On Reperceiving

I have been thinking lately about the concept of reperceiving. Reperceiving is a way of enlarging the field of awareness, such that one no longer focuses obsessively or exclusively on a personal or subjective sense of an experience, set of circumstances, et cetera.

When we repercieve, it becomes possible to perceive more of the situation – other perspectives or possibilities, which in turn foster humility and other forms of gentleness as we respond to the situation.

Here is how Shauna Shapiro, a mindfulness teacher whose work is clear and helpful puts it in “Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making” (co-written wth Hooria Jazaieri and Philippe R. Goldin):

. . . our ethical decision making process, when personal is typically driven by emotional intuitions, however, these can be modified and brought into more conscious awareness and reflection, by taking a more objective approach to the situation. One of the central features of mindfulness practice, is this capacity to shift perspective from subject to object, whereby experience becomes less personal and subjective, allowing the practitioner to see with greater clarity and objectivity. This shift in perspective has been termed reperceiving.

I actually wonder if reperceiving is a misnomer. My sense is that perception is initially sound, but then egoic mind patterns enter and “reperceive” the situation through their own distorted and distorting lens, begetting confusion and discord to varying degrees.

On that view, the second – or repeated – perception (the reperception) is the ego’s and is unhelpfully complex, self-serving, dramatic, et cetera.

In that sense, mindfulness-based practices allow for a spaciousness in which one’s ego-based patterning is slower and less tenacious, which means that the original clear seeing – which is our natural state, our natural seeing – retains its fundamental clarity and efficacy.

The basic idea is to redirect our attention in a way that broadens awareness. Mindfulness practices help by emphasizing non-resistance. We simply notice what is – we give attention to it – without instantly moving to change, amend, alter or improve it. We just let the experience be what it is. When we do this in an gently sustainable intentional way, awareness expands – spaciousness arises – and there is more clarity, compassion, patience, interest and so forth.

As Shapiro et al note, this has nontrivial social and cultural ramifications.

There is ample empirical evidence that mindfulness increases compassion and empathy. It has been suggested that through helping one dis-identify with a subjective, ego-centered perspective, mindfulness helps practitioners to see another’s perspective and to cultivate greater empathy and compassion.

As I alluded to here, one way to understand the final lessons of A Course in Miracles may be as encouraging us to develop a mindfulness practice. “Greater empathy and compassion” are equivalent to bringing forth more love. Reperceiving – however one defines it (though tracking Shapiro is probably the better part of wisdom 🙂 ) – simply direct us to notice how noticing expands to become more effective and inclusive, which is to say, more loving.

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  1. Hi Sean,

    I imagine many of today’s mindfulness exercises are aimed at the natural egoic tendency to perceive/interpret/project almost in the same breath. The pause for many — if not most — humans, in which “naked noticing” occurs is so infinitesimal as to be pretty much non-existent. Hence, the idea of reperceiving put forth here.

    Those who have explored these ideas, via any number of spiritual texts or methods, have in a sense trained themselves with varying degrees of “success” to simply observe or attend to what their senses are telling them before reacting from the contraction of “me.” This broadens and deepens awareness even as it softens the edges of self, making one that much closer to understanding the I am everyone of mystics and the I am nobody of Emily Dickinson. Perhaps the work — because this stuff can be pretty hard work, after all 😉 — you have done for so many years and in so many ways has turned reperceiving into a misnomer from the perspective of Truth (which I agree, it is). But for anyone who has not yet found the gap, the idea of reperceiving is more helpful than not.

    Or maybe I am just feeling a little chatty this Monday morning and wanted to stop by and say hello.


    1. Chatty works for me 🙂

      Yes! I think one is exponentially in better hands trusting Shauna Shapiro. I am just being the wordy mosquito I sometimes am . . .

      I am also holding in mind (a lot these days and past year or so) Francisco Varela’s insight that what works is what is helpful, and to that end, rephrasing and reframing – if it’s helpful – is no big deal, in the sense that no harm is actually done and so long as one is not being chauvinistic with the help (THE way vs. A way), it’s okay, more than okay really.

      Also, as E.M. Forster said, “how do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Which for me is slightly tweaked with respect to writing. It is often in putting things into written words in modestly formal ways that allows the divine gestalt to more holistically reveal/revel/rev up etc

      Today’s reading list includes another Shapiro paper in which she goes a bit deeper into reperception. As you point out, framing it the way she does is actually quite effective for the actual mechanics of sitting quietly/doing nothing, which is her real focus.

      Hope all is well!


      1. Yeah.

        All is well.

        (not quite sure how i got here, and apologies for gatecrashing the conversation…
        Oh yeah, i remember now; was looking up a definition of reperceiving; the joys/wonders of google led me to your gate. Funny old thing, the internet.
        Had started off at an article by Dougald Hine, over at bellacaledonia.org.uk Notes from the Underground, #10. blah blah blah.)

        Have a fine day, and thank you.

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