“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, from The Little Prince
What I’ve been feeling most curious about, as of late, is the meaning of “seeing” and “being seen”—both in relation to the human organism and in terms of our essential identity as Pure Awareness.
So, let’s explore ….
The Omnipresent Spirit
In his spiritual memoir Autobiography of a Yogi, the Indian sage Paramahamsa Yogananda relays a story from the life of Lahiri Mahasaya: the guru of Yogananda’s guru.
One of Lahiri Mahasaya’s disciples was a photographer who wished very much to capture an image of his teacher. But every time he developed the photos that he had taken, instead of an image of Lahiri Mahasaya, only blank space appeared.
When queried about this curious phenomena, Lahiri Mahasaya explained:
“I am Spirit. Can your camera reflect the omnipresent Invisible?”
Eventually, the sage did permit his “bodily temple” to be photographed—but only once. More valuable than this single image was the lesson that the formless essence of who we are can never be represented as a shape, size, color, or any other phenomenal characteristic.
To see Lahiri Mahasaya—or anyone else—exclusively as the “bodily temple” is to miss the fact that who we are, essentially, is invisible to the human eye.
To see someone truly, deeply, intimately, is to understand and acknowledge the shared essence (as Pure Awareness) that is the ontological source of and fully pervades all visible phenomena.
We can understand that our formless essence will always be invisible to the human eye—while also respecting the developmental need of human children to be seen, acknowledged, and appreciated as unique and uniquely valuable human beings.
Ideally, of course, parents would “see” their children first and foremost as expressions of a shared Source—while also cherishing and celebrating their uniqueness. In this way, the psychological need to be safely established in (apparent) separation would be fully satisfied—within the ultimate comfort and safety of the understanding of the child’s True Identity.
But how many of us had parents who were knowingly established in their True Nature?
The childhood need to be seen as a unique and uniquely valuable member of the biological family naturally extends into adulthood as the inclination to identify as a member of a clan, tribe, pack, club, nation, state, religion, etc.
At the level of the human organism, we might say that we tend to be “pack animals.” The camaraderie and support of a healthy community allows us to thrive. Within the enjoyment of shared interests, our unique contributions are valued—and in this way we feel “seen.”
So, at the level of the human organism, there are childhood developmental and adult social needs for being “seen” in the sense of feeling acknowledged and appreciated.
And if one or more of the tribes that we (as a human organism) associate with—by virtue of birth and/or later choice—carry a charged social valence—i.e., are cast as being especially “good/right/appreciated” or “bad/wrong/vilified”—this provides a unique opportunity to clarify our identity and discern our relationship to such groups.
To what extent is the well-being of my human body-mind dependent upon the favorable or unfavorable status of such groups?
To what extent is my ultimate happiness dependent upon the favorable or unfavorable status of such groups?
To what extent do I derive my sense of value from my or other’s evaluation of these groups with which my human body-mind associates?
If I belong, say, to a religious organization that many others in my immediate environment consider to be “suspect/bad”—does my comfort and/or freedom increase meaningfully by socially or psychologically flipping the valence to “trusted/good”? Or is this just replacing the steel bars of my prison cell with golden bars?
The essential insight of nondual spiritual inquiry is that true happiness is not to be found in rearranging phenomena. This is illustrated beautifully, and with great humor, via the story of Dr. Suess’s Star-Bellied Sneetches:
Sun and Moon
We might consider Pure Awareness—absent of phenomenal appearances—as akin to sunlight. And moonlight—the nighttime reflection of sunlight—to represent the functioning of Awareness through a human mind and sense organs.
While we may believe that it is a human eye that sees an external world, the deeper understanding is that Awareness sees/creates body, mind, and world simultaneously.
How then should we understand the encounter between two human beings, seeing one another? Holding hands, having a verbal conversation, or gazing into one another’s eyes?
If separation is not ultimately real, then neither are “encounters” between apparently separate human beings. The meaning and Reality of such “encounters” does not lie with the apparent separation and subsequent meeting, but rather with what stands-under and understands it as always and already nondual.
Human eyes/minds can and do register all variety of phenomena: trees, flowers, mountains, and human bodies (naked or fully adorned).
Do trees, flowers, or mountains have developmental needs to “be seen”? Maybe, maybe not.
Does Pure Awareness—the Source of all seeing—worry about “being seen”? Does the sun—the source of all brightness—worry about being illuminated?
There’s a story of a Zen student who, after a glimpse of nondual Reality, became so silent that “moss grew over his lips.”
This, I suppose, is the auditory analogue of realizing that, in essence, we are invisible. In essence, there is just silence.
And yet …. The silence does not exclude song; and the invisibility does not exclude the appearance of forms.
So, this now leaves me wondering: how might Elizabeth’s body-mind-world be appearing next, as playful adornments of Pure Awareness? We’ll see …