See Whatever You Think

Our decisions create reality and dictate our perception.

Growing up, we lived four houses down, and across the street, from a large neighborhood park with expansive grass fields and a small forest. We attended the attached elementary school and regularly played at the playground.

I loved to lay on my back and look up at the nearly 180-degree expanse of sky and clouds. Did that fluffy cloud look like a rabbit? That one might have looked like a bird.

The truth is that the clouds didn’t look like anything. They appeared like whatever I thought or decided they looked like. This phenomenon is called motivated perception, a “process by which people’s active desires, needs, and motivations shape their perceptual experiences.”

This isn’t really about clouds, but our relationship and experience of reality.

Auditory illusions can bend our hearing and understanding. Spoken words and phrases, often mechanically created, can sound like two separate things. Depending on what you expect to hear, you hear your expectations rather than whatever objective sound. You can find a great example here.

This also happens on a biological level. Our brains automatically fill in the natural blindspots in our eyes. We literally cannot see these spots, and our brains fill in the gaps with what it expects to be there. If you’re so inclined, you can do a small activity to find your own blind spot.

Our interactions with other people also reflect this. We might expect a specific response, and regardless of what happens, we experience the anticipated response. We ask a question and hear the answer we believe is coming, rather than what actually happens. In a world of text messages, emails, and social media, we read tone into written words.

We have the power to paint reality with our intent.

On Makkot 10b, in the Talmud, we find this interesting statement:

Rav Huna said to Rabbi Elazar: From the Torah, and from the Prophets, and from the Writings, the three parts of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh – whatever path a person wants to take, they lead that person down that path.

According to commentators, Rav Huna means that once we’ve decided what we want to do, God will support us on that path.

The key is to choose the right path.

If we look closely at the text, it doesn’t exactly say this about God, but instead about the Tanakh, Torah, Prophets, and Writings. More to the point, the text seems to say that the texts lead a person. What does this mean exactly?

This hints at a combination of our concepts I’m calling “motivated theology.” If we’re honest, we know that we can read our texts in ways that support what we already think. We can look at the texts and see what we want to see, not just what is there.

Our theologies, our ways of looking at texts and the world, are not objective. 

They reflect who we are, our desires, and what we want to see. They are as much a reflection of us as they are the texts from which we draw them. Our humanity is the prism upon which we experience reality, God, and each other. 

We can choose to create theologies that uplift and love, and those that reject and denigrate. We can choose whose voices we invite to color our perspectives. Our intent matters when we read our holy words. 

What we choose to perceive will become our reality.

Thank you for reading! In my With Torah and Love newsletter, I write about Torah, Talmud, self-awareness, and becoming our best selves as students of life and Judaism.

About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.

He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.