I am fascinated with the distinction between the two types of perception mentioned by al-Ninowy (1).
The first is the Superficial Perception (Baṣar), which is what you see from the most apparent sensory information. The second is the Deeper Perception (Baṣīrah), referring to what you see following reflective intellection (2). This distinction is grounded in, among other places, ayah 46 of surah al-Hajj, referring to blindness not of the eyes, but of the heart.
What you see when you see a tree
Al-Ninowy gave an example. When you initially see a tree, you can only see what’s on the surface — the leaves, the branches. With knowledge and reflection, you will see more. You will see the deeper parts of a tree, the roots that are responsible for its growth and strength.
I would push that metaphor further. An arborist with a PhD could even study an unknown seed of a tree and see a future tree: the genetic profile and characteristics of the tree that will grow from that seed. She sees the same object as you and me, but perceive at the depth that you and I are not even aware exist.
Perceiving the world solely on the surface level limits you in valuing your situations and other human beings:
1. In valuing situations
I once rode with an old man who had a bad experience at an Australian hospital. In the car, he kept trying to convince me (who just arrived in Australia at the time) that ‘they only care about money and don’t care about helping foreigners.’
Yet the more I asked him, the clearer it was that the hospital refused to treat him only because there was a problem with his insurance document. His frustration kept him from going beyond the Superficial Perception of his situation. He was expecting the medical officer to overlook the problem. It paralysed him from seeing the real issue, and to find an appropriate solution.
Worse, his false belief that ‘These people don’t care about me and will not help me’ will again become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the future. He will talk and act in ways that push people away.
2. In valuing other human beings
Al-Ninowy also brought another Quranic example for the distinction. To discredit Moses, the Pharaoh asked the Egyptians, how can he be a Messenger of God, an ambassador of the King of kings, if he was not even bestowed with ‘bracelets of gold’?
The Pharaoh only saw the value of a human being through his or her outward status. His Superficial Perception, compounded with arrogance, blinded his heart from seeing the Truth and the value of the man who stood before him.
Even today, many still, perhaps unconsciously, only see the ‘bracelets of gold’ when they see you: how much money you earn, what degree you have, how pretty you look.
The modern ‘Pharaohian’ mentality even makes you addicted to the digital ‘bracelets of gold’: how many followers you have on Instagram, how many retweets you have, or the often misleading Facebook ‘likes’.
Developing the Deeper Perception
1. Remove the cloud of emotion
When someone hurts you, your emotions tend to cloud the path towards the Deeper Perception. Things make less sense, and you become more susceptible to adopt false beliefs.
Stop your train of thoughts. Leave the room. Breathe and practise remembrance. Then come back, and ask yourself, ‘Is there a better way, a deeper way to look at the situation?’
Listening to older people often helps. Their perception is typically deeper because it has been ferociously carved by experience. Don’t just accept their perception, of course. Truly pay attention to it, critically appreciate it, and use it to deepen yours.
2. Enrich your spiritual intuition
Spiritual intuitions, just like the rational decisions or empirical impressions, can lead to wrong conclusions. To improve its precision, be open to delve into your spiritual tradition.
From my experience, it is extremely uncomfortable at first, especially if you are used to thinking in factual and concrete manner. Stay with it. Embrace paradoxes. Admit to yourself when your intuition is wrong. Shatter it. Then rebuild it again. Use scientific approaches to complement it whenever appropriate.
And like any skills, it takes time. Patience is your best companion.
3. See beyond the ‘bracelets of gold’
Observe how your heart is evaluating the physical appearance, social status, and wealth of others. Then circumvent it. Focus on their characters instead, for example, how they treat those who are ‘lower’ or ‘weaker’ than them.
Dislodge their ‘bracelets of gold’ in your mind, and see what’s left.
At the same time, it is essential that for every 1 minute you spend on evaluating others, you spend 9 minutes on evaluating yourself.
Remember, each person you meet is their own ‘work in progress’. They are not worse than you just because their flaws are different than yours.
I believe that every person I meet is in the process of being better. So I try my best to be compassionate, to work with the best side of their current selves. I try to stay farther from judging their dark side more than I would from a pandemic.
The more time we spend on judging others, the less we have for reflecting on ourselves.
There are two doors of perception; so from now on, as often as possible, gently ask yourself, ‘Which door of perception that I open to enter the situation right now?’ Then see how it impacts your decisions and colours your experience of Life.
(1) Dr Muhammad bin Yahya Al-Husayni An-Ninowy gave a beautiful lecture entitled ‘Neither Wealth Nor Family Will Avail – Only a Sound Heart’ at RIS 2017. I recently wrote in Malay about my experience attending the convention.
(2) Al-Ninowy used Baṣar and Baṣīrah in his lecture. The English terminologies and their interpretations for the context of this article are of my own. Therefore, any inaccuracies are entirely my fault, not his.