Open your eyes and see
You may be under the impression that withdrawal to a 'lonely place' to savour silence is an escape. Well, it is and it is not. It is in the sense that we want to get away from the external and internal noises that block our deeper awareness. But it is not an escape from the reality of life. On the contrary, by giving ourselves time to reflect we release our potential to see the world around us in a new light.
Any form of prayer that ends up in just admiring or pitying ourselves misses our vital link with the whole of Reality about us. Navel staring hinders our true knowledge of self. Only when we begin to look outwards will we discover, with joy and amazement, who we are.
And this is how we go about it.
When we are in our chosen place, we begin by surrounding ourselves with silence. We listen to the noises around us. We become aware of the distracting thoughts and feelings in ourselves. We observe these forms of hubbub and uproar with only one purpose: to get rid of them and to find silence.
In the beginning it will take us five minutes or more to compose ourselves fully in inner silence. As we get to know the practice, we can move into inner silence much quicker.
When we have reached a satisfactory level of silence, and when our spontaneous distractions have been laid to rest, we initiate the next step, the step of OPENING OUR INNER EYES.
Remembering a flower
'Seeing' involves calling to mind various things we have observed in the course of the day, things we have seen and noticed, but to which we could not pay the attention they deserved. From recalling them as vividly as we can, we proceed to penetrating more deeply into their meaning.
I can explain this best by giving an example.
During the morning rush of going to work I was waiting for a train in my local station. I walked to the end of the platform, hoping there would be more seats at the front end of the train. While I waited, my eye fell on a tiny weed that had grown in a patch of soil where the concrete slabs had been cracked apart. I bent over and saw three dainty, yellow flowers. At that moment the train arrived and I joined the other passengers to enter the compartment.
I try to visualise the tiny plant again, and the flowers. And I ask myself: What was significant about them?
I recapture the wonder I always feel when looking at nature. I love watching programmes on TV that present the world about me. These fill me with awe. There is beauty in the world and it is something I want to be part of.
Then it strikes me that it was the location of the plant that was special. I would probably not have noticed the flowers if they had been part of a meadow. Here they grew in the middle of concrete! I reflect on its symbolic meaning: the hardiness of nature, the existence of tenderness even in rough environments. I see other implications, of how I can be that patch of soil in which tenderness can grow, and so on.
Another object I took note of in the course of the day was an old spinning wheel.
I had seen it in the window of an antique shop. I am always fascinated by quaint objects of the past.
As I recall its details in my mind's eye, I begin to be flooded by thoughts and emotions. I imagine the woman who worked that wheel: her skill, her poverty, her efforts to make something of life for herself and her family . . .
From the description of these examples the general process becomes clear.
Starting from things I have actually seen with my physical eyes, I continue to look but now with eyes of deeper awareness.
It is surprising how much lies hidden in the simple things we come across everyday.
Seeing things differently
The practice of thus seeing with deeper awareness during our times of silent reflection has an immediate influence on the way I start looking at things during the normal course of my day. I remember the thoughts that went through my mind when I was praying, and so I look with new eyes. I discover there is much, much more to see. I am beginning to see with greater clarity, and beyond the immediate surface of things.
In particular, I am beginning to understand people better. I become aware of the fact that I am often running past other people without giving them the attention they deserve. People are no longer just strangers whom I can afford to keep at a polite distance. They are companions, partners, friends, precious individuals with their own gifts and needs.
I sharpen this awareness by focussing my thought on some persons I have seen during the day.
Perhaps I have noticed some of the other passengers I travelled with in the train. There was a young couple, shy but obviously in love. I remember a middle-aged man in a striped suit reading the Financial Times. Almost a living cartoon of a city man. I wondered what he was like at home, when pottering around in his garden.
But the person I recall most distinctly, perhaps, was a young girl who sat right opposite me. She was evidently on her way to school. With her open face and blue eyes, she was such an image of unspoilt innocence. On one occasion she caught my eye and returned it with a straight glance.
I know little girls too well not to realise that a benign and pretty exterior can hide some unexpected nastiness, envy, spite, childish tantrums, the lot. But real innocence was also there, unmistakably. It moved me. I wished for the girl that she would never lose it, in spite of her need of growing up. I thought of all the dangers she might meet on her way, of the people who might take advantage of her naivity. I made up my mind to do all in my power to make our world a place safe enough for good people to be trustful rather than suspicious.
There is no way of telling where my meditation leads me once I have begun to see, and see further and deeper.
More about this later!
Am I still trying to dominate through my seeing?
Am I trying to impose my will? Or my ownership? Or my violence?
Or is my seeing a form of service, of responding, of being open to Reality?
Every single object points beyond itself to something that transcends it. Every part of reality is window and image.
Without this deeper sense, things are thin, scraggly, hardly worth taking note of.
The roots of our seeing lie in our heart. Our eyes see what our heart tells us to see. As Jesus told us, it is the pure of heart who will see God.
Romano Guardini (Germany 1957)
Chuang and Hui were crossing Hao river by the dam.
Chuang said: "See how free the fishes jump about! They're happy!"
Hui replied: "Since you're not a fish, how can you see whether fish are happy?"
Chuang said: "In spite of your not being me, can't you see when I am happy . . . . ?"
I can see these fishes are happy through my own joy, as I go walking along their river.
Chuang Tzu (China, 4th century BC)
Poem composed when the author had seen a mother nursing her baby near the steps of a public library
God is like an Asian mother
Kathleen Fisher in "Women at the Well"
What you should do
This week, when in your sacred space, try to put 'inner seeing' into practice. Remember the various steps:
For the video clip from "The Seven Circles of Prayer" we obtained permission from the copyright owner Housetop. The text was taken from "Stepping into the Seven Circles of Prayer" by John Wijngaards who is also the author of this course; illustrations are by Alison Conti.