Anytime someone sustains a trauma or personal devastation, their life context changes. It may expand or contract them and their unique perception of life, but in either case, their mentality and reality are fundamentally shifted.
Part of the alteration is due to mere survival. In order to endure a hardship of any kind, we must adapt. The other reason our perception is altered is because our current lived experience no longer matches up to the illusion of how life was ‘supposed’ to be. Mental analysis and reasoning no longer reduce our suffering. Try as we might, what we knew in our heads to be true, no longer satisfies or explains, nor does it inoculate us from life’s hardships.
When a mother suddenly becomes a primary caregiver to a daughter with cystic fibrosis and spends 8+ years living in-and-out of a hospital, her context and life are radically altered. It’s what I call a life ‘plot-twist’. You thought you were going ‘this way’, but instead, life took you ‘that way’– which is what life does, of course.
Most commonly, when we speak about context, we’re referring to what someone ‘thinks’ about something– their cognitive and intellectual judgement relative to a person, place, or thing. This context is, more often than not, based on historic or past information, as well as the person’s level of consciousness (how open and aware they are to life itself). Our cognitive context is formed by a number of well-known social factors; our birthplace, our family of origin, our language and culture, and what our ancestors loved or feared.
This is tricky for our rational minds to fully grasp, but we see the world as we are and project this onto everything. Until you are aware of this, you are unaware of this, and you may go about your life feeling victimized by others or by life itself.
Notwithstanding the obvious trespasses, assaults, and violations of all types, from a purely psychological perspective, if you’re hurt by someone or something, you are the one experiencing this hurt or pain. There is no amount of ‘othering’, resenting, shaming, name-calling, etc. that will ever reduce or heal your pain. It is your pain. You are the one experiencing this, therefore only you can address its discomfort.
Think Jesus. Think Nelson Mandela. Think Mother Teresa. Insert your own sheroes and heroes. It is possible to understand ‘trespasses’ and therefore forgive. “As we forgive those who trespass against us” is not just a powerful line from a prayer, but a gentle directive for living a wise and meaningful life. This is how we ascend to a new level of consciousness– to a new level of experience for ourselves.
If you’ve ever played or watched someone play a video game, you get a sense of the world of possibilities that await on the other side of our ‘trusting ourselves’ and leaping into the unknown. I learned this from playing and watching my daughters play video games. There are secret tricks. There are bonus points. There are hidden access points where you can enter magical gardens and heavenly scenes. It is still the same ‘video game’ or ‘life’, but it’s a different level or dimension of experience. Once you see what is possible, you cannot un-see it.
That being said, there are no shortcuts to ‘the work’ (learning and integration) that must be done to remain there and to contend with the very real human lapses and relapses of our previous mentality. It takes time to learn and integrate new ways of being and seeing. It takes great patience on your part, too. To be kind to yourself and to others through the time-and-space that’s necessary to grow through difficulties is a practice and a dance. People may question your motives, your sanity, old friends may leave you, but all of this is hugely important, for yours and their own spiritual growth.
What someone experiences as ‘betrayal’, the other may experience as ‘freedom’ or downright relief. Shared reality is in the eye of its beholder. As has been famously pointed out, “truth has 144 sides”, so it all depends on where you are looking from.
Generally speaking, context reveals where someone is looking from. It is their psychology and worldview; their lens of experience, what they value, what they fear, the ‘villains’ or violations they endured, and who and what they love can be easily discerned and observed through their words and deeds.
Think back to my opening paragraphs in this section on context and the plot-twists that life throws at us. Even if you yourself are not a parent, or had a child with a complex condition, or have been in a hospital, you can imagine how frightening and difficult that must be. More often than not, it is precisely in these “life-valleys” that we gain the greatest awareness and vision of life. Now, think about yourself and your own life and ask yourself this:
What ‘life-valley’ did I emerge from and what did I notice, feel, sense, or see there?
Your willingness to see differently is an important intelligence. It is beyond your cognitive context. We now know that emotional intelligence has direct linkages to our physical and mental (psychological) health and well-being. I have a few simple, non-mathematical equations related to emotional intelligence:
- the greater your emotional intelligence, the less ‘villains’ you notice in your life.
- the greater your emotional intelligence, the greater personal peace you experience.
Human beings are a relational species. Not unlike most mammals and creatures on Earth, humans relate. We can relate because we are equipped with wiring that enables us to feel things beyond us– things we have not personally experienced. The trick, however, is to pause and actually feel by employing the power of our own senses and imagination.
If I’m aware of someone’s cognitive context, I don’t need to have experienced their exact lives to know what heartbreak, fear, or grief feel like. That’s what enables someone to be kind. If you have a point of reference it helps us to understand other human beings better, especially those who are of a different race, faith, or culture.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, diversity was a given. When I was young, my mom would often say to me: “there are good and bad people in every race– you can only know by their heart, not their skin color.” This early lesson on race oriented me to the heart of an individual; not what was on the outside, but on the inside— and quite possibly one of the reasons why I’m writing this book today.
As a young child I often wondered ‘what’ made people kind or unkind. The reason for this is because I noticed that wealth or educational attainment had nothing to do with it. Some of the kindest and most sincere people in my early-life were actually ‘economically poor’ and ‘uneducated’ (by dominant culture standards), yet they were filled with such wisdom and richness– it was visible and palpable.
Think for a moment how your own context about yourself expands or limits your own understanding of others. While indeed our rational minds provide our default setting or basic context, there is in fact a greater and deeper context which we all belong to and share. The gateway to this context is the human heart and that is where your humanity and emotional intelligence dwell.