Many years ago, in reflecting upon the educational process, it struck me that the emphasis should not be merely on the acquisition of information but more importantly on the angle of vision, the eyes through which we view any information. More recently, the proliferation on the internet of so many materials of varying quality, truthfulness, and attitude,, it reinforced the conviction that there is a profound difference in the accumulation of information and the lens through which we see that alleged information.
To cite a favourite example, a tree is seen through very different eyes by a logger who wishes to cut it down, a photographer who tries to help us see it as if for the first time, and a child who loves to climb. We can also look at the events of our own life through the eyes of judgment or acceptance, anxiety or compassion, fear or hope.
Real growth and change, it seems to me, comes not so much through the acquisition of new information, but learning to see with new eyes. Many authors speak of a transformation of consciousness, or an awakening. In responding to a small child who is angry, for example, we may see beneath the anger to the hurt and the feeling of being overwhelmed or unloved that may be at the root of what comes out in behaviour. If we see pain rather than hostility as the real issue, our response may change accordingly. I have often said that in speaking to ourselves, in the continuing internal dialogue we carry on with ourselves, we should not speak to ourselves other than we would speak to a hurt or angry child on our best day.
The question that arises is how do we see most clearly. What are the best set of eyes, the best lens, the best angle of vision through which to look at ourselves, others, life itself. There is a fairly consistent pattern in the spirituality and literature throughout history, even if it is only gradually discerned. Certainly, we may sometimes seemed trapped in our own hurt or fear or hostility, yet these distort our vision. We see most truthfully if we see through the eyes of compassion, first for ourselves and then radiating outwards in wider and wider circles.. Sometimes, it seems that to see through the eyes of compassion emerges from our experience of suffering. As we quoted last time, Gordon Cosby observes: “Most of us have an incredible amount of unfaced suffering in our histories that has to be looked at and worked through.” This need not be great events, but can be small or persistent difficulties
The central issue seems to be that that compassion for ourselves, whether learned in childhood or later through the course of our life experiences, is essential, it then is able to radiate outwards in ever widening circles. Here are three examples
In Greek tragedy, Oedipus is transformed from arrogance to cleverness to compassionate wisdom by the discovery of his own history. The play, Oedipus at Colonus, written by Sophocles at age 90, tells of the final words of Oedipus to his daughters. “One little word can change all pain: that word is love, and love you’ve had from me, more than any man can give.”
In the story of the Prodigal Son, it is the father’s love for the son that reaches beneath all else, and conveys the conviction that no matter how far we stray, nor how lost we become, nor how dead we seem within, we remain a beloved son or daughter. We are a person of intrinsic value, a sacred worth that can never be lost.
John Holt, an educator, writes: “I think that the social virtues are an overflowing, they are a surplus; people have enough kindness for others when they have enough kindness for themselves–otherwise not. … My very strong sense is that if children are allowed to grow up in a way which enables them to become adults with a sense of their own dignity and competence and worth, they will extend these feelings to include other people.”
Many years ago as well, after a workshop on spontaneous writing, I wrote a poem on the death of my younger brother. Shortly afterwards, I did some further writing in which emerged an image for the many different and often conflicting feelings we have within us. It was the image of many children within, each having their own voice, whether excitement, anger, loneliness, or caring, or much else. The thought was that each child should be allowed their voice, but that none should predominate. Rather that they should form a harmonious chorus, with the vocie of love or compassion as director. It dawned on me that this was the beginning of a new psychological arrangement within, though never complete. The image was no longer that of domination but integration. It was no longer the domination of feelings, or the relationship to self as one of master-servant. Instead it was a more collaborative arrangement in which all the feelings are given voice and named, but none predominates, and that the voice of compassion was the integrating factor.
It amounts to what we have said earlier, that it is important to be in touch with and name accurately the whole range of feelings within us, but not to unleash the negative one, though perhaps entrust them to a caring other.
One final thought here, to be explored later is that in naming our experiences, we tend to interpret them through a certain script or story that is at the back of our awareness. The challenge is to become explicitly aware of that script and possibly modify it. In the words of Sam Keen: “The task of a life is to exchange the unconscious myth with a conscious autobiography.”
May you ever increase in compassion for yourself, let it gradually become the eyes through which you look at life, and extend that compassion in ever widening circles.
Norman King, February 28, 2021