Shortly after I had my first baby a friend from work visited me. She spent plenty of time cooing over the new baby, but she got right to the heart of the matter when she asked, “So, how’s it going? How are you feeling about it all?”

Because she was a good friend, I knew I could tell her. But I hesitated a little because what I had to say seemed so unusual, even preposterous, that I wondered what her reaction might be. “It’s strange, but I sort of feel like she just knows me. I look into her eyes, and she looks back, and it’s like she’s reading my soul, and I hers. Does that sound crazy to you?”

I was surprised and relieved to see her nod in recognition. She was a mother too, and I had just verbalised a little-discussed experience for many (possibly all) mothers. Our babies, though possibly strangers to this world when they are first born, actually have a familiarity with us that we might never have expected. Here is a new person in the world, and she looks into my eyes and she sees me for who I really am. And I see her. We connect on the deepest possible level. We love each other.

Lately I have been re-reading my shelves and shelves of Yoga books, getting a fresh perspective on old (sometimes ancient) material. This week’s book, Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi revealed this little gem as I stood at the cooker stirring the risotto last night:

“We long to have someone, somewhere, even for a moment, really see us. When someone sees the ‘us’ that is our essence, we say that we feel loved. My teacher taught that the primary thing to learn is how to be this loving, accepting presence.” (2004: 179)

I immediately thought of my first experiences as a mother and the sensation that my child could see right to my very soul. I realised that even as a tiny newborn, my daughter was able to really see me. It was the first time I can remember being so completely understood by another human being. No explaining required, no words uttered, I stared into her amber-flecked eyes and felt I’d been seen.

My remembrance of this feeling, and my gratitude for it, made me wonder what it would be like to practise seeing another person’s essence. While I was running late yesterday, the librarian went on and on in her well-meaning yet somewhat droning way, and I nodded absently, conspicuously checking the clock and muttering about being late.  Taking a deep breath, I drew myself up short. I looked at her, I mean really looked. I watched her face as she spoke, I looked into her eyes, and I asked myself to see her as a human being. Another person connected to me, and to the rest of us. Someone with value. In a moment I had to rush off, but really looking at her made me listen to her and take her seriously, and most important, to hold her in my mind and heart with compassion.

At 7 this morning I wished that I had thought to do this with one of my children, who I found surreptitiously stuffing chocolate chips into her pockets and mouth. I was unhappy with the tricksy behaviour, and certainly not impressed with a chocolate breakfast. What if I had seen past the behaviour to her essence? What if I had been able to put aside what she had done, and had taken a really good look at who she is? I wonder how the very unpleasant interaction that followed might have been transformed.

Sadly, I didn’t remember to look, so it’s all subjunctive tense. (I’ll try again tomorrow.)

One more story. When I was at University, a good friend sat with her chin resting on her hand and stared at me with a contented smile on her face. “Why are you looking at me that way?” I asked her, slightly unsettled. “I’m contemplating you,” she said. What on earth did that mean, I asked. “I mean, I’m trying to see you as God sees you.”

My friend believes in an all-loving, gently benevolent God. She attempted to put on God’s spectacles, and to see me for who I really am. She was trying to see past the secondary projections and to see right to my soul. She wanted to know me, and what’s more, she wanted to love me. Even now, I marvel and think, what a friend.

How many of my daily interactions with others could be transformed by trying to see, really see past the secondary projections of personality, appearance, emotions, assumptions, education, social status, nationality, language spoken, and more? When we peel away the layers that sit atop a person’s true essence, we might be startled. Surprisingly, and wonderfully, what we see is very much like what we are.

©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott

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Seeing and being seen
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6 thoughts on “Seeing and being seen

  • 23/10/2014 at 8:05 pm

    This is beautiful, Lisa. I love the idea of our babies knowing us completely. I hadn’t thought of it before but I think you’re right. I guess having lived with and inside us for nine months, they do know us better than anyone!

    • 24/10/2014 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks Cathryn, coming from the Yogic perspective too, you,l know just what I’m saying.

  • 24/10/2014 at 11:34 pm

    A breath of fresh air. I love to read your blog.
    I had a very similar experience yesterday – VERY SIMILAR.
    It was nice, in the end, to get back in touch with something that I feel so deeply about. A wonderful reminder of how the rush of everyday life has created some bad habits. Reading your words takes it deeper to my heart.

    • 26/10/2014 at 7:53 pm

      That means a lot to me Jen, thanks. Do you mean someone in your house was also stowing chocolate chips in cheeks and pockets, or you were talking to a librarian, or…? I’d love to hear your story if you’re willing to share.

  • 27/10/2014 at 6:24 pm

    Sounds like you have regrets about the ‘very unpleasant interaction’ at 7 am Lisa. Obviously I have no idea how ‘unpleasant’ it was but if it was anger that you regret, I have to ask this: what were you communicating? If every communication is an expression of a need, what need did you have? For your child to have a healthy diet? To not have ‘tricksy’ behaviour at 7 am? To have someone make you a cup of tea and greet you with a smile and a pleasant ‘good morning’ rather than chocolate chip stuffing? Again, obviously I have no idea what you were communicating, but I do see this post from another perspective… Some of the hardest people to truly see are the ones who are angry. What did your daughter see when she saw you?

    I’m sure that the vast majority of us regret harsh words, but it’s only human to experience anger and irritation (I find that my womanly hormones massively exacerbate feelings of irritation). Striving for a calm, kind way of dealing with our children’s sometimes challenging behaviour (yet normal for inquisitive kids of course!) has to be one of the most important goals there is. But surely sometimes we’d do well to remember that a parent that expresses their needs (and yes, even sometimes through an angry verbal outburst) is providing their child with a valuable lesson. I think it’s important for our kids to see that we’re only human and can lose our rag from time to time. It gives them the opportunity to build bridges back to us and it gives them a micro glimpse into how environment/circumstances/tiredness etc. have big effects on their parents in a world that does little to support the valuable work of parenting.

    I’m certainly not saying that anger should be a common feature of family life; just that it’s not an emotion to always be shunned, as though it somehow makes us a ‘lesser’ person if we sometimes express ourselves through anger, should the situation warrant it.

    Well, those are my thoughts for today! Thanks for your post 🙂

    • 29/10/2014 at 9:38 am

      Hi Marija,
      Please forgive my delay in replying to and approving your comment. Half term means my time on the computer is very limited!

      I appreciate the time you took in trying to really hear about my 7am experience. My feeling was of wonder and enquiry, rather than regret. In having this sense of “I wonder,” I allow myself to let the past be what it is, but I can also use it as a learning experience. Then feelings like regret or self-recrimination become less relevant and moving forward in freedom becomes possible.
      I agree with you when you say feelings are an expression of needs. For me, an angry person is sometimes easier to “see” because anger is usually the result of a deeper emotion. Farhi, who I quoted in the piece, calls this a generative emotion. Anger can be a flag to point us in the direction of seeing that there’s something deeper going on. Though as you say, this might be harder for a child to see.

      Thanks again

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