Wednesday, March 30, 2011



The first sense we will consider is the sense of sight or vision. The human eye is one place where the intensity of human presence becomes uniquely focused and available. The universe finds its deepest reflection and belonging in the human eye. I imagine the mountains dreaming of the coming of vision. The eye, when it opens, is like the dawn breaking in the night. When it opens, a new world is there. The eye is also the mother of distance. When the eye opens, it shows that others and the world are outside us, distant from us. The spur of tension that has enlivened all of Western philosophy is the desire to bring subject and object together. Perhaps it is the eye as mother of distance that splits the subject from the object. Yet infinity somehow invests our perception of every object. Joseph Brodsky points out, beautifully, that an object makes infinity private.

Yet, in a wonderful way, the eye as mother of distance makes us wonder at the mystery and otherness of everything outside us. In this sense, the eye is also the mother of intimacy, bringing everything close to us. When you really gaze at something, you bring it inside you. One could write a beautiful spirituality on the holiness of the gaze. The opposite of the gaze is the intrusive stare. When you are stared at, the eye of the Other becomes tyrannical. You have become the object of the Other’s stare in a humiliating, invasive and threatening way.

When you really look deeply at something, it becomes part of you. This is one of the sinister aspects of television. People are constantly looking at empty and false images; these impoverished images are filling up the inner world of the heart. The modern world of image and electronic media is reminiscent of Plato’s wonderful allegory of the cave. The prisoners are in one line, chained together, looking at the wall of the cave. The fire behind them casts images onto the wall. Looking at the wall of that cave, the prisoners believe it to be reality. Yet all they are seeing are shadows of reflections. Television and the computer world are great empty shadowlands. To look at something that can gaze back at you, or that has a reserve and depth, can heal your eyes and deepen your sense of vision.

There are those who are physically blind; they have lived all their lives in a moonscape of darkness. They have never seen a wave, a stone, a star, a flower, the sky, or the face of another human being. Yet there are others with perfect vision who are absolutely blind. The Irish painter Tony O’Malley is a wonderful artist of the invisible; in an introduction to his work the English artist Patrick Heron said, ‘In contrast to most people, Tony O’Malley walks around with his eyes open.’

Many of us have mad our world so familiar that we do not see it any more. It is an interesting question to ask yourself at night: what did I really see this day? You could be surprised at what you did not see. Maybe your eyes were unconditioned reflexes operating automatically all day without any real mindfulness or recognition; while you looked out from yourself, you never gazed or really attended to anything. The field of vision is always complex and when your eyes look out, they cannot see everything. If you attempt a full field of vision, then it becomes unspecified and blurred; if you focus on one aspect of it, then you really see that, but you miss out on the larger picture. The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see. The crucial question then is, what criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see? Many limited and negative lives issue directly from this narrowness of vision.

It is a startling truth that how you see and what you see determines how and who you will be. An interesting way of beginning to o some interior work is to explore your particular style of seeing. Ask yourself: what way do I behold the world? Through this question you will discover your specific pattern of seeing. There are many different styles of vision.

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