THE HOLINESS OF THE GAZE
In South America a journalist friend of mine met an old Native American chief whom he would have loved to interview. The chief agreed on the condition that they could have some time together beforehand. The journalist presumed that they would hold a conversation in the normal manner. Instead, the chief took him aside and looked directly into his eyes in silence for a long time. Initially, this terrified my friend, he felt his life was totally exposed to the gaze and silence of this stranger. After a while the journalist began to deepen his own gaze. Each continued this silent gazing for more than two hours. After this time it seemed as if they had known each other all of their lives. There was no longer any need for the interview. In a certain sense, to gaze into the face of the other is to gaze into the depth and entirety of their life.
We assume too readily that we share the one world with other people. It is true at the objective level that we inhabit the same physical space as other humans; the sky is, after all, the one visual constant in all of our perception. Yet this outer world offers no access to the inner world of an individual. At a deeper level, each person is the custodian of a completely private, individual world. Sometimes our beliefs, opinions and thoughts are ultimately ways of consoling ourselves that we are not alone with the burden of a unique, inner world. It suits us to pretend that we all belong to the one world, but we are more alone than we realize. This aloneness is not simply due to our difference from each other; it derives more from the fact that each of us is housed in a different body. The idea of human life being housed in a body is fascinating. For instance, when someone comes to visit your home, they come bodily. They bring all of their inner world, experience and memory into your house through the vehicle of their body. While they are visiting you, their life is no elsewhere; it is totally there with you, before you, reaching out towards you. When the visit is over, their body stands up, walks out and carries this hidden world away. This recognition also illuminates the mystery of making love. It is not just two bodies that are close, but rather two worlds; they circle each other and flow into each other. We are capable of such beauty, delight and terror because of this infinite and unknown world within us.