S3E1 Perception

Have you ever heard someone describe an event (e.g., dinner, fight, work presentation), but it sounds so different than you experienced it? that is perception. In the opening episode of season 3, Dr. Pete shares the dharma talk that was influenced by the role of perceptions, and how the mind interferes with behavior. While this concept of perception is common within the eastern spiritual teachings, it is also fundamentally behavioral. Tune in to learn about how the power of perception is related to releasing suffering.




Pete: Well, that was a nice little breaks and welcome back to 2022, hey Nikki.


Nikki: Hey Pete. Yes, we made it season three. We did it. 


Pete: Can you imagine that season three? I think we have now almost 77 episodes.


Nikki: It's a lot of talking. 


Pete: Pretty impressive.


Nikki: Yes. It's a lot of talking.


Pete: And thank you listeners, for those of you that are out there, mom, dad, whoever else, maybe one or two other people, colleague or so. Thank you for tuning in but Nikki it's good to see you. I think maybe we'll talk the last episode as we wrapped up season two, thank you so much for your knowledge there with intention versus resolution. I think that that's an important thing to carry with us into this January of a new year.


Nikki: Yeah, and tell everybody what we're talking about today.


Pete: So today we're talking about perception.


Nikki: I got very excited when Pete recommended this. I mean, what was my reaction?


Pete: It was very exciting, she's not joking. Well, it was interesting because we were talking about what we would start off with and she wanted something Eastern. I don't know, when I do derma talk or whatever, I'm still learning. I teach all the time, I feel therapy often is like coaching and teaching so I think when I just dive so much into just like Zen and some derma like, especially here on the podcast, it just be I have to get better at that. Like I think I just have to get more practiced. So when you asked about something more Zen, I was like, oh, will that be? And then it just so turned out that one of the talks that I gave on the New Year was about perception. It was kind of amazing that we haven't done one already, really just committed to perception.


Nikki: Yeah, when he said that word, I was like, yes, I love that word. And he's like, how have we not talked about it? I'm like, well, we've definitely talked about perception. It's just that all of these concepts are interwoven with one another so we haven't devoted whole episode to it.


Pete: But it really is it’s own episode, that’s why we’re doing it.


Nikki: It is. That's why I was so stoked on it.


Pete: So perception, how do you see its place in your clinical work?


Nikki: Oh, my clinical work. I was even thinking just like, as a human and beyond.


Pete: Well, you are a human first.


Nikki: Okay. I am a human first, yeah. I mean, perception, it's an important word to label because everything we experience is filtered through our own perception. So I even like to think about it as just like very literally how the body processes information. This is where I get geeky into like, biological science and also physics stuff. But we're never experiencing the moment really, because the amount of time it takes, though imperceptible to us to read the stimuli in our environment. Go through our brain; be into electrical signals that then present an image that our eyes are seeing it's delayed, right. 


Pete: Yes.


Nikki: But, we operate from this illusion that whatever our brains are seeing and telling us like that's reality and just the truth matter is everything that we experience is our own individual perception of something.


Pete: Everything, so it's kind of like with someone be like, oh, is that person hot or pretty or cute? It's like, well, that's about perception.  


Nikki: Everything, yeah.


Pete: As a very like superficial kind of tangible example, I'll just give us a definition because you know I like to do that. So perception is, ‘The state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses’. Which I think that that's important and one of the ways that I talk about this a lot clinically is like, say if someone's having like an issue within the family as we just finished the holiday a season. That's something that most of us listeners can relate to so if you have six people at a dinner, you'll get six different stories about what happened at that dinner.


Nikki: Yes.


Pete: And that is a really good example of perception. They were all at the same dinner, one person at the one side of the table's not right or wrong about what happened at the dinner and yet you’ll still get six different stories about what happened at the dinner.


Nikki: Yeah. Because the word of course perspective is also relevant here right. So, whatever our perception or experience is, it's like again, and I know I brought this up in the past about like the [inaudible 04:57] experiments. It's like the perspective like where you're sitting at the dinner table is a different experience, it's like the lights hitting you in a different way. You're hearing somebody's tone in a different way because of something that happened to you earlier, it's like we're filtering an information. And of course this is where I'm so curious to hear what the Zen perspective is on perception. Because it's interesting, as we're talking out loud I'm imagining like patients listening to this and going, ‘well, aren't you teaching me that mindfulness helps me experience things as it is?


Pete: As you see it. 


Nikki: And it's like, yeah, as you see it, as you experience it, like what are the facts?


Pete: Because as you see it is your perception and however you feel it is your perception so, if I perceive that I'm anxious or in danger.


Nikki: Yeah. It's just so funny. I'm literally just having the reaction where I'm thinking like, oh, this could get really hijacked. 


Pete: Yeah. 


Nikki: Because somebody can then start to say, I'm thinking of, for example, like alternative facts, like somebody could say, well, what are facts? And it's like, I do think it's important to let this or show from just like a practical perspective. We can get very esoteric about things but from a practical perspective. I'll say to folks like, look, if we survey a hundred people on the street, a hundred people on the street are going to say, the sky is blue and the sun is hot, right. Like we can agree we'll just say that's a fact. So, I do just want to put that little caveat on here before we get into this.


Pete: But that's exactly where people get stuck. So I'm glad that you're doing that because I don't even need to differentiate facts from alternative truth or truths or opinion. The reality of it is facts are facts, you know, one plus one is two right. There's no debating that, you know, and the perception of how to write number two.


Nikki: Yes, so that is an essential distinction, right? It's like one thing is reality and the other thing is our experience of reality.


Pete: So when I say one plus one equals two, I might in my mind have a perception of a one and a one with a plus sign in the middle and seeing two, right. That's sort of like relation that's science, that's neurologist, that's relational frame theory. Whereas another person out there just sees the number two and maybe they see the word in their language, like dos or something like that, you know? And so that's the power of the mind.


Nikki: Yes.


Pete: Ultimately that's what we're saying about perception. It's the power of the mind and from the Eastern perspective, what we teach. And so one of the things, my derma talk on the New Year day was about, this is not a different day. So we have this evening Gotha that says like, you know, this night, your days are diminished by one. Well, the perception of our days being diminished by one doesn't change because it's my birthday in anniversary or because it's New Year’s Eve or Christmas or Hanukah or whatever it is, nothing changes.


Nikki: Well everything changes, right? It's like time is passing or like you're aging for sure but it's nothing.


Pete: Well perception.


Nikki: I'm so sorry we're talking about this and it’s so fascinating to me. Yes, our perception changes and like, I'm reminded of the Buddhist saying about like, ‘you're never looking at the same river twice’ because like, it's constantly changing. And then people are like, what do you mean it's the same river. It's like, the molecules are different so like, it's real dialectic showing up here right. That nothing changes and everything changes at the same time, yeah.


Pete: One of the teachings, like there's lots of corons around this, like, student will come to the monk and say like, ‘this woman said this, is she right’? And the monk will say ‘yes’. But I thought that this was true and the monk will say, ‘yes’, you know? And it'll be that, when I talked about corons on here before, it's like, it's trying to help you get unstuck, get flexible in how you perceive what your perception is of the world. And so, as a student comes and is asking about both of these scenarios the monk’s response is just simply yes.


Nikki: And I think this is something important for context and Pete has mentioned this in past episodes that what in maybe all of them. But I I'll say many of the Eastern spiritual traditions, like Buddhism, what they're trying to get at is to unstick you from what we think is reality is not actually reality. And that's where I get very Keikly into this. That's what, like, if anybody out there likes quantum physics, like quantum physics also talks about the same things. Which I've talked about, I think I've mentioned the duo of physics is a great read about this stuff. But that is really hard for us to compute because our brains are constructing an experience of consciousness of our reality, but that's not necessarily real and it's really like hard.


Pete: It's that emoji with the brain exploding.


Nikki: Yes.


Pete: And my teacher has a saying, and I think I actually screwed up often the same but it's nothing exists outside the mind. It could also be everything exists outside the mind. 


Nikki: Yeah. Yeah.


Pete: And so sometimes I actually confused which one he says because they're both perception. They're both, I guess right but listeners, if you think about nothing exists outside the mind, and that's hard for people because they're like, ‘no this desk is here, this microphone is here’ and it takes my mind to describe it as a microphone.


Nikki: Yeah. I'm laughing, I'll share this first little anecdote and I pretty sure I've mentioned this in the past. So like I said, I like quantum I'm physics. My dad and I are very into quantum physics, we read all these books by Brian Green who's a physicist. And my mom is not into this stuff and so my dad and I get in these like very long deep like existential discussions about like all this out there science stuff, and then how it relates to Booz and all that kind stuff. My mom will always say, “Yeah, well, I'm going to go vacuum my real house I'll talk to you guys later”.


Pete: Oh, I love it.


Nikki: Yeah. She's like; I have no interest in it. I always tell her, I'm like in the matrix when they ask about the red pill, I'm like you be the one that'd be like, I'm cool I'll take the blue pill, I'm going back to sleep.  She doesn't want to know.


Pete: God bless her. And you'll never know. As much as we're trying, God bless you and Papa over there, but like we'll never really know.


Nikki: Yeah.


Pete: And there's such freedom in that. And that's perception. It's like the perception is, is being okay with not knowing. You know, that's hard.


Nikki: It's hard. And it's unpleasant and uncomfortable because what do we always say? Our brains love knowing, they love certainty right.


Pete: It only took you to the first episode of season three to talk crap about our brain. 


Nikki: I always laugh when you say that because it's like, it comes. 


Pete: It comes from a place of love. 


Nikki: It does, and also frankly, like a place of reverence for them, this is how we experience consciousness. It's that like, what's so distressing to me is that you can revere something, but also revere it as it is in the brain. As I've said, it's like, it's an organ. It is limited. Like all the things Pete's talking about, it's like we don't often walk around saying my brain is just constructing a vision. Like, think about right now, you're listening to this podcast, you're hearing our voices, if your eyes are open, you're looking at something in the room and your brain is creating that.


Pete: If you're looking at something in the room, it means you're not really listening to us so put it down and focus, honestly.  Because the brain can only do one thing at a time, that's not perception. But yeah, I know you first brought this up about like in your personal life or this as a human, do you see this like coming up in clinically?


Nikki: Well, yeah. I mean, I think that's all we talk about. I guess it's interesting or maybe I'll start after this episode. I don't use the word perception that much. I use the word perspective like, that I say all the time and judgment about something. Though again, thinking out loud here, but maybe it's because perception gets, then we start to get into these like stickier concepts of like consciousness and all that.


Pete: Yeah. I love that because I bring in and so do you, but I bring in a ton of spirituality and I just think that that's a big reason why this makes more sense. Because say I have an athlete who's like stuck with their coach it is perspective taking, but I'll help them practice some perception of even why they're responding the way they are to that coach. And really mindfully work on nonjudgmental, like allowing them to just let that go and to see how their perception is likely what's interfering with them interacting with this person more constructively


Nikki: A 100%. And I think I do the same. I mean, I think anyone clinically, I think that's what we're doing. I think it's just interesting sort of like what you are describing today though, in terms of like how the east talks about that word. I think, maybe the reason I don't and maybe it's different for you, but the reason I don't end up talking about it is because it's probably taking away. It's so deep and in there it's like maybe the folks that I'm working with are like needing more tools around in some foundational things like just practicing mindfulness at all for example. Or recognizing what their mind is saying to them that they're evaluating things, that kind of thing. But I think that this concept of perception, because even I was thinking like when you read the definition. It didn't occur to me, but perception isn't just, again, cognitive or visual. It's like again, if someone's not cited or they're deaf or even if you have access to all the senses, like there's perception in like tactile perception. I hadn't thought of it that way before.


Pete: Yeah. I mean so through all of your senses. I guess arguably the mind is the driver of these perceptions, right? It's like the cruise director, it's the pilot.


Nikki: And the translator, I think. 


Pete: It’s the translator, that's better. I just saw what was that, Nicole Kidman in that movie, the translator? There's a movie like that.


Nikki: I don't know that movie. 


Pete: Oh really? It's not called the translator, but she works at the UN and she's the translator in there.


Nikki: Oh, I did not remember that movie, but ill check it out.


Pete: Google it. But it's a translator. I like that.


Nikki: Right. Because this is where it gets back to like the brain is taking in whatever stimuli. So like sensory information through the eyes, the ears, on your skin and then it's creating sensation and sounds and things that you see. I mean, we don't think about this stuff, we just walk around going like, yeah, this is reality.


Pete: Well, I think through the practice of mindfulness, we certainly are more aware of it, you know?


Nikki: We are, but I'm saying, but default we're not, that's not our default to do that.


Pete: I mean, arguably nothing is our default. Default would be like eating Oreos, drinking a bottle of wine and just sitting on the couch with my hand down my pants.  


Nikki: It's quite a visual.


Pete: I don’t know someone from like family guy or something, but honestly like this stuff takes more work. I find I'm at a place now where it's rewarding, you know, I think I do find of course it has led to more peace. I embrace uncertainty, I embrace suffering because I could realize it's about the perception, I see how much my perception impacts and interacts with all of these moments of every point of my life. 


Nikki: Yeah. And I guess I'm curious, just especially from the talk that you did, like, what are some of the other sort of guidelines or thoughts that a Zen perspective has on the concept of perception? Are there any other like cons or teachings that sort of help with this?


Pete: I'm going to say the majority of them are, if not all of them.


Nikki: I guess, yeah.


Pete: That makes sense. It's usually around what we would call dialectic and what Zen would call duality so it's often around that. So like I'll read it's like Zen maintains a stance of not one and not two, that it is a positionless position. And so ‘where not two means negating the dualistic stance that divides the whole into two parts while not one means negating the non-dualistic stance occurring when the Zen practitioner dwells in the hole as one’. So, it's not looking at like one or two or splitting things up it's really about trying to get to a place of positionless position. And I think you I've said on here, like perfecting imperfection. Yeah.


Nikki: I wonder if there are people listening, going like ‘what's the point of that’? Because like we go back to my mom, she's like, ‘I'm going to go vacuum to my real house. 


Pete: I love it.


Nikki: And it's like, cause there's truth in that too. Like, we do need to go vacuum our house. Like, that's the thing it's like these concepts, the point, I guess my perception of this would be that the concepts are about understanding and expanding awareness of what is though it doesn't mean not living in your life, I think is important to say.


Pete: I think it's actually the opposite. It's kind of like mindfulness, when you teach in the beginning, you're like, and don’t judge just be experienced in the present moment on purpose, not judgmentally. And people are like, well, that's boring. And then it's really fulfilling.


Nikki: Yeah, totally.


Pete: And that's the same thing about perception. It's not to say, I'm like, look, I like how sometimes my perceptions are distorted, but sometimes I'm like, I'm with it, like, yeah, that's great. I can just laugh at it, like have fun with it versus the suffering that would otherwise occur.


Nikki: Right, and then I'm sure there are times where it's not so fun right?



Pete: Of course.


Nikki: Where it’s not so fun too, which I think like sometimes you know, back to like what you just said about perfecting imperfection. It's like having this information isn't going to cause any of us to not struggle right. Or not be bothered by struggle, it's about learning to move with that and then to the point that you just made, And then there's space to morph fully connect with the things that are fulfilling and we do want in our lives. And that's the part, you know, again, we say it over and over again here on When East Meets West, right. If we want access to that stuff, we have to be willing to make room for the uncomfortable stuff first.


Pete: You have to be able to experience that. So what a way to open up season three, thank you, Nikki, for your pearls of wisdom as always from the behavioral perspective and I'll leave with a quote as we embark into 2022. “We who look at the whole and not just the part know that we too are systems of interdependence, of feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness, which are all interconnected”. This has been When East Meets West, I'm Dr. Pete Economou.


Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin Be present. Be brave.


Pete: This has been When East Meets West; all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors, Pete Economou, and Nikki Rubin.


Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.