Another View: Putting Negative Situations into a Broader Viewpoint


Here we are Being Spiritual.

I am going to talk about two things: context and something called re-contextualizing. Don’t let the words put you off. The intention is simply to offer a way of living life from a far broader framework, or perspective, than our particular beliefs usually give us.

Palm_TreeThe context of a situation refers to the part of an event that, when added or left out, changes its fuller meaning and thus our understanding of it. The many experiences of a thing, brought together, in other words, its context, will determine its particular meaning for you. Let me give you an example. Think of a palm tree. Your experiences of the palm tree will pop into your mind. Put that palm tree in a Shopping Center in Greenland and doing so will likely change your initial idea of it, unless you live in Greenland.

Put it in an oasis in the Sahara. Again, this shifts the context. Maybe an oasis is the only place you have known palms to be, and so the context fits for you. Your personal palm tree experience may stand out as a shape, set in flashing neon lights. A shape you saw when visiting your favorite restaurant. When you make that palm two inches high and of green plastic, when you anchor it in a terrarium with an iguana, you have shifted its context yet again. Each shift will give you a completely different view and understanding of a palm tree – expanding the context.. It is more inclusive and broad.

sunset palmYet, when I asked you to think of a palm tree, I was remembering a poem about the palm of a hand, particularly poignant description of a lover waving farewell. My poem further re-contextualizes the palm tree image.

Context is all about how you view a thing. Our personal beliefs keep us locked into certain contexts. It can be extremely helpful to learn to re-contextualize from a spiritual perspective, particularly when engaging in forgiveness.

What does re-contextualizing mean? It means viewing an event, a person or a belief in a broader, more inclusive way. It can also mean a completely different way; by adding further dimensions to the information, the beliefs, and the ideas you already have. Doing so can change and free your point of view.

When you hold a belief about someone or some event, you hold it in a particular context. “My mother never loved me,” for example, is a perspective that freezes her in many “non-loving” situations through the memories you carry. It holds her frozen in those particular events, those you have experienced, those many times you knew her as unloving. In your mind, she is like that artificial palm tree in the terrarium. She has the label “mother,” but not its “true” expression. The context for you is really that mother’s should love in certain and particular ways – ways that yours did not. You believe that mother should mean loving. That is the context you carry with all your experiences of mother. How you keep such beliefs alive and stable is to keep the particular focus of the belief. You can not accept those that do not fit within it.

Now to re-contextualize a situation, a person, an event, you remove your judgments, (green plastic isn’t a palm tree and unloving isn’t mothering), your stances (only trees are palms; she should be different than she is), or your position about it (I thought palms only lived in an oasis; I thought mothers should show love in certain ways).

Re-contextualizing how you view a person is meant to take you out of the rigidity, and the pain of your small dense view, and into the massive and lighter fields of energy. It can take you into acceptance, into peace, and into joy that a compassionate, loving view offers.

I will stick with the example of the unloving mother. Re-contextualizing the relationship between you and your mother offers you another perspective. It will move you out of focusing only on certain individual events and into focusing on the whole relationship. The unloving events, such as she did not attend your graduation, did not hug you when you needed her, always ordered you around, and so forth, are all the small, fixed, “did not love me the way I wanted to be loved situations” that you carry as wounds about her. From that context, you cannot escape feeling resentful, left out, ripped-off. Something is wrong that a mother treats you this way.

Re-contextualize the relationship from the “bad mother” view, to the whole mother view. Now recall all she did do in mothering you. She raised you (she could have dropped you off at the nearest Children’s Aid). She chose to keep you, a mothering thing to do. She worked full time to do so. So she had a full time job and a child(ren) to raise. Hmm, perhaps she was tired during much of her evening, like you are after work. She fed you. She clothed you. She cleaned you and for you. She protected you. She sent you to school. She took care of you when you were sick.

As you broaden your outlook, the memories of kindnesses she offered you – her definition of kindnesses, rather than yours – begin to surface. The “loving mother” you have always had, begins to become obvious. You have moved her out of your fixed context – your “how a mother should mother” context, and put her into what she understands to be her role. It shifts you profoundly when do this with deep sincerity.

Another way to re-contextualize this situation is to pretend to be her, day after day. Pretend to live her life. The “walk a mile in her shoes” context. The willingness to look past your own expectations of her, while imagining living as she did, is life changing.

Another and perhaps the most spiritual re-contextualization, is in realizing that you already have all the love you thought others should give you. Spiritual practice shows you this is true and has always been true.

Putting any life event in a spiritual context is a practice that relieves pain. Each person and situation in your life begins to be an opportunity. You begin to experience the event as an opportunity to remove the blocks to Love. Re-contextualizing is a most powerful tool. And although it seems new, the experience of having something placed in a different context is one we all know. It occurs automatically when we have forgiven our self or let go of our judgments of another.

telescope-microscopeDecide to see differently. Deciding to re-contextualize, to see differently, is enough to pull back your usual contextual view from the situation-by-situation one, to the whole relationship. You offer yourself as full a spectrum as is possible for you. It will teach you how holding situations in your usual particular ways, fixes you to a microscopic viewpoint. Re-contextualizing gives you the telescopic view.

It always is your decision. How do you want to experience life, through a microscope or a Hubble telescope?

Peace to you.

About ellen

Ellen Sutherland shares her work through her sites:, and her book: "At Your Heart's Pace",
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One Response to Another View: Putting Negative Situations into a Broader Viewpoint

  1. pb says:

    Great article!

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