“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” Marcus Aurelius
I am deeply grateful to have grown up with grandparents in my life and my own children have been privileged to know two of their great-grandparents. I always loved listening to the stories they would tell and was intrigued to hear about their lives in the “olden days”. As they grew older I realised that some things they lived through would very soon pass out of living history and their first-hand accounts would no longer be available to us. I decided to research our family tree while there were still people alive who could give me vital clues. My children were very excited for a while, hoping that I would uncover someone famous, or even better, someone infamous! A knight? Or a highwayman, perhaps? I think they were as disappointed as I was fascinated.
I have traced several family lines way back to the early 1700’s. What I uncovered were many lives of struggle and poverty. Some of my ancestors were agricultural labourers working on the farms of Hertfordshire, while others were in domestic service in Norfolk and London. Some of them even ended their days in the poorhouse when they became too old to earn a living. I noticed that there were often large numbers of siblings in each family but that many of the children died young. Names were recycled down the generations – John, Henry, William, Eliza, Mary and Susan. Often the youngest child would bear the name of a deceased older sibling. I tried to imagine the lives of the mothers who spent a good proportion of their lives pregnant, caring for children and all too often, burying them.
What really stuck me was just how different my own life is compared to those of my ancestors just a few generations ago. When we get bombarded with bad news stories by the media every day it is easy for us to start to believe that we live in a world hell-bent on destroying itself and the future can seem bleak for our own children. I am not denying that terrible things happen but if we pause and look around us at our own lives we can see the rich tapestry of stories, the positive interwoven with the negative. Some of the changes that helped to lift our family out of poverty were industrialisation, advances in technology and medical science but also the introduction of social housing, education and the NHS.
However imperfect, our society has changed for the better in many ways and although there is a long way to go and much still needs to be done, by tracing my family tree I have found a new perspective which has served to deepen the gratitude I feel for my life. As I look around me in my family and wider community, I see people helping each other every day with compassion and tenderness. The gratitude which arises is not a re-framing or some affirmation learned as a technique but the natural result of a change in perspective.
One of the most powerful things I have learned in recent years is that perspective is everything.
When we look at things from only one perspective we see only a partial story. Time can give us a different perspective but so can our state of mind. When we are in a low state of mind it colours our whole experience of life. When that mood shifts, as it invariably does, we see things in a completely different way.
As our level of consciousness rises, we can start to get glimpses of the beauty with which life unfolds for us. I can look back on many things in my life that were painful or seemed like a disaster at the time, but now see the positive aspects that emerged from them and I can feel gratitude for even the biggest challenges in my life. Learning about the Three Principles has shown me that our perspective at any moment is simply being limited by our busy personal minds, crowded with thoughts and beliefs often recycled over and over. It helps me to know that when my busy mind gets quiet I will see things from a different perspective and that it will be a clearer and a more accurate perception of how life really is. I also know that this clearer state of mind is my default setting and that left alone it will return all by itself. This understanding helps me to move through the inevitable ups and downs of life with more grace and less suffering.
There is a deep intelligence at work in life itself. It is the same intelligence that grows an oak tree, fills my lungs with air and beats my heart. This wisdom is available to us all if we can learn how to listen to it underneath the noise of our busy minds. The deeper my understanding, the easier it is for me to allow my mind to quieten down so that I can feel the gratitude, love and peace that reside within.
There is no way for me to know how connected my ancestors felt to this deeper intelligence but I know it guided them as it guides me and each one played an essential role in the unfolding of the beautiful life that I now experience. Modern times are ushering in a new consciousness for a hopeful future for humanity. The Three Principles teaching of Sydney Banks is part of that new consciousness which is spreading the globe and by sharing this understanding with others through my work, I too will play my small role in the unfolding for future generations.