Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ever have your snow globe shaken?

The Bliss and Pain of Perspective Change

Certain books, interactions, and experiences have “shaken my snow globe.” They introduced many new ideas, and they shook up old beliefs and ways of viewing the world.

It feels exhilarating at first as the snow and glitter fill the air. “Wow, look at all the sparkles!” I marvel at the new ideas floating around in my mind. They pique my intellect. They speak to my heart. They show me perspectives on the world that I hadn’t experienced before. I walk around with the ideas in the air feeling the delight of curiosity and the thrill of wonder.

I remember reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, which detailed Dr. Paul Farmer’s life and service from Harvard to rural Haiti. It was the first time that my heart fully grasped extreme poverty, and I came to believe that I could do something radical about the world’s suffering. I was alight with passion, empathy, and drive to make the world a better place. I remember my interactions with my nephew in his first week of life, sitting up together at 3am so my sister could get some rest. He was so small, vulnerable, and radiant with love. These interactions sparked a small fire inside me that motherhood felt right despite my intellectualized debate –to have a baby or not to have a baby. I remember enduring a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and the sense of peaceful empowerment I gained from learning new skills to work with my mind. Returning from the retreat center, I felt like my spirit had found a way home. These catalysts in my life initially filled my mind with awe and my heart with love.

But then a pinprick of concern occurs. As the snow and glitter begin to descend I think, “Where is this going to settle? What does this mean for my life?” Many of the new ideas challenge old perspectives or habits. While I marveled at these new concepts, I still have not parted with some former beliefs that the new ones may challenge. The concern grows into strong discomfort. The new and the old are all scattered about simultaneously because for me the old does not leave as quickly as the new comes in.

The possibility of confronting global poverty, the desire of motherhood, and the power to understand my own mind – I questioned how these new perspectives fit in with my other goals and ideas. Would embodying these new ideas require me to become a world-renowned humanitarian, a stay-at-home mom, or an enlightened Buddha? These books, interactions, and experiences have given me something so valuable, but how do I incorporate them into my whole self? What about my other professional interests, my involvement with my local community, my investment in my family, my fulfilling hobbies?

Cognitive dissonance takes hold. The rational part of my mind tries to quickly solve the situation, “Ah, I see that new belief is better than the old and I will change. Done!” But the emotional parts of my mind take more time to work through the implications of change. Sometimes it happened through a toddler-style temper tantrum. Panic sets in and I am crying in snotty heap on the floor or defiantly protesting the new ideas with my arms crossed sitting in the corner of the couch. “No, I don’t wanna!!! I like the comforts of this old perspective. I will never be happy again!!” With a bit of personal growth, I have learned skills to identify the particular emotions and sit with them. “I am scared that this new belief will require me to give up something that is still important to me.” I try to distinguish between irrational fears: “I must now move to a different country, spend all my time healing the sick and digging wells, and never think about any other personal interests.” and legitimate concerns: “I feel scared about the change in my education and career path that this new perspective may lead me towards. I am not sure I am ready.”

Identifying and sorting out my fears and emotions doesn’t immediately change them. Sometimes I attempted to shovel and sweep away the new ideas as a means of dealing with the cognitive dissonance. This response seems to just repress the emotion and delay the change, but sometimes that is the only action I feel capable of. I push away the new to give myself space to deal with the old. I haven’t been able to forget my snow and glitter experiences, especially when they caused such marvel at first, but maybe some people do. Sometimes I get angry with myself for not being about to fully transform as quickly as my rational assessment. “I should be able to just embody this awesome new perspective right now!” This only makes me feel worthless or manipulates me into accepting something I don’t feel fully behind quite yet. (See “Stepping out of the Should Trap”)

After seeing this happen over and over again, I try to acknowledge the panic I feel. I then consciously recall past times when I have gradually integrated new beliefs successfully improving my life. After remembering these experiences, I give myself the safe and loving time and space needed to adjust. Rather than beat myself up for my inability to change instantaneously, I accept that shifting perspective is not like flicking a switch for me. It is something I have to slowly take hold of and gradually accept how new ideas transform all aspects of my life. Having this understanding and being gentle with myself through the process has let me enjoy the wonder of snow and glitter with less of the panic, berating, and fear when new ideas and feelings enter my world.

Since changing perspectives can cause such discomfort, it makes sense that people often get stuck in their ways of viewing the world. Maybe some people prevent future snow globe shakings after feeling the challenges that it causes. By acknowledging that change is a process and being patient with ourselves and others, maybe we can foster more flexibility in perspective. After learning to observe my own response to new ideas, provide patience for my integration, and connect the perspective change to life improvement, I more readily search out new perspectives. I think back on how many times I have scoffed at people's positions and inability to hear new ideas. Acknowledging that this process is challenging and gradual has helped me be more accepting and less begrudging of others at different stages. In the same way that I have learned to give myself space and support, I see that I can now offer that to others.

What books, interactions, or experiences have shaken your snow globe?

Photo Credit:
Snow Globe Snowman Timothy Valentine
Dhamma Manda


  1. Love this!

    A couple of books that have shaken my snow globe:

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    You are Your Child's First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy
    The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz

    There are countless others...

  2. I liked Time to Think by Nancy Klein and Radical Love by Clinton Callahan


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