“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I’m reflecting on what it means to look deeply at another person.
Throughout February, I’ve been thinking a great deal about connection and community – what it means to be close with one another. We long for intimacy, even in relationships at work.
But intimacy can be scary. It brings us closer to our more tender, vulnerable side. Allowing ourselves to both see and be seen requires a shedding of masks, and a revealing of our true selves in all their messy, flawed glory. So how can we “see” each other, truly, deeply, and fully?
Thich Nhat Hanh refers to the practice of seeing people fully as “Looking Deeply” – non-judgmentally directing your attention to the present moment and the person who is in it with you. Mindfulness can help you use this kind of seeing to deepen connections with others. It’s too easy to develop a fixed view of who a loved one is, and time often narrows this perspective.
We cling to our beliefs because, as humans, we like certainty; it’s part of the brain’s design that helps us conserve energy. But without updating our mental images, we miss how a loved one grows, how interests shift, and how personalities evolve. Mindfulness teaches impermanence: the recognition and acceptance that everything (and everyone) is constantly changing. Seeing your loved ones with fresh eyes—with the veils of old ideas and the glasses of yesterday’s perceptions removed—allows for true connection.
Here are a few simple ways to “look deeply” at your loved ones:
Look deeply into their eyes. Be brave. It takes courage to really look at another, not as a staring contest, but as a way to go through the “doorway to the soul” of the person who is with you now.
Speak from your heart. Say what you see in those you love. Be a mirror for them, allowing them to more clearly see themselves.
Allow yourself to be seen. Remove your protective layers; if you’re sad, take off the mask of good cheer. Honor the limited time we have with each other with authenticity.
Try looking at someone you love with all your senses in this way. Seeing each other in this way will not only cultivate intimacy but also nourish you and your partner.
To read more about this practice, see Chapter 37 of The Mindful Day, “See your loved one with fresh eyes.”
Many of the practices I share here can also be found in greater detail in The Mindful Day, which is available in paperback, hardcover, e-book and audiobook form. It is also in development as an audio course for Insight Timer, and will be released on that platform in late 2020.