‘The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas believed that looking at other people’s faces was how we learned to be human. Every face we meet, he thought, reminds us that we share the world with people who are fundamentally like us but who are also, like us, irreducibly unique…
I find myself agreeing with the Mexican priest in Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, who believes that when you look hard enough at other people’s faces, at the corners of their eyes and the shape of their mouths, you can’t help feeling tenderly towards them. Hate, he thinks, is “just a failure of the imagination”. Or perhaps just a failure to look.
People younger than me have a phrase they use when conversing online: “I see you.” It can be used for everything from complimenting a friend on a new haircut to comforting them when they feel rejected or wronged. At heart it means “I have noticed your existence.” Now that we are locking eyes with each other again, I realise how much I have missed being “seen”. The other day I saw a friend outside the supermarket and we stopped to talk, maskless and a few feet apart, like we did in the before times. The face in front of me didn’t blur or pixellate like the ones on my laptop, nor was there any disconcerting time lag in the way it responded to mine. It just picked up where it left off a year ago, noticing my nods and smiles and mirroring them with its own – a wordless message I had almost forgotten how to read. Roughly translated it said: “I see you.”’ (from the Guardian)
There was a lot in this timely article that felt resonant to me. The second paragraph reminds me of the practice of eye-gazing, which we would do sometimes at Zen Center, especially in the Young Urban Zen group, and where I would inevitably feel able to see and meet the person I was gazing at as Buddha. And I know that our practice overall offers a greater strength and ability (and perhaps stability) for meeting people, for seeing them, because we can only really see when we get out of our own way first. Even without the practice context, when I go about my day, just nodding or saying hi to people offers the same sense of seeing and being seen, that our existence has been noticed.