Seeing Beyond the Surface
Christopher Knippers Ph.D.
The greatest lesson I have learned in life is to see beyond the surface. Beyond the surface of circumstances, beyond the surface of people, even beyond the surface of my physical environment.
My favorite activity is snorkeling. No matter what the water looks like on the surface, it is much more magical beyond the surface: Teaming with vibrant life, activity, mystery, and occasionally treasure . There is a whole exciting world beyond the surface.
I have been in jobs that were, on the surface, very stressful and unfulfilling. Jobs which I quite frankly felt were beneath my abilities and already-developed potentials; yet something that I detected just beyond the surface of those situations kept me going to work everyday instead of moving on. In one particular case, I just kept seeing something beyond what was actually going on in the immediate circumstances of that workplace and its extremely difficult personalities. Then one day while on vacation in Hawaii trying to de-stress, I received a call from my boss who had been challenging to work with. She said the owners of the corporation had told her to call me and offer me her job. At first, I thought this was one of her bizarre jokes; but I discovered she was quite serious and not at all too happy about having to make the call. That turned out to be a dynamic, fulfilling job in which I had to fulfill my potential and much more, receiving praise from not only the owners of the corporation but everyone with whom I worked. The company thrived like never before under my leadership; and due to relationships I developed, partnerships were forged with people with whom the corporation had been trying to partner for years. Beyond the surface of that job was a treasure.
Likewise, I have been in personal relationships that were difficult to say the least. People who, on the surface, were overly dramatic, demanding, and even cruel at times. But I always remembered what my psychologist, Claire Etheridge told me when I was 30 years old: “Christopher, always look beyond the surface of what a difficult person is presenting, and find the love they possess inside. Nearly everyone has a loving nature often hidden deep within them. Their defenses are hiding it; but when you see it, and speak to it, the loving nature will come out.”
Well that sounded like “woo woo” pop psychology to me, but I had nothing to lose. I was in difficult relationships I could not escape at the time. I tried it the next time I felt intimidated and threatened by an authority in my life. I looked closely into the person’s eyes during a very difficult conversation in which I felt judged, and criticized. I imagined the person’s loving nature and remembered the few times I had witnessed a softer side of him. I could actually detect another person inside his defensive nature. I spoke softly in response to his harsh tone, and told him the truth that I saw that he is a good, caring person. He stopped short. His tone softened. We communicated clearly and productively and reached full agreement on an emotionally-charged controversial issue. I had to repeat this type of process with him only a few more times throughout the many more years of our relationship. He was healed of much of his anxiety and despair through me being able to see and bring forth his more loving confident side. I was healed by being able to see past the characteristics in him that were intimidating to me.
I have used the approach of looking beyond the person’s defensive surface and finding their love in other very significant relationships. New life and miracles have occurred in both our lives as a result.
Circumstances in my life, as in anyone else’s life, often appear bleak. I have to remember to look beyond the surface of what I am currently experiencing. This always involves some degree of contemplation, or meditation. I always receive some reward for my effort.
This morning, I was reflecting on how stagnant my life seemed. Then my senses were hit with the strong fragrance of the roses in another room my sister had given to me from her garden the day before. Immediately, it occurred to me that the roses symbolized things in my life that were beautiful though not visible. The fragrance symbolized the evidence of unseen beauty in my life. I just had to tune in and become aware of it.
On the surface life can look unremarkable, or even dismal. But, looking beyond the surface of life, perhaps through brief meditation, can reveal a whole new world, much like the world that is revealed just below the surface of the sea.
I encourage you to look beyond the surface of whatever or whoever is difficult for you (including yourself), and respond to the situation or person as if you see the good that is beyond the surface; not the difficulty that is on the surface. Relationships will develop in more positive ways as you consistently acknowledge the good that you begin to see in people. Fulfillment will develop in your life as you acknowledge the good in yourself, in others, and the beauty beyond your circumstances.
Your life and the people in it have much hidden beauty for you to discover.
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D. April 26, 2020