Let your brain lose its grip - nicola-behrman-wedding

About fifteen years ago now, living in New York as a young playwright from London, I had a very specific experience that has impacted my life and how I do life ever since.

This one specific event has shaped much of the Journey that I have traveled ever since; or rather, it opened my eyes to the journey that you and I travel and create every single day.

What was this life changing experience you ask? Ayahuasca? Nope. Love? Nope. Loss? Divorce? Rejection? Death? None of the above.

It was teeny. Tiny. A teeny, tiny, minuscule moment in time that has lived with me ever since.

I was on my way to meet my friend, the writer and documentary filmmaker, Josh Alexander and I was grabbing some food for the Journey. I was in a hip little Indian restaurant that I had wanted to try for a while and I was super excited about it; I wish I could remember the name of it so I could see if it was still there, but alas I do not.

I imagine it was below 14th street, possibly in the west village. I’m not sure about that, but I can see it very clearly in my mindseye. It was small. Upbeat. Their specialty was dosas. They were famous for them and most likely had just had an article in Time Out magazine featuring them. The night I was there, it was early evening, and I was the only one standing at the counter when I was ordering. I remember standing at the counter, putting in my order for a dosa to go, feeling excited and inspired by the space and looking up with a sense of Yesness in my heart and seeing that there were two very large portraits hanging to the left of the counter; one of them was of an Indian Man and right next to it, the other was an Indian Woman.

I remember looking up at this painting, which I can still feel so viscerally, staring into this woman’s eyes, feeling her gaze on me and just luxuriating in the sensation of being completely awed by her sense of peace and love and beauty.  She was quite literally one of the most serene, beautiful women I had ever seen and it felt like she was blessing everyone in the space with her presence. I had no idea who she was, but I sensed that she was a Deity of some kind, or at the very least a living Enlightened Being. It didn’t matter the specifics; she was clearly the embodiment of the divine mother in human form and I was so enamored by her Grace and obvious Kindness streaming out of the picture, I felt a sense of communion, of community, of beauty.

I could hear angels singing. I was grateful. Life was good.

Then a fascinating thing happened. About half an hour or so passed. The restaurant had got really busy at this point. There wasn’t much space to move. The music had started to get really really loud, and my take out dosa was taking a very very long time to arrive.

I’m highly empathic and a working energy alchemist now, which means that I can literally feel the energy of everything and every person in the vicinity. So cramped spaces with lots of people and lots of stuff can get overwhelming quite quickly if I don’t know how to hold my own space, which back then I certainly did not.

I found myself getting antsy and increasingly claustrophobic, and suddenly something happened that has changed my worldview ever since. I looked back up at the painting, with this music pounding and the people shuffling for position, and I gasped in shock as I realized that my Indian Saint, Mother Mary and Quan Yin herself, had been switched while I wasn’t looking and had been replaced by a very different woman who was angry and mean and ready to pounce. I literally found myself staring into the eyes of a raging, criticizing, staunch headmistress type and I was scared of her.

I blinked and looked again. How was it possible? Had they switched the paintings while I wasn’t looking? Was I being punked?

But No.

The painting was, of course, the same painting. Clearly, it hadn’t changed. And yet, in thirty minutes, it had gone from soothing mother Theresa to Margaret Thatcher, and the only common denominator was my own two eyes and an internal state of being. When the Sages say we see people not as they are but as we are, they are speaking quite literally.

I was, in that moment being given the greater gift of seeing the mirror into my own inner consciousness. I had become claustrophobic and antsy and my own perceptual filters were no longer able to see or perceive the woman that I had seen and given thanks for just thirty minutes earlier.

So often, when we are in conversation or communion with another, we easily pinpoint the ways in which they have changed or shifted. We blame. We criticize. We get angry. We look for proof that they are the ones that are doing something differently. What an unbelievable opportunity it was to be stood in front of an inanimate object and an image that could not possibly have changed beyond my own perception of it and see two such different Beings in front of me. For the first time in my life, I was able to see in real time how my inner state effected my perception of my outer world.

This story seems tiny. It is tiny. Anecdotal even. A thirty minute moment in time over fifteen years ago. But the meaning is huge. For if a painting can go from 0 to 100 on the angry scale, what does this mean for our interactions with other humans? Can we start taking responsibility for some of the things that we see in them? Can we acknowledge that this world is a canvas, and that we walk through it projecting our inner state onto outer reality?

Is it possible that our internal perceptual filters could literally shape the events and the people in our outer world? Let me be one of the Voices that tells you this: Yes yes yes. there is no objective reality. It is all made up. Every moment. And it can shift at any moment.

What to do?

Clear your inner lens.

Go inside. Create some space. Meditate for 7 minutes a day. Go to a coffee shop, look out the window and ask yourself when has the way you saw the world affected how you experience the world? How could you see it now? Could you allow it to be more magical than Alice in Wonderland? Because it is. It truly, truly is. Right here right now.

Allow the structural programming of your brain to lose its grip. Allow the remembrance of your heart to create something that you have dreamed about your whole life. Invite it in. Let it be yours. Clear out the space in your psyche and watch as the world around you starts to shift into focus. See the colors get more vibrant. See the synchronicities come into frame and see the pictures in your world reflect to you what you’re feeling on the inside. And Remember: Remember the power you have to shape and perceive your experience of reality. It’s a magical world out there. And sometimes it’s an inspired and then angry picture of an Indian Saint that invites you into the realization that it’s all made up. Every moment. Created by your inner landscape and your inner narrative.

What a fabulous opportunity to make it a great one.



  • Cheryl

    Fabulous! Yes. Thank you Nicola. I try to constantly check my perspectives. Not always easy ?✨

  • Abby

    I love this. It’s so important to take the time to address your perception of reality – especially when it becomes muddied. Thank you for a wonderful reminder!

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95% of life is spent on autopilot.

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