all have their own profound effect on how we “look”. So who knows what they truly look like? No one. We get this on some level, but I don’t hear people say it. It’s part of why we are rarely indifferent to images of ourselves.
This is just as true of our emotional and internal selves. We’re undeniably changed, yet still the same person after major body altering events – circumcision, puberty, childbirth, surgery, tattoos, amputation, piercing, scarring. They’re all major physical changes and have intangible emotional impacts, but our essential core identity remains the same. Trans folk – in my limited understanding – near universally seek to perform their genders and sometimes alter their bodies to match a deeply felt internal sense of themselves, not to become someone else. Everything I see and feel tells me our internal selves – our unique bundle of innate traits and tendencies mingled with influences, memories, and knowledge – are the “parts” that are most profoundly US. Yet in all probability we’re just as blind to our intangible inner selves – I could call it soul for short I suppose – as we are to our faces. In both cases it’s nearly impossible to attain the observer’s perspective (though theoretically you could have an out of body experience through intoxication or near death).
Is there value to getting acquainted with our bodies or inner selves from alternate viewpoints? Always. Deepest truths resonate across every plane, so at a basic level, picture me searching for a roll of paper towels on a mountaintop as we break camp. I walk across the clearing one way and note their shape and blinding white color from my peripheral vision. When I want them I head back but can’t see them. I scan, pick things up, move things around in the area, walk away and do something else momentarily so I can stroll back and surprise them. No show. Then I go back to where it all started (as my mom so often advised) and scan again. I realize I’m one step shy of the position from which I had spotted them before. I take that single step and low and behold they appear, positioned exactly between obstacles, arranged just so, hidden from above and everywhere else except from that exact perspective.
Perspective literally and metaphorically and emotionally changes everything on every level. Not many truths are universal, but this one looks like the real deal to me. I’m pretty certain you can’t see your body or your soul from another’s viewpoint fully, though even trying we tend to notice something new every time. But ultimately it doesn’t matter nearly so much what we look like. The bits with the power to change things aren’t physical. What matters is what we have going on in our hearts and minds; how are we at teamwork, organization, creativity, communication? How do we apply our knowledge to solve unique problems and create opportunities? How do we cultivate our unique gifts and work them with more balance and moderation?
But the importance of these issues begs further question; if it’s crucial to get that outside perspective to balance out our predominantly self-centered views, and near impossible to attain even on the gross physical level, how the hell are we supposed to get an outside picture of our intangible assets? Intelligence, kindness, humor, consideration, interestingness… how do we check our levels? Through reflections from others; family, friends, acquaintances, casual inter-actors, passersby. Everyone is a mirror with the potential to reflect if you watch for it and consciously develop it. I choose to look but I’m careful to recall all views are distorted by history and context. I retain my agency to accept what reflections and feedback further my well being and flatly reject what doesn’t serve me. As I’ve learned more about how to pursue happiness I spend my time and choose my companions more carefully. I want people around who actively seek their fulfillment while connecting with and mutually supporting others in the same journey. I value most those with the greatest insight and ability to share feedback, in large part because the light they shed illuminates parts of myself I can’t otherwise see.
For me this train of thought brought me one more huge piece of evidence against the vicious voice in my head; so many of us suffer with a nagging internal critic, an impotent official hyperventilating over some detail or fragment of the continuous reel of moments, images, and ideas we continually present as our gifts to the outside world. Each of us is a forest of thoughts and feelings, a memory and impression stuffed library of Alexandria inside, where our true full self lives. We contain multitudes. And lest we forget, we’re only seeing one tiny fraction of what others present, and EVERYTHING we present over our lifetime is only a mote compared to what may be within. It makes it easier to forgive, to encourage, to avoid assumptions, to remain curious and open, and to practice gentle acceptance on myself and others. This humanity stuff is very complicated.