Subjective Reality and Nonviolence

April 17th, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

The perspective of subjective reality says the entire world — i.e. your seemingly objective physical reality — is a projection of your own consciousness.  This perspective suggests the only thing you can really change is yourself.  If you want to address the issue of violence in the world, you can only do so by turning within.  Go to work on the violence within you, and strive to become a person who embodies nonviolence.  This translates into a serious personal responsibility, more than is typically experienced with a purely objective world view.

Consider the recent shooting at Virginia Tech by a 19-year old student.  How shall we interpret this?  How shall we react?

Interpretations and reactions to such events are heavily culture-bound.  In the USA the popular media typically encourages us to react roughly as follows:

  1. Drop into a fear-based state of consciousness.  “Oh my goodness.  Would you look at that!”
  2. Feel shock, disgust, or outrage.  “Somebody ought to do something about that.”
  3. Experience reassurance the situation is being handled.  “I see cars with flashing lights and people in uniformed clothing.”
  4. Do nothing.  “Glad that’s over.  What’s on TV next?”

If we’re ever encouraged to take action, it’s not on ourselves.  It’s on “the system.”  Attack whatever external evil is causing these problems.  The assumption is that the cause of violence is out there in the world, and we’re the unwilling victims of it.  We are not responsible.  Violence is the fault of those people who do the attacking — you know… those crazy folk who somehow snap and go postal like the teenager who shot up Virginia Tech.  Every once in a while, some of us human beings just lose it.  It’s never you.  You’re a citizen… a consumer… a taxpayer.  That makes you a good and normal person by default.  Just keep eating your burger and fries as you await the warm embrace of the evening fiction.  And oh yeah, if you’re feeling a little down, here are some pills you should know about.  Don’t worry about the side effects; we assure you they’re safe.  Just look how happy those people are!

The outrage pattern

We’re taught that it’s socially acceptable to run the outrage pattern in response to certain events that are labeled as tragic, such as the death of 33 students.  “Oh my goodness, oh my soul!  How could such a horrific tragedy occur?”  Of course, we’re encouraged to overlook the fact that 150,000 people die on this planet every single day.  Perhaps those other 149,967 were supposed to be doomed, so it’s OK.

Perhaps even more acceptable is to invest a little energy in attacking “the problem.”  “Everyone join me in supporting gun control!  Yeah, let’s banish those evil pieces of metal!”

Throw in some philosophizing for a more sophisticated outrage algorithm.  “It’s only American culture that has this problem because of their glorification of violence.”

And then there’s the morally responsible outrage pattern.  “Oh, those poor victims’ families!  Please join me in donating to the fund for family members of fallen students!”  Mail somebody a check, and you’re golden.

Now before you start drafting that email to set me straight, let me say that I don’t have a problem with the objective approach if you want to use it.  If that’s your dominant belief system, go for it.  The subjective perspective, however, suggests that these responses aren’t going to have much of an impact, either subjectively or objectively.  All they’ll do is change the way the problem manifests, but they’ll never resolve it.

The subjective perspective on violence

The subjective reality perspective suggests a different interpretation of events, and therefore a different response as well.  There is no “out there” that is separate from you.  If there’s violence in the world, it’s because there’s violence in your consciousness.  It’s because your own thoughts are disharmonious.  Within your own mind you attack yourself, splintering your consciousness and pitting some parts of yourself against the others.  This manifests in the objective world as various forms of violence.  If there’s disharmony within, there’s disharmony without.  It cannot be otherwise.

Events themselves are neutral and meaningless.  Even from a purely objective perspective, a shooting has no meaning, and it certainly isn’t tragic, since “tragic” is a subjective human label.  Our thoughts and emotions provide the meaning.  If you say an event is tragic, that’s the reality you’ll experience.  But there’s no objective universal law that’s labeling these events as such.  You’re picking the labels because the events are reflections of thoughts you resist just as much.  And if you feel the need for social validation of your own thoughts, you’ll also manifest hordes of like-minded others to back you up.  But the responsibility for your reaction still rests on your shoulders alone.

In my opinion the subjective reality interpretation is more empowering than the objective one.  I’m not suggesting that one perspective is right and the other is wrong.  I am, however, suggesting that the subjective perspective is more likely to lead to positive action that produces real change, change that actually looks good from both perspectives.  Remember that for change to occur, it must be personal.  You must change.

Here’s one possible subjective interpretation of a seemingly violent external event:

  1. Notice the event.  From a subjective standpoint, if you don’t notice the event — if it never reaches your awareness — it never happened.
  2. Notice your emotional reaction to the event, if any.  How does it make you feel?
  3. Accept responsibility for what you’ve created.  You and you alone are 100% responsible for manifesting this.  Not the shooter.  Not the victims.  Just you.  If you observe violence in your reality, it’s because you’re harboring violent thoughts within you.  On some level you’re fighting with yourself.  Your emotional reaction is a pointer to the inner relationship.  For example, if you’re outraged by violence, it’s because you’re resisting and repressing the violence within you.  Describe your reaction to the external event, and you’ll have a good description of the internal situation that spawned it.
  4. Interpret the event.  How is this event a projection of your thoughts?  You are the dreamer of this reality.  Why are you having this dream?  What are the main symbols, and what do they mean?  Is there a lesson here, and if so, what is it?  For example, if you perceive people getting killed in the world, then what part of your consciousness have you been trying to kill?  Is there some part of you that you refuse to accept and just want to die?
  5. Change your thinking.  If you found this event unpleasant and feel a need for something to change in the world, then what must you change within yourself?  How can you become the change you’d like to see in the world?

When I started dabbling in subjective reality, at first it was overwhelming to consider that I could be creating everything in my reality, but after a while I understood how the subjective perspective pushed me to grow a lot more.  My perspective has me assuming responsibility for everything in my experience.  So I wouldn’t say the Virginia Tech shootings were anybody’s responsibility but my own.  From my perspective I manifested the whole thing, and how I respond is my responsibility and my choice.

I won’t go into great depth on this — that would require a whole other article — but I can easily interpret the Virginia Tech shooting as a dream in a way that’s meaningful for me.  For example, the key numbers (age 19, 33 dead) are significant for me.  At age 19 I made a decision to turn my life around while sitting in a jail cell (as explained in podcast #1), and at age 33 I launched StevePavlina.com.  The shooting occurred at the tail end of a weekend Erin and I spent in Sedona, Arizona, which unearthed and eventually resolved a lot of internal conflict about certain upcoming decisions.  I don’t see this event as tragic in any way.  It doesn’t cause me to feel outrage, a desire to see people punished, a sense of addiction to the drama.  It just is.

I’m sure I’ll get the usual flood of outrage email for saying this, but to me this event is perfect, and to observe it creates no resistance within me.  I expect that only a handful of people reading this can understand that perspective.  I know the outrage bandwagon is far more socially acceptable, and my refusal to hop on board will perhaps create outrage for my not being outraged.  I can accept that too.

The subjective response

The subjective response is to work on inner change, and this also manifests as outer change.  So if you react negatively to violence, you’re being directed to resolve your inner relationship to violence.

When I experience a negative reaction towards violent acts, I turn within and look for the violence inside me, the violence I’m repressing and refusing to acknowledge.  No matter how far we progress, there’s always another step towards greater peace and nonviolence.  Our emotional response tells us where to look.

Last year when I did this, I looked down at my clothes and noticed my leather shoes and leather belt.  I’ve been a dietary vegan since 1997, but I recognized that I still had improvements to make.  Today I can look down and note that I’m wearing a “cruelty-free” belt and shoes made without any animal materials (I bought them from VeganEssentials.com), so no animals had to be killed to clothe me.  These items cost twice as much as their leather counterparts, and a few years ago I would have easily justified not spending the extra money.  But today I cannot imagine doing otherwise.  It has nothing to do with the money though.  It’s because one day I looked inside me and didn’t like what I saw — a person who would justify causing harm to avoid inconveniencing himself — and I resolved to change that.  It wasn’t about attacking the problem “out there.”  It was about letting go of the violence within me.  But it still manifested as external change, one small step towards a less violent world.

Shortly after that I also increased my automatic monthly donations to a veg-friendly charity, not because I was trying to put more funds into attacking worldly problems but because it was a manifestation of increased feelings of compassion within me.  It’s really fascinating how internal changes spawn external ones.  You could say that my lifestyle changes and donations will cause some changes, but I don’t see them as causes at all.  They’re merely part of the outward manifestation.  The real cause is an internal change in consciousness.

When viewed in the right light, the subjective and objective perspectives can be congruent.  You just have to understand that a subjective change always precedes an objective change.  It’s ineffective to attempt to force an external change without making the internal change.  For example, it would make little sense for me to attack violence in the world as long as I still have unresolved violence within me.  Fighting violence with violence only begets more violence.  However, the very act of addressing the internal violence is what manifests the external solution.

Manifesting objective results

Subjective, internal changes manifest objective, external results.  If you don’t see changes in your external relationships, you haven’t changed within.

For example, I’ve influenced dozens, if not hundreds, of people to shift their diets away from animal products.  I know because people have written me long letters telling me about their changes.  Some stopped eating cows.  Some stopped eating anything that had a mother.  Some tried it and returned to their original diets.  But this didn’t happen because I’m attacking the problem of animal cruelty “out there” in the world.  It happens because I keep working on myself.

Whenever I experience resistance towards the existence of animal cruelty, like seeing someone wolfing down a chicken’s limb with nary a concern for the animal’s suffering, I know it’s not about the other person.  It’s not about “the system” that hurts animals either.  It’s all a projection of my consciousness.  The conflict is within me.  If I turn within, I can see that I’m really wrestling with my own lack of compassion.  That’s why it bothers me to see others doing it — it’s resonating with something already inside me.  I manifested the whole thing to help me become more compassionate.  The solution is never to attack what I perceive to be others’ lack of compassion or cruelty.  It’s to rework my inner relationships, to come to a new understanding of what role I want compassion to play in my life, one that creates peace instead of pain.

When I go to work on these patterns, I eventually make personal changes.  Even if I just have a shift in thinking, it trickles down to affect my actions and results, and therefore it ends up creating external change as well.  This is essentially how I strive to help people grow — whenever I notice problems in other people, I recognize they are my problems as well, and I go to work on them.

It really is true that you must become the change you want to see in the world.  Whatever makes you feel outrage, realize the source is within you, and go to work on yourself.  Strangely this is actually the best thing you can do to address the external problem as well.  If you want to help cure the problems of the world, you must first cure them within you.


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