Seeing and being seen is primal. For the first few weeks of life, a newborn baby can see 8 to 12 inches away. Which is the perfect distance to gaze into the eyes of their mother or father.
As we grow, that distance increases. But, our seeing changes. We see with preconceptions. We see the fringes. And for fear of being misunderstood or rejected, we wear masks. We hide behind safe facades that present to the outside world a more acceptable image.
Yet how strong is that desire to be seen! Really seen—for all that we are. In her touching song “The Warmth of Parents’ Hands” Arooj sings about moments of loneliness: the warmth of parents’ hands is what I’ve been missing; the warmth of parents’ gaze is what kept me going. We long to return to that safe place when we were unconditionally held, when we saw loving eyes gazing at us.
We are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. We are uber-connected by social media and phones and texting and Zoom, but are we curating images of ourselves? Are we letting it all hang out? Are we showing our true faces, the faces that, as John O’Donohue says, always reveal the soul?
That’s kinda risky…
So we go off and rack up degrees and have face lifts and try to downward dog our way to some image of—I don’t know—perfection, but not only do we never reach perfection, but we make ourselves (and everyone around us) miserable.
Maybe it’s time to stop. Just stop with all the metaphorical mask-wearing. Maybe it’s time to be who we are, and those who can truly gaze lovingly at us are the ones who deserve to stay. And maybe we can begin exercising our own seeing muscles. Look deeply into eyes, at the smiles or frowns or the attempt to hide an emotion. Maybe we can see what is there, not what we want to see. Maybe we can remind ourselves that our need to be seen is everyone’s need.
Here’s an exercise for today…try and make eye contact with someone you don’t know, with someone you do know, and try gazing into your own eyes in the mirror.
And invoke the warmth of a loving gaze.