The Finger That Points…

  1. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it!
  2. Find Your Calling
  3. Be Where You Are
  4. Change Happens Faster if You Lie to Yourself
  5. The Finger That Points…
  6. Take no credit. Cast no blame. Seek to empower others. Enjoy life.
  7. Always Tell the Truth, as You Know It
  8. One Thing at a Time
  9. Take Nothing for Granted
  10. Wait Patiently
  11. Seek solutions, without placing blame
  12. There are no Rules

Synopsis: The Finger That Points… — Another look at our distorted view of reality

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The Finger That Points to the Moon is Not the Moon

Ah, those Zen masters. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we’d be looking at another Zen-like text, this one a slightly more obscure version of “The Map is Not the Territory.” Both concepts point to a common Phoenix Centre topic – the unreality of what we call reality.

By the bye, if you’d like a Western approach to this topic, pick up Language, Structure and Change, by Efran, Lukins and Lukins. Much of the book is a paean to the idea of the subjectivity of reality.

I remember one client (of many!!) who spent several sessions arguing with me over the absolute validity of his interpretations, despite the fact that the results he was getting, using those interpretations, were terrible.

I think of this approach as “whacking yourself in the head with your own mallet.”

I’m using the word interpretations because that’s the word traditionally used in Communication Models. (See this article for more.)

When using our Communication Model, as I express an interpretation, I usually say, (instead of “I interpret,”) “The story I am telling myself.” I like this way of phrasing things, as it reminds me that, while what I observe is somewhat fixed, what I think about what I observe (my interpretation) has everything to do with me, and nothing to do with what I observe.

Here’s another story, which helps to explain the interpretation dilemma.

Another client described what had been happening in his life. He then said (wise fellow!!!) that, since nothing he had been thinking and then trying had worked, he was willing to change anything to get “better” results.

Let me describe his issue, as it fits our discussion perfectly.

His 31-year-old daughter wasn’t living her life the way he wants her to, and they hadn’t spoken for months. He listed what she was doing that he didn’t approve of, and said that, no matter how much he insisted that she do things differently, she kept doing them wrong.

I said, “All of the things you want your daughter to do are perfectly appropriate. However, they’re appropriate for a 14-year-old. Your daughter is a 31-year-old adult.”

He got this odd look on his face for a moment, then smiled and said, “Well, that isn’t going to work.”

He had an insight into our “The finger that points…” topic.

When he saw his daughter in the flesh, he could (just) manage to see an adult. Then, he’d watch what she was doing, and go inside his head, and start making up stories.

In his mind, he saw a someone who was always in trouble, and perhaps more significant, always 14. Because of his internal stories (which have nothing to do with the daughter) he was locked into “dad of a delinquent 14-year-old mode.” And his behaviour perfectly fit that role.

Thus, his “finger pointing to the moon” was perfectly accurate within it’s own context (in his head.) It just wasn’t pointing to anything other than itself.

That’s really the point of the expression under consideration today. The saying suggests that it’s as if you raised your hand to the moon and believed that you were actually holding the moon in your hand. In other words,

we act as if the representation we make in our minds, (regarding anything,) is the actual reality of the object at “hand.”

Have you ever been in a business meetings where everyone is “trying to reach consensus?” They might have even brought in someone to “facilitate the process.” God, I love jargon.

Anyway, be honest. Weren’t you sitting there, thinking, “What the hell is the matter with these people? Why don’t the get this?”

Back in 2005 or so, I was having dinner with Ben & Jock from The Haven (this before they retired), and Jock said that they’d seen a play in NYC, and at the end, “Half of the audience missed the point.” Eyes twinkling, Ben said, “Which means they didn’t get Jock’s point.”

The reason we have so many social conventions is because we don’t see eye to eye. Politeness keeps us from killing each other — actually, from screaming or going mad. Despite (sort of) knowing this, we still waste inordinate amounts of time trying to get people to agree with our internal representations.

Every time I hear someone say, “This is how it is,” I have a pretty good idea how it isn’t. If it were that way, there would be no need to explain it or to try to convince anyone of it.

It is, then, simple arrogance that causes us to think that our opinion should be important to anyone other than ourselves.

Let me say it again: my representation of reality is nothing more than “The story I am telling myself.”

It’s like walking into a showroom with a group of friends and looking at a lamp. We all agree, at the observational, perceptional, “reality” level, that the thing with the bulb and switch and base and shade and body, sitting on a table, is a lamp.

Whether it’s a “pretty” lamp is subjective. Whether it will fill the role I have in mind for it is subjective.

A couple of decades ago I walked into my parents’ apartment. I flipped a light switch, and was “blinded by the light.” They had a chandelier with 3, 250-watt bulbs in it. I said, “My god that’s bright!” They said, “Not when you are in your 80s and have bad eyes.”

As we explore our world-views with others, the debate should not be re. “right and wrong,” because our interpersonal disagreements are simply conflicting opinions. It seems to me that the only relevant discussion is, “How is this working for me, and how is yours working for you?”

If I am treating my 31-year-old like a 14-year-old, and she doesn’t like it, and isn’t speaking to me, I can keep behaving that way in hopes that she sees the light and starts acting like a good 14-year-old. Or, I can ask myself how I like the results of my actions.

If my goal is to attempt to dominate my daughter and keep her under my control, I keep doing what I’m doing. If I want to establish an adult-to-adult relationship with her, I’m will have to, at the minimum, change my behaviour. If I am wise, I’ll also change my internal representation of her–from 14 to 31.

In the end, it’s that “simple.”

What are your internal representations? Can you own them as your personal property–not something to be “sold, or forced down another’s throat, but “yours?”

It’s about getting over trying to manipulate others into to doing it your way, while resisting manipulating yourself into doing it their way.

Then, you can examine how well all of your representations are working for you, and create ways to change the ineffective ones.

Representations are just that. The finger that points to the moon is not the moon. The map is not the territory. Simple, eh?

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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