Eyes Of Love: Soft Gaze Practice

Elizabeth Reninger Written by Elizabeth Reninger
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Taoism | Meditation | Compassion

How is it that simple, innocent differences in perspective so often escalate into outright conflict? Why is it that varying points of view so frequently turn into judgmental shouting matches, or physical battles? An important piece of this puzzle -- which might offer a clue to its resolution -- has to do with our habitual ways of seeing our self and the world.

Eyes Of Love: Soft Gaze Practice

First of all, we tend to believe that how we see the “things” of the world is an accurate representation of how they really are. In other words, we believe that our eyes always provide us with a mirror-image -- a perfectly accurate reflection -- of the world. But this is far from the truth of the situation. The process by which we “see” the things of the world is complex, and involves many layers of filtering and interpretation. So the “world” that we see is never the “same” world that someone else sees. Never! Of course there is likely to be overlap -- points in common -- enough to allow us to communicate with each other. But the differences are great.

This doesn’t, however, need to be a problem -- particularly because it’s also possible to change our perceptual habits, to cultivate ways of seeing that are supportive of tolerance, equanimity, openness, flexibility and peace. The soft gaze practice is a wonderful way of cultivating nonjudgmental perceptual habits. It’s a simple practice, but one whose effects can be profound.

Here’s how: First, choose an object -- say a flower -- to look at. Notice that you can use your eyes to reach out and grab the flower, or to penetrate it in the way that a laser might. This is an active and perhaps even aggressive seeing, which seeks to know the flower by grasping it, holding on to it, defining it. Notice how it feels to relate to the flower in this way.

Now, close your eyes and take a couple of long deep breaths. When you open them, gaze once again upon the flower, but see this time if you can maintain a kind of softness in your eyes, an open focus, which perceives the space around and within the flower, in addition to the flower herself. Instead of reaching out to grasp the flower with your visual power, feel that you are somehow receiving the flower-image into your eyes. You are inviting the flower to show herself to you, remaining open and curious about what she might choose to reveal. Feel that your seeing of the flower is a kind of conversation, a communion.

Feel the difference between this receptive way of seeing -- which stays rooted in tenderness and curiosity -- versus the more active/aggressive way, that reaches out to define what it sees. I recommend playing with the open, receptive gaze -- the eyes of love -- for a couple of days, and notice what happens.

Updated: Jun 13, 2011

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