Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How We See

I continue to be fascinated by my reading of John O'Donohue's Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. A Catholic priest (when he wrote the book) who was raised and lived in western Ireland and who had received a doctorate in theology/philosophy, focusing on the writings of the 13th century German mystic Meister Eckart, O'Donohue infuses his writings with ancient Celtic concepts, adapting them to modern life.

One of the key concepts O'Donohue writes about is a Celtic notion that the body inhabits the "soul," rather than the other way around, i.e., that the soul inhabits the body. Therefore, he writes, "Being in the soul, the body makes the senses thresholds of soul ... Your senses link you intimately with the divine within you and around you." O'Donohue then discourses on the various senses, commencing with sight.

"Many of us," he writes, "have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore." What do we really see? What do we miss seeing, even though it is in plain sight? "The human eye," O'Donohue continues, "is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see ... It is a startling truth that how you see and what you see determine how and who you will be."

The Fearful Eye

To the fearful eye," O'Donohue points out, "all is threatening. When you look toward the world in a fearful way, all you see and concentrate on are things that can damage and threaten you. The fearful eye is always besieged by threat."

I have a lot of experience with the fearful eye. Some religious systems, instead of seeing wonder and good in the world and in others, instead see evil, an increasing tide of wickedness, engendering fear rather than compassion. Some people, for one reason or another, naturally look at life as something to be feared, with threats everywhere, and they encourage others to have the same vision. Wouldn't it be better to go through life with a sense of impending wonder, rather than impending doom?

Of course, all of us, to some degree or another, have been assaulted by life, and a certain amount of fear, in my opinion, is natural. However, this should be a temporary phenomenon, rather than a permanent condition. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Fear and love cannot exist in the same place. Personally, I have made it an element of my practice to try to see love, rather than fear.

The Greedy Eye

I have commented before that I don't believe I have ever read anyone who can dress beautiful thoughts in such gorgeous prose as can O'Donohue. Each sentence in a passage is pregnant with meaning, as in the following passage:
“To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed … This can refer to land, books, companies, ideas, money or art … Greed is poignant because it is always haunted and emptied by future possibility; it can never engage presence. However, the more sinister aspect of greed is its ability to sedate and extinguish desire. It destroys the natural innocence of desire, dismantles its horizons and replaces them with a drive and atrophied possessiveness … Having has become the sinister enemy of being."
How many addictions are disguised by a desire to have, rather than be? We acquire, seeking to fill a hole. We cannot be because we cannot abide who we are (or who we *think* we are). Having is a salve that never heals. Part of my practice is to recognize this desire to have and to ask myself what is more important, having or being.

The Judgmental Eye

“To the judgmental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames. When the judgmental eye looks out, it sees things in terms of lines and squares. It is always excluding and separating, and therefore it never sees in a compassionate or celebratory way. The see is to judge."

The Judgmental Eye is close kin to the Fearful Eye. I have even more experience with the Judgmental Eye. It is something to which I have been exposed and with which I have struggled most of my life.

Case in point. This past Sunday, I went to mass in the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City. One of the things I enjoy most about going there for solemn mass is the music. I also enjoy the ritual and the visual beauty of the cathedral itself. So this past Sunday, went I walked down the aisle to my usual spot, I saw what I presumed to be a homeless man lying down, asleep, in a pew. I Saw him, alright, but I didn't See his face or anything else about him, because I was looking through judgmental eyes. (This was confirmed when he started snoring during the scriptural readings, and it became my practice to try not to let this bother me.)

But O'Donohue pinpoints the main reason I have struggled with Judgmental Eyes: "Sadly, the judgmental eye is always equally harsh with itself. It sees only the images of its tormented interiority projected outward from itself. The judgmental eye harvests the reflected surface and calls it truth.

Is not that last sentence a rich vein, waiting to be mined?

My practice is try to overcome decades of looking at life through judgmental eyes, and this starts with being more loving and accepting of myself in order that I can be more loving and accepting of others, so that I can see in a "compassionate and celebratory way" - which includes seeing myself in such a way.

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