"All phenomena are like illusions." --Buddha
When I was a kid, I heard the saying, "When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me." Of course back then it was a cool way to remember how to spell the word assume. Now it means something a little different. I go about my business each day with a whole bunch of assumptions in my head -- I have stories and prejudices and theories and beliefs and a whole host of other thoughts running around in my head. The funny part is -- most of them aren't really true.
It starts off harmless -- you believe something and you believe that others think it's true too. You just assume that you and another person are on the same page. There's no need to actually talk about it and compare notes, right? Ooooh, I have burned myself with that one. I have -- again and again -- stupidly assumed that the person I'm in relationship with (and I'm not just talking about romantic relationship, although it certainly does apply here) is in accord with me. This ends up leading to lots of hurt feelings, disagreements, and relationship fractures.
[Just recently, I did something that went against my assumption about someone. I spent time with someone that I was convinced was a certain way. I tried my very best to go into our time together with an open mind. What happened was just beautiful -- I realized that the truth was not in line with my assumptions. As a result, my relationship with this person is deeper now than it's ever been. It makes me wish I had dropped my assumptions earlier...but better late than never, I suppose.]
I've seen this a lot over the past few months...more than I care to admit, actually. As a result, I've committed to spelling things out rather than assuming. I also try to look at things a few times, from different perspectives, before making a judgment about something or someone. It's difficult because I don't even realize that I'm assuming anything -- it simply seems like truth to me. As the quote above states -- all phenomena are appearances to mind which are dependent upon the minds that perceive them. It would stand to reason that the cloudier your mind is, the cloudier your perceptions. Guess that means my mind needs some work, eh?
How do you combat misperception and assumption and all the rest? Emptiness. The book Modern Buddhism by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso offers up a whole chapter on this very topic. The definition for emptiness that Gyatso gives is "the way things exist as opposed to the way they appear." If you'd like to read more on this topic, you can find free downloads of all 3 volumes of Modern Buddhism here. It may not be light summer reading, but it is though-provoking reading.
As for me, I do this little practice anytime I'm feeling riled up about my perception (or, often in my case, misperception) of something:
--I lie down on my mat with a bolster at mid-back (it also supports my upper back, neck, and head) to open my heart.
--I bring to mind anything that is either upsetting me or hasn't gone my way or is a source of conflict and ask myself one simple question -- "What's true here?"
--I set aside my thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, etc. and stick with the facts. I turn into a reporter and stick with the basic, who, how, why, where questions.
--I then take a few deep breaths in and exhale with a HA sound.
This helps me separate out my feelings and my ego from the actual truth of the situation. I'm not quite at emptiness, but I'm a little less full of mind clutter.
Hmmmm...now I've got Jackson Brown's song, Running on Empty, playing in my mind.