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Look me in the eye to tell me you hate me, love me

July 18, 2011

Looking someone in the eye is a profound experience.

Two months ago I was at a meditation retreat in Chicago where I stood and looked into someone’s eye with my hand over their heart and theirs over mine.  Today, I squated on the street to look a beggar woman in the eye as I handed her a coin.  In Chicago, it was like diving into someone’s soul and seeing the reflection of my own essence, the divinity that lives within me, within them, within us all in a never ending cascade.  Looking into the eyes of the woman on the street today, I felt the intensity of human connection, the weight of honoring someone as a human being–truly seeing them, having them see you–regardless of your outward differences.  Looking at poverty is uncomfortable, difficult.  It demands a choice, an action or inaction that hits to the core of how we view ourselves as people:  do you feel powerless to change?  afraid?  priveleged? angry?  disturbed?  Looking someone in the eye who is caught in the throws of destitution takes you beyond seeing a bad neighborhood or passing a man sleeping in a doorway, it pushes you to truly see them, recognize them.  And sometimes, that makes all the difference.

In my regular life, I rarely look someone in the eye that intently.  Rarely do I truly stop and look deeply into someone’s eyes when I see them on the street, order a drink, or say good morning.  If you come from a big city, you may implement what I think of as the “wildlife tactic” of street survival wherein you rigorously avoid eye contact to blend in and to stay safe–much like the advice of forest rangers to hikers:  don’t look the bear/wolf/dog/beast in the eye, they will probably take it as a challenge and attack you. Only instead of the wild, you are in a structured city surrounded by people–supposedly fellow human beings.

However, today I posit:  the opposite is true.  I believe that the more we look deeply into one anothers eyes–the more we truly see each other for our similarities, our common humanity, the oneness of our hearts, the more we break down the very barriers that separate us from one another.  The barriers of age, race, class, sex, money, job, religion or anything else we create to isolate ourselves from others will become transparent facets of our human existence through which our mutual respect and love can shine through, penetrate and touch us to the core of our beings.  This experience is both humbling and empowering.  By bringing us to the core of who we are as people, it forces home the reality of the power each of us has to create change in our lives as well as the humility of experiencing our mutual vulnerability through the intimacy of gaze.

This honoring is the first step, recognition of “other” as truly “one” brings us beyond our blocks, to a place where change, where action is possible.  And that is a powerful place from which to act.

Today I knelt on the street to look in the eyes of an older woman–separate from me in language, age, and life experience in almost every way conceivable–and I stood up changed through the experience.  How miraculous to truly give to someone in need without patronizing.  Suddenly the discomfort of seeing someone in poverty was mitigated through the knowledge that I gave of what I had to give with complete respect for her as a human being, recognizing her power as a person and acknowledging her as equal in a way more subtle and true than social markers ever could be.  I know in my heart from the way she looked back at me that this made a difference for her as well.

As I walked away, I felt a powerful surge of energy coursing through me–knowing that this day, I did the right thing in the right way.  It has changed how I approach situations like this for good.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011 9:19 pm

    When I am paying attention to the world around me, thinking about something other than the assignment I’m working on at the moment, I always look people in the eye. But only then.

  2. Janet M. R. Simpson permalink
    July 26, 2011 11:24 am

    You brought tears to my eyes with this blog. We so often forget to stay in the moment and genuinely honor those who share this journey on the planet with us. It is easy to disregard, dismiss, and even condemn those we treat only as ‘other’. But when we stop to recognize the humanity that we share – the reality that all of our lives are about family, survival, dignity and meaning – there is no other; there is only us. Pax

  3. August 8, 2011 12:55 am

    CI: it’s hard, but absolutely necessary, to get to the realization that we are all essentially the same. The most difficult thing to do is to live out the realization–to not only act, but also treat, others as having dignity, being worthy of respect and affection. RT

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