How Interpretive Perception Dictates Different People’s Experiences of Similar Events

Let’s face it. We don’t all see eye to eye on everything. In this story, I share my first experience realizing just how different our impressions can be. What I learned? We all live in our own reality.

I love to tell a story about four snails who were crossing the sidewalk a few blocks from my house one fine summer day. I was out on my daily walk with my little dog, Gizmo. I had been meditating intensely for several days. My mind was open and clear. The sun was warm and inviting. Everything was vivid and fresh. I felt deeply connected to my world like I could literally perceive the sacredness of life. Then, right there in front of me, I saw four snails slowly crossing the sidewalk.

I felt like a little child who had just walked into the pages of a story book. In fact, at first, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was seeing. Sometimes when the mind is in a deeply meditative state, ordinary processing slows down to, well, a snail’s pace. As I pondered the creatures before me, all I could think was they resembled the periwinkles I used to see on the rocky shorelines of Maine when I was a child. Silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “How did you guys get way out here?” Then a page from a story book flashed in my mind. I realized I was looking at snails.

So, I stood there for a while and just watched them. Gizmo, however, was uninterested. Wondering why we weren’t moving on, he placated himself with some good smelly spots on the ground. In my heightened state of awareness, my heart overflowed with joy because of this encounter with these four snails. That’s why when a woman walked out her front door and onto the sidewalk, I immediately called attention to the scene. I just knew she would want to see this marvelous sight.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “Aren’t they gross. They crawl up and down my house all the time. I hate them!”

My mind shattered as I struggled to process this response. “You hate them???” Not wanting to appear discourteous, I just smiled and wished her a good day. Shortly after that, I walked on, considering what had occurred.

This was the first time I really understood that we all live in our own reality. Even as we share the same space, see the same snails, and walk on the same sidewalks, we each have our own impressions, perceptions, interpretations, and assessments which create a filter of sorts between us and the world. What we see is largely the mental images we project. In that sense, we all live in our own little world.

For her, the snails were grotesque. For me, they were magnificent. In the absolute sense, they are neither grotesque or magnificent. They’re just snails. Yet, our world is more than just an objective or scientific reality. Our world is also subjective. It’s what we see through eyes that are built upon impressions.

The mechanics of it aren’t as important as clearly knowing you and I see things differently. That’s just the way it is. As a result, you have your reality; I have mine. It’s only to the degree that our perceptions and opinions are similar that we can share our realities. In the case of the snails, it was like night and day, which is why this experience was so potent for me.

It was a good reminder that not everyone sees things the same way. Realizing this, we can begin to have more compassion for each other and develop an appreciation for other points of view. We might even learn something. Just to be clear, if those snails had been crawling up and down my house all day, I might have had a different impression of them too.

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Kimberly Holman

Kimberly Holman is a certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher (MMT) with a B.A. in psychology from the University of Maine and an M.A in religious studies from Naropa University.