We’re all joining the dots… connecting up what we observe and experience of our lives in ways that are coherent to us. And we each have preferred ways of doing so – habits of heart, mind and understanding that have the world show up the way it does for us.
I’ve noticed recently, for example, how familiar it is for to me to connect up other people’s action (or non-action) with a story of their current or impending withdrawal. I’ve done something wrong, I imagine, that they know about and disapprove of and of which I am hardly aware. A call not returned, a terse email, a silence, apparent distance during a social encounter – all of these are the dots I’m paying attention to in this way of making sense of the world. And the joining that I do has me be the outsider, the one who has to work and prove and be kind to get back in, the one who ought to feel ashamed of myself.
It’s a habit, this way of making sense, almost certainly born in my early years and practiced repeatedly since then. And, as I keep on finding out, not only is it just one way of joining up the phenomena I experience, it’s often far from accurate and rarely life giving to me or others. Moreover, when I fall into this habitual way of making sense I tend to pay attention to only some of the ‘dots’. Other phenomena – such as the enormous love and affection that comes my way, the contribution I’m making, or simple gratitude for being in the presence of others without my having to do anything – receive much less attention than they deserve.
I’m having to learn again how to join up the dots in a way that lets me see and feel the enormous love and support there is around me.
How you join the dots – how you interpret what happens – matters. As does the choice of which dots to notice. And each depends upon, and shapes, the other.
When you start to see that you are not experiencing life as it is but as an act of dot-joining, you can start to ask yourself some important questions about relationships, work, and about life itself.
It turns out that for any set of ‘facts’ (which is what we usually call the phenomena we’re choosing to observe) there are an infinity of interpretations, not all of them equal, and some filled with much greater possibility or much greater suffering than others.
And it also turns out that there are an infinity of ‘facts’, many of which are supremely significant in a life well-lived or in work well-done, that your current interpretation may be blinding you to.
So how you join the dots of your life is a significant question, as is the choice of dots you ignore as you do so. It can be difficult to see what you’re doing here without patient observation, because our habits of interpreting are most transparent to us – forming the usually hidden background to our lives and relationships. But the quality and possibility of your life, and all that you undertake, may hinge on your answer to this most invisible and most important of questions.