The Holiness of the Gaze


One of my favorite and beloved writer’s, who has now transitioned from his physical form, is John O’Donohue.  Reading anything of his is like exploring the intimate and sacred depths of life, breath, beauty, and Being.

His writing is what I would call embodied transformative writing.  It moves one to deep inquiry and encourages the reader to action, whether inner or outer.

Case in point is a practice that he suggested in his book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, written many years ago.  A practice that is centered on our uniquely structured way of “seeing”.

What do we really see in a day and in what way do we behold the world?

Two ways we “see” are gazing and staring.  When you gaze at something or someone you bring that inside of yourself – it becomes part of you.  It is done with mindfulness, recognition and attending to. Pure unadulterated engagement.

There is a softness here that relaxes the body and the conversations that often prevent one from seeing the fullness of life unfolding in every moment – the reserve and depth of looking at something that can “gaze back at you”.

A gaze inhabits and flows into a space, while a stare lives in a fixed and narrow set of standards, judgements or assumptions.

In staring you become – when stared at, or treat others – when staring, as an Object/Thing.

In the stare everything contracts down to a narrowed focus. Breath leaving body.  Muscles contracting. The tension of narrow vision settling around eyes.

Where is the sacred and open body in all of this?

Where are the spaces to explore?

The space of gazing has the potential to determine how and who we will be.

A gaze requests that you open your heart as if you are doing a gentle back bend into the world.  Opening to the fullest experience.  Opening the space where possibility dwells.

O’Donohue states, “The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see.

What criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see?”

An example of this occurred just a few days ago when I was stopped at a traffic light on a familiar route that I take many times a week.  Practicing gazing around me as I waited for the light to turn I spied a man on the meridian, a few 100 feet ahead at the next light under the freeway overpass, asking for money.

A food truck was stopped at that light as well.  As I softly took in the scene a man got out of this truck and gave the man on the meridian, what I perceived as, a container of food.

He then proceeded to get back in his truck.  As his car door closed I watched as the man on the meridian raised his container in triumph to another on the other side of the street from where he stood. As he did so this other man came across traffic to “celebrate” with him.

When the man in the truck saw this he got out once again and gave the other man a container.  As he returned to the interior of his truck the two men bumped their containers high in the air in celebration.

Even at that distance I could feel the joy that they felt in receiving the gifts that they were bestowed with.  Whether it was food or not is not important.  The celebration was quite apparent in the space of that particular gaze I was engaged with.

Though this scene took place 100’s of feet ahead of me under a freeway and at the next light…. my vision caught it.  I might never have caught this act of kindness and celebration if I was not tuned to more widely gazing at my surroundings with curiosity, even though I travel that way many times a week.

Or, if I had decided that I would not look at these people that are often on the meridians or side of the road requesting hand outs, or worse yet judge them, I would have been diminishing their dignity – their very humanness – and mine.

In those moments I became those men on the meridian and the man in the truck.  My world expanded into increased possibility.

In that instant I realized the power – and holiness – of a gaze.

The breath taking moment as you begin the gaze that opens the space of Being and Connection…..

Copyright by Gaye Abbott – 2/1/16

About Gaye Abbott

NATURAL PASSAGES CONSULTING Inspiring New Possibilities, Living From the Heart of Life While Co-creating Well Being of Body, Mind, Heart and Planet….One Breath At A Time. Gaye Abbott, is a wild and free soul who just so happens to LOVE writing, playing with energy, ecstatic dance and free form movement, living and breathing in nature, her 3 sons and 3 grandchildren, communing with friends and global community, organic food and cooking, creating home sanctuaries to live within, a lack of material possessions....and laughter every single day! As a wise elder of 72 years she feels decades younger....and acts it too! Devoted to being of service to the Earth and all living beings Gaye seeks the peace of mind and openness of heart that provides the foundation for effective action in the world and her community. OTHER BLOGS BY GAYE ABBOTT: Give Us This Day Our Daily Breath Preview, Reviews and purchase links can be found here:
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