Look beyond to see within

Reconciling our self-perceptions with the truth about ourselves is an essential first step on the path to happiness


I remember watching Michael Jackson’s funeral. I was moved as I saw peers and family speaking words of appreciation and affirmation, acknowledging the impact of his life on each of them. What was particularly poignant though was the video clip shown on the large screen, where Michael Jackson was saying: “I want people to know me as a person not a personality. People think they know me, but they don’t. Not really. Actually, I am one of the loneliest people on this earth. I cry sometimes, because it hurts. It does. To be honest, I guess you could say that it hurts to be me.”

What a tragic statement. Why should it hurt to be yourself? Imagine going through life never feeling completely known, never feeling like you are seen or affirmed for who you really are in your divine uniqueness. That does hurt a lot!

So it’s time to focus, not on what is seen on the outside, but on what is true about us on the inside; to embrace and honour the Sacred Imprint in each of us that continues to shape us into courageous, confident and compassionate people.

Why living the truth is so difficult

Scott Peck, psychiatrist and best-selling author, begins his first book The Road Less Traveled with three simple words: “Life is difficult.”

He then goes on to explain, “The hardest thing in life is to base life upon truth, reality.  If our lives are to be healthy and our spirits are to grow, we must be dedicated to the truth. For truth is reality. And the more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world.”

The first question you and I have to ask ourselves is “are we living our lives [basing our thoughts, feelings and behaviours] on truth?  Or are we living life based on unreality, fantasy and denials of truth?”

An ego-driven culture

One of the reasons it’s so difficult living in truth and reality is that it is so often counter-cultural and certainly counter-ego. Our ego, reinforced by culture, tells us that what we see in front of us is what’s real, is what defines us, is what matters—the groups we associate with or don’t associate with, the tribe or caste we belong to, the clothes we wear, the amount of money we make, our various life orientations, our positions and status in society and how much power and influence we have.

The goal turns into simply trying to fit in to this societal picture—or else drop out or feel left out. Our value becomes determined by how we measure up to people‘s standards—the more we measure up, the more value and worth we’re given—that’s ego and culture-driven identity.

And since our ego is primarily about personal survival, it will influence us to do whatever we must, to survive in this world. So, we tell ourselves that we must fit in at all costs or drop out. It’s very difficult to swim against the current!

The story of Patch Adams

Have you seen the movie “Patch Adams?”  The film is based upon the true story of Hunter Adams, eminent American physician and humanitarian who changed the way medicine trained doctors. The story opens in a psychiatric ward in 1969.  Hunter Adams has committed himself to the hospital because he’s suicidal and having great difficulty getting a handle on life. When he’s admitted, and the orderly is showing him around the floor, he’s almost accosted by a patient, an old man, who runs up to him, shoves four fingers into his face and asks, “How many fingers?  How many fingers?” When Hunter replies, “Four,” the old man shouts angrily, “Idiot!  Moron!”  And then he goes stomping off.

The orderly tells Hunter the man’s name. “Arthur Mendelsohn.” Hunter replies, “The Arthur Mendelsohn?” “The very one,” the orderly replies. “Brad Beet Industries, the most innovative mind of our times. He’s here self-committed, the genius syndrome, Howard Hughes-type stuff. Look at him now! He can’t even count the windows or even his own fingers. He spends his time digging into the creative potential of the human mind—a deep thinker who’s dug too deep!”

One night Hunter comes to Arthur’s room. Arthur’s working away at his desk, creating complex mathematical formulas on a piece of paper. Hunter asks him, “The fingers, Arthur. Tell me about the fingers. What’s the answer?” Arthur continues his work without paying attention to Hunter. Hunter suddenly notices that the styrofoam cup of coffee on Arthur’s desk has a leak in it. Coffee is dripping out all over the desk.  Hunter takes a piece of tape and puts it over the hole.  It stops the leaking.

See past appearances

Arthur notices and looks up. He takes Hunter’s hand in his, holds up four fingers, and asks, “How many fingers do you see, Hunter?” Hunter says, “Four, Arthur. There are four fingers you’re holding up.” “No, no!  Don’t look at the four fingers. Look beyond the four fingers. How many do you see?” Hunter lets his gaze rise just above the four fingers and looks in the distance, his eyes a bit blurry. Suddenly, it’s as clear as day. “I see eight fingers, Arthur. Eight!” “Yes, eight!  Right answer! You see, Hunter, if you focus on the problem you’ll never see the solution. You have to look beyond the four fingers to see eight!”

Hunter then asks Arthur, “What do you see when you look at me, Arthur?” Arthur glances down at his cup of coffee that isn’t leaking any more. “You fixed my cup. See you around, Patch.”

If you focus on the problem, you can’t see the solution. And what is the problem everyone has been focussing on that Arthur is referring to?

Both men are looking at each other now, not based upon what they see in front of their eyes, on the outside—the grey hair, unshaved faces, loony-bin surroundings, crazy rantings and ravings—but they’re now looking at each other based upon what they see inside the other. Beyond the outside.

Hunter sees Arthur as a brilliant man who still has tons to offer. And Arthur sees Hunter as a caring person who is skilled at helping others and mending “brokenness”. So Arthur paints a new vision for Hunter. He gives Hunter a new name:  Patch. “You fixed my cup.” And that new vision empowers Patch to turn his life around and embark on what turns out in the end to be a successful medical career of bringing wholeness to hundreds of people.

How to be alive with divine vision

Here’s the way Dr Larry Crabb, in his book Connecting, describes it:  “A divine vision lets us ignore lots of problems that a selfish vision requires us to focus on. We need to think vision, not problems. And we need to think divine vision not selfish vision.”

Dr Crabb is reminding us of a very significant human truth:  every person has been stamped with the divine image. We are, at the core, beings of infinite value, worth, goodness and potential. We each have a Spirit-breathed uniqueness imprinted on the essence of our being.

Sacred scriptures refer to human beings as clay pots, which hold the inestimable treasure of God’s glory. These clay pots have cracks in them. Most of us would admit we often act like ‘cracked pots.’ But the purpose of the cracks is to allow this Glory to shine through and bless the world.

So the very reality that we often get judged by—our externals, the ‘cracked containers’ of our lives—is in fact a conduit to expose the divine goodness and let it shine through.

Vessels holding divine glory

We may be ordinary crackpots, but we are vessels holding the glory of God, each having the Spirit-breathed imprint of uniqueness stamped on our souls, containers of God’s life and grace unfolding in us. Now that’s a powerful truth and reality.

For this reason, we have to look beyond the four fingers to what often cannot be seen on the outside in order to see the truth. We must come to embrace and honour this truth about ourselves and others. Imagine how differently we would show up in the world and in other people’s lives if we were seeing through God’s eyes. We would truly be able to bless each other in honour and deep respect and compassion.

This was first published in the July 2013 issue of  Complete Wellbeing.

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Gregory Nelson
Gregory Nelson is a speaker, author, spiritual teacher, and strength coach whose work has helped people and organisations all over the world experience greater purpose, effectiveness and a deeper trust in the sacred journey of love and compassion. He blogs regularly on the theme of developing spiritual depth.


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