Beliefs, Perceptions, and Caring

I’ve just celebrated my 2nd anniversary with a new man in my life whom I  met online.  Being in a relationship again meant I had to make adjustments after years of living alone.

My early conditioning urged me to be independent, take care of myself, not to depend on others and to work hard, which served me well during rough times in my life.  They were reinforced in a variety of ways, some explicit and some buried in career advice.  “Be a nurse; you’ll always have something to fall back on.”  Implied in that is the assumption that I may be left alone to fend for myself, and people, as in my husband, may not always be there. Therefore,  “Take care of yourself.”

I was a widow for over a decade before meeting this new man in my life; and in the interim I learned how to take care of myself, alone.  I had created a life for myself as a single person again.  I took some pride in being able to do that. I took care of my home, traveled, took out the garbage, replaced my roof and car… I did everything myself—or just about everything. Do you hear the ego and the distortion?

Then along came this darling man who did new and unexpected things for me.  He held the car door open for me!  Horror of horrors! He said things like “be careful,” “here, let me help you.” He asked me to text him when I got home “so I know you’re safe…” and much more.  At first I felt irritated, did he think I didn’t know how to take care of myself?  I’ve been doing it for years!  Does he think I’m helpless? Stupid? That I don’t know how to do things safely?  I kind of enjoyed having this kind of attention a little but was also irritated by it as if it was a sign of my inability to take care of myself.  He insisted it didn’t mean that, he just enjoyed doing things for me.  He was used to doing those things, it didn’t mean anything bad.  

Finally, my perceptions changed.  I don’t know how they changed, they just did. Like magic.  He wasn’t making an accusation, it was a sign of his caring.  He told me that many times before, but it never sunk in.  Suddenly, I understood and I was able to enjoy it and even look forward to these small kindnesses. Now I love it and feel special.

How do our perceptions change? How does an old belief system like mine change? This one seemed to change overnight. I can’t tell you what precipitated this change.  I wasn’t trying to ‘accept’ his explanation.  It just shifted. 

We all have outdated beliefs and perceptions.  What perceptions do you hold based on your history that shape your relationships and behavior now?  Sometimes, it seems as if our perceptions are just below the radar, not quite registering in our conscious mind.  We know it’s there but we’re not really aware of how it affects us. 

I thought if I gave in and enjoyed these kindnesses, I’d never be able to recoup that skill to live independently again. It’d be too hard.

I was losing control. I was letting someone else into my life, making room for him. Lots of layers that only became obvious afterwards.

What lies underneath your beliefs and perceptions?  How does it lead to dukkha?  Have you discovered a time when you saw through your conditioning and the dukkha lessened?

As I looked at this simple change, and peeled the layers back, it was much more complex than I thought. So many ‘add-ons’ based on conditioning—ego, loss of control, taking care of myself, pride, feeling independent and so many things.  

Through our senses, we come to know the world. But they are colored by our perceptions, opinions, beliefs and conditioning.  Many factors influence our perceptions: heredity, needs, peer group, interests, expectations, attitudes, motivations, behavior and much more.  Clearly my past conditioning and expectations affected how I reacted to my sweeties’ ‘caring’.

There are six perceptions or sannas:  sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and the mind all that work in concert to create our perceptions of ourselves and the world. So given that those senses are operating correctly, perceptions are formed.

Ajahn Succito said that “perceptions are meanings, so they are subjective and depend upon, first of all, functioning sense faculties which are limited and conditioned. They can’t give us truth; they can only give us pieces that work for us.”

I would add they can work against us.

He gave the example of a bat whose senses operate different from ours. Humans mostly operate through visual and mental activity. Bats don’t do visuals; they squeak thousands of times a second, so they create this huge sound net, reaching out. Flitting around at night, they don’t hit things; they form perceptions based on sound, and through that they can detect and catch all kinds of bugs. Our senses operate differently.

What is the difference between opinion and perception? Here’s one idea I found.  Opinion is a belief, view or judgment; it is what you think.  Perception, in contrast, is the way you think. What you think is always shaped by the way you see and understand things.

Can you think of examples in your own experience? Can you think of a scenario you’ve engaged in and separate out what is opinion and what is perception?  How much does each of those affect how you think, feel and behave?

Perception is important because it helps us understand the world around us. Sensation refers to the process of receiving information through the senses (seeing him open the car door for me). Perception refers to the way your brain interprets these sensations. (He thinks I can’t do it myself.) Therein lies the problem for me when my conditioning and beliefs affect an accurate perception.

How many times does this happen to you?  In small ways and big.  Do you recognize your opinions and conditioning and how it colors your perceptions?

Perceptions don’t give you an ultimate reality; they give you a subjective readout of where you’re coming from. “I need to be independent, take care of myself.”  Even, “I can’t trust others to help me when I need it so stand on your own two feet.”  We begin to see out latent tendencies flare up. The more you contemplate this, the more you get a profile of the kind of tendencies that cause one suffering, stress, imbalance, agitation, defensiveness, anger, greed and so much more.

I can take this whole misperception into my sitting and see where it takes me, maybe update my perceptions or at least get some clarity on where I’m misperceiving in other ways.  

Try it for yourself. Then, if you like, leave a reply below to share your experiences.

The featured image, “Care” by OiMax, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Photo by he zhu on Unsplash

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Learn More!


About Erica Dutton

Erica Dutton is an experienced teacher and practitioner of Reflective Meditation. She has dedicated herself to sharing this practice so others can succeed in meditation, see their experience as important and valuable, and realize the benefits.


  1. I love this writing and what you are learning about yourself and sharing with others. So happy to hear you have a new sweetie. Please save the date for Wild (Wise) Women XXIII~ Happy Feet: Travel and the Dance…Sat. August 12, 3pm–>?
    I’ve moved to Ypsi so not right around the corner anymore but still not too far. Real invite to come later through e-mail.

    • Thanks so much for being a loyal reader. I hope you’re continuing with your meditation practice.
      And thanks for the update on the next Wild (Wise) Women. Looking forward to it.

  2. Great piece! Curious what you think about the reflective process? How do you see reflection (you know, as a Reflective Meditation teacher!) wear away opinions and affect our perceptions?

    • Thank you for your question. My first reaction to your question was that it took some time. It wasn’t linear in any way. You know the saying about one step forward, two steps backward, etc? That describes it more closely but even then it was more like a ball of twine that needed to be unwound and pulled apart. There was strong resistance in the beginning to his caring and to looking at my reactions. Then at times, it seemed there was a see-saw effect with one part resisting his caring and another part enjoying it. Each time he did a caring thing, I had another chance to look at this perception and this belief I had about my independence and his thinking I’m incapable. I didn’t always take each opportunity to look at it. Sometimes, it seemed it bubbled way under the surface; sometimes it was more obvious. When it bubbled under the surface, sometimes I wasn’t even aware of it; I was more in touch with my irritation. Finally, it occurred to me that I loved this man and he loved me. He was a kind man. A tipping point! Really??? Are you sure you’re right? Then my old perceptions and beliefs about his thinking I was incompetent fell apart, thankfully. It just took time and reflecting on what was happening and my reactions.

  3. So happy to hear about your new man. Your insight into what you were feeling and doing, becoming conscious of it. Awareness. So well written. Blessings on your journey. Suzan M.

    • So nice to hear from you. I hope you’re doing well. Thank you for your kind words. Periodically, I spend concerted time being aware of my opinions, a real eye-opener. It helps me see how that colors my experience and helps me engage my sense of humor at myself.

  4. Christian mystic Meister Eckhart wrote: “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” Beginners are comfortable with not-knowing and the impossibility of knowing. It is this admission that allows you to relax and think clearly and creatively.

    Fabrice Desmarescaux, “The Power of Not-Knowing”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *