Yet the sea as the fish feels it, the borage as the bee sees it, the intricate sounds of the hedgerow as heard by the rabbit, the impact of light on the eager face of the primrose, the landscape as known in its vastness to the wood-louse and ant—all these experiences, denied to him forever, have just as much claim to the attribute of Being as his own partial and subjective interpretations of things.
Evelyn Underhill—Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People
Evelyn Underhill says that what we know is mostly our impressions of things. Our view of reality is just that: our view. We see the world through the lens of our own experience, and unless we are willing to get outside of ourselves, we mistake our experience for the only reality there is.
In lovely language, Underhill points out that the fish, the bee, the rabbit, the flower and even the bug have their own life experiences, no less real than our own. Have you ever paused to consider what the world looks like through the eyes of a caterpillar, or a wren, or a tree? I wonder if we might be more careful about the environment if we could imagine the perspective of a creature other than ourselves.
Our vision must also be stretched if we are to understand the reality of other people. Hospitable listening helps with this. This kind of listening is not trying to persuade, advance one’s own agenda, or make judgments of the other; instead, this is a deep listening, listening with the ear of the heart, both to what is said and what remains unsaid.
When my point of view has been changed, it’s not typically because someone has tried to persuade me. Usually I change my thinking because I’ve experienced another’s reality, through being with another in their experience or through deep listening to their experience. When I experience another’s reality, my own reality is broadened, and the role my experience plays in my life no longer is the all-consuming force it once was. In simple language, as my reality grows to encompass another’s reality, life is no longer simply all about my wants, wishes and preferences. It’s a freer and more generous way to live because I don’t have to argue for what benefits me at the expense of another.
Such an expanded field of vision helps me to realize just how much I don’t know. It’s a much bigger world, a much bigger life, created by a God beyond comprehension!