On Being Seen

On Being Seen  —  it takes a bit of effort to watch our­selves sto­ry-mak­ing, and to let that go long enough to see and be seen

My first and most pop­u­lar book,

This End­less Moment.

Learn to live a full and sat­is­fy­ing life. 

Being seen is alternately scary and desired above all. And our conditioning tends to get in the way.

I remem­ber being in some work­shop some­where and spot­ting a friend across the room. We met up after the gig was over, and she said to me some­thing to the effect of, “Isn’t it nice to meet up with a mem­ber of your real family?” 

Lat­er, that got unpacked as an expres­sion of how good it feels to look over the heads in a crowd and “rec­og­nize” some­one that you are sim­pati­co with.

All of which has to do with being seen

The pho­to at top was tak­en in the bus sta­tion in Liberia, Cos­ta Rica. The young woman was star­ing off into space; then she’d focus in on the guy in front of her, then she’d sigh, and look sad. 

I watched this for a bit, then end­ed up tak­ing a pic­ture, and when I blew it up, she seemed to be look­ing right at me. 

I take a lot of pho­tos of peo­ple, as this blog is relent­less­ly in need of them. Late­ly, I’ve been using my quite good cell phone cam­era, and the down­side is that I can’t real­ly tell what I’ve got until lat­er. Plus, it has the dis­con­cert­ing habit of shoot­ing the pho­to sev­er­al sec­onds after I hit the but­ton, so images are often a surprise. 

Any­way, I was amazed that she seemed to be look­ing right at me, and in a sense see­ing to and through me. I saved the shot, and it occurred to me that it ws per­fect for this article.

I have a sense that the feeling we get when we think that we “click” with someone is likely hard-wired into our genes, and also, it’s not very reliable.

In Zen, we talk about form and empti­ness, and also about how we “iden­ti­fy” with stereo­types. By iden­ti­fy I mean that we make deter­mi­na­tions about the char­ac­ter of oth­ers based upon smoke and mir­rors.

For exam­ple, I notice a predilec­tion in myself to “like” Cana­di­ans, and to have all kinds of judge­ments about peo­ple from the US of A, despite being from there myself. I left decades ago, and like to for­get that my for­ma­tive years in the States ever hap­pened. One of our weird­er friends knows this, so he con­tin­u­al­ly apol­o­gizes in my pres­ence for mak­ing dis­parag­ing remarks about the US, despite the fact that I self-iden­ti­fy as a Cana­di­an, and have lived in Cana­da since 1975.

And up goes my back.

All of this has noth­ing to do with any­thing oth­er than the sto­ries I tell myself, and the fact that my “qua­si-friend” likes to poke at peo­ple to see if he can get a rise out of them. This does­n’t work with­out the coop­er­a­tion of the “pok-ee.”


Our inner reac­tions to things we pro­voke our­selves over can’t be helped. 

It’s what the Bud­dha called mon­key mind. Our minds can bare­ly stand not chattering–leaping from branch to branch–going after the “bet­ter” fruit. We all do it; we just need to notice. 

So, have anoth­er look at the lead pho­to. See if you can tell your­self a sto­ry about the guy, the girl, the sit­u­a­tion. Let your imag­i­na­tion run a bit.

See? Monkey mind.

Where it goes all top­sy-turvy is when we give valid­i­ty to the sto­ries we create. 

And even if we could walk into the pho­to and ask the young woman what’s on her mind, we’d only get the part of the sto­ry she decides to share.

Same thing with the ini­tial illustration–the one about “meet­ing our tribe.” That kind of “soul-mate” stuff often gets shov­eled in group meet­ings, espe­cial­ly if the group can be in any way con­strued as being a col­lec­tion of “aren’t we spe­cial” folk. We cre­ate a sto­ry about our spe­cial­ness, flesh it out, and then des­per­ate­ly want to add oth­ers to the mix.

It’s the same process that causes us to think we are in love.

Hor­mones sig­nal attrac­tion, and rather than going “Wow! I’m turned on!” we go, “This is true love!” And once that bridge is crossed, for many cou­ples the rest of their time togeth­er is an often futile attempt to turn the part­ner from who they real­ly are into who we think they ought to be. 

  • Being seen, on the oth­er hand, has very lit­tle to do with either try­ing to fit your­self in some­where, or try­ing to make oth­ers fit into some dopey story. 
  • Being seen is drop­ping the games and the sto­ries, and sim­ply being honest–both with your­self and with others. 
  • Being seen makes lit­tle of the games our heads are play­ing, and a lot of sim­ply open­ing the doors to being honest. 

It’s treat­ing fel­low humans as the unique beings they are, while rue­ful­ly watch­ing our lit­tle heads try to mash them up and fit them in a box. 

Clear­ly, true inti­ma­cy is about this kind of dia­logue: here is who I am right now, here is the sto­ry I am telling myself, and now that that’s out of the way, what’s up for you?

Less certainty, more curiosity.

Not easy, not fun; it’s hard work to keep the mon­key mind in the back­ground while open­ing your­self to self and oth­er scrutiny.

But hey, most peo­ple feel lost and alone and mis­un­der­stood, right?

So, maybe anoth­er way of inter­act­ing is necessary.

And that, always, starts with you.

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