Quiet Eyes

A few weeks ago I posted a gratitude activity that highlighted how interconnected we all are. I recently finished reading Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith and this passage stood out to me. It articulates the power of contemplations like gratitude webs:

In order to know the truth of interconnectedness we need to look at the world with what theologian Howard Thurman calls ‘quiet eyes.’ It might be through silent meditation that we see the hidden patterns of connection that make up our inner life. It might be through pausing long enough to realize where a plate of spaghetti comes from. However we do it, softly receiving reality with quiet eyes rather than pinpointing objects and events as separate and distinct opens up our view instead of enclosing it with predetermined boundaries. We take in what is appearing before reactions and conclusions get fixed. When we relax into this mode of perception, a different perspective on reality becomes available to us.
Image: Greg Crespo  So much more than "just a cup of coffee!"

Image: Greg Crespo

So much more than "just a cup of coffee!"

So often we get stuck in our patterns of naming this or that as definitive objects. The example I used last week of a cup of coffee showed that the coffee is so much more than the warm liquid in my mug—it was a unique confluence of the efforts of many, natural processes and certain causes and conditions. When I look upon my cup of coffee as "just a cup of coffee," I lose out on the wonder and the larger perspective that viewing it with “quiet eyes” gives me.

And it’s not just with tangible objects. I’m prone to delineate and define my emotions or situation in life as "this or that," "good or bad." When I look at a feeling of shame or anger rising inside of me with these narrow eyes, that’s all I see, shame or anger. And sometimes, (actually, usually), these narrow eyes are accompanied by some judgmental sunglasses, declaring said emotion as worthy or unworthy, positive or negative.

Looking at anger with “quiet eyes,” I see and experience a tightening in my chest, my face growing flush, the breath quickening, and an elevated heart rate. I notice the painfulness of these sensations. I notice a layer of fear emanating from behind my judgmental sunglasses, "You will always feel this angry!" "How dare you feel that way?!" "You’re a mindfulness teacher, you’re not supposed to have these thoughts!"

But thankfully, by using my “quiet eyes,” I can see the anger as just another layer of experience resulting from a confluence of causes and conditions.

My "quiet eyes" recognize what I did or said, what someone else did or said, and what thought or occurrence brought this emotion to the surface. My “quiet eyes” turn “I am so angry” into “Right now, I feel anger.” In addition to the thoughts and sensations associated with my anger, my "quiet eyes" also see the vast open sky of awareness that stands as background to any emotions I might have.

In Faith, Sharon describes it like this: 

The open nature of awareness can bare anything without becoming damaged. Relying on this unsullied nature, we can see whatever happens to us as part of the rising and passing of all phenomena. This understanding doesn’t make us passive, but gives us the ability to see things with a different perspective—knowing that there is always an intact place within us. Then we needn’t be paralyzed by our suffering.

“Quiet eyes” help me remember the intact place within me. Unruffled. Accepting. Aware. 

Image: Greg Crespo  Awareness as vast as the sky.

Image: Greg Crespo

Awareness as vast as the sky.