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How to See

Yesterday I was going into the grocery store when I overheard a young child call out to his mother, “Mama! I can’t see you!” She responded evenly, “Open your eyes.”

I got a kick out of the interchange. That might have had more to do with the fact of overwhelming fatigue on my part than with anything inherently funny about the dialogue, but I was amused nevertheless. “Oh yeah,” I thought to myself, “it’s a lot easier to see with your eyes open, isn’t it?”

I’m no less guilty than the next person of wandering through life at times with my eyes closed. Sometimes it’s actually important, and necessary to have our eyes closed – when events are too much, too overwhelming, we instinctively protect ourselves by closing our eyes, so to speak. By filtering what we take in, we can modulate our experience so that we don’t go to pieces. But, like many coping strategies forged out of necessity, navigating life blindly usually only works for so long. Until it doesn’t, and we’re faced with situations that call for us to feel/think/act/be differently.

How do you go about opening your eyes if they’ve been screwed shut against really seeing for so long? Well, like most changes, you first need to be aware of the situation – you need to know that your eyes are, in fact, closed, and that you’re missing pieces of experience that might otherwise present themselves to you. Then, there’s practicing. Open your eyes for just one brief moment. Take stock of what you see and then close them again. Now, try again – open your eyes, turn your head from side to side, see what you see. And so on. Know that you can always close your eyes if you need to. But if you open them, really open them, you might find that whatever reason you initially held for keeping them shut isn’t as compelling or frightening or necessary, really.

Part of my work as a therapist is reminding clients to open their eyes, and to see the world in its entirety – its full splendor and sometimes, its full terror. Another part is helping to cultivate a safe space in which this kind of seeing can become possible.

After witnessing this child and his mother, I walked around for a few moments yesterday afternoon with my eyes wide open. I probably looked ridiculous. But I found that opening my eyes also helped to open my heart. I smiled and quietly thanked them for reminding me, for a moment, how to see.

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