Is Looking the Same as Seeing?

This question puzzled me so I began reading to find out how others viewed looking and seeing. “All of us are watchers – of television, of time clocks, of traffic on the freeway – but few are observers. Everyone is looking, not many are seeing,” writes Peter M. Leschak. James Elkins takes a look at this difference in his book “The Object Stares Back.” He suggests that looking sounds easy – we just turn our heads from side to side and take in what is going on around us.

But looking is confined to being a form of general observation, detached from anything below the surface. Seeing uses our senses, intellect, and emotions, which means our vision comes from within to embrace the whole subject. In Elkins’ words, “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism.”

So, looking and seeing are not the same. We have a choice to look at our life experiences on the surface, or experience whatever shows up with our whole being. This distinction is especially helpful when we are dealing with some of life’s greatest challenges. Whether it is a serious illness, financial difficulties, job stress, or the ending of a long-term relationship, looking keeps us on the surface, reeling from circumstances. Seeing takes us below the surface where inner wisdom, peace, and patience reside. This is available to any of us who seek the deeper meaning of our experiences.

This doesn’t mean we deny the crisis, it means we look beneath the crisis. It was looking beneath the surface during my journey through cancer that opened my eyes to see the deeper meaning of my experience, and this, along with the support that materialized in the most unexpected places, made each day a little easier. Like an archaeologist, we are rewarded when we dig deep.

We know that a lot goes on below the surface of the ground we walk on, or the ocean we swim in. It’s also true that beneath the surface of our crisis are gifts of spiritual support, loving friendships, daily kindnesses, and needs met. This is where we see with our hearts the beauty and interconnectedness of all life. This is where we know beyond a doubt that no matter what is happening on the surface, we will be given everything we need exactly when we need it.

This kind of looking takes practice, and one effective way to start is through meditation. It’s easier to pay attention to little nudges that indicate a deeper seeing when we’re quiet. But we need to listen any time our interest is aroused, even if it doesn’t make sense at the moment; or even if no one else thinks it’s important, don’t dismiss it. We all have antennas that are working for us, so tune in to a question, a hunch, an observation, an idea, a pattern of connection, or a creative response. Let’s pay attention and begin to notice what is going on beneath the surface. Let’s make the most of every rich experience, especially the difficult challenges.

The eye that sees through the surface to read the heart and soul sees the uncovered promise that looking can’t reveal. Seeing takes us beyond our labels and gives us an entrance into the remarkable world around and within us. Our life can be a feast, so let’s not hesitate – let’s see deeply. Let’s open our eyes and see our own metamorphosis. What will you discover today?

Until Next time – Sylvia

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