“The purpose of looking is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what is useful, agreeable, or threatening to the Me. What enhances or diminishes Me. When I “see” I am all eyes. I forget the Me, and am liberated from it.”
Artist and author Frederick Franck makes an important distinction between looking and seeing. The former is a function of the ego (Me), while the latter is a matter of the soul. It is important to look, because doing so enables us to maneuver through the day, to assess the significance of people and situations, and to then determine whether or how to relate to them. Looking is basic, it is a survival mechanism that keeps us from bumping into what may be harmful and deciding what can be helpful. But seeing takes things to a different and deeper level.
In his poem “Auguries of Innocence,” William Blake writes: “We are led to believe a lie when we see with not thro (sic) the eye.” The lie Blake refers to is not a falsehood, but incompleteness; we are more than meets the eye. The lie is to believe that we are only physical, mental, emotional beings, who are separate from one another and whose lives will end when our bodies die. But when seen “thro the eye” we catch a glimpse of the eternal truth that everything and everyone is united by a common spiritual bond – there is an undying sacredness that permeates our being and our planet.
It is important to have a healthy ego, but if it is our primary focus, this dimension of our selves can be limiting. When everything and everyone is looked at only for how they can enhance or diminish Me, I am likely to overlook, undervalue, and possibly mistreat them. The limits of looking are a form of blindness to the larger truth of the dignity and relatedness of humanity, and the sanctity of the earth that sustains us all.
Our physical eyes enable us to look at our surroundings, but it is the “eyes of faith,” the conviction that there is more to behold, that makes it possible to see beneath appearances. Because most of us are prone to looking without seeing, it might be helpful, whether we consider ourselves religious or not, to start everyday with the statement uttered by the blind man who approached Jesus for healing: “Lord that I may see.” Lk 18:41