I never saw such eyes as he had: soft, velvety, bleeding with impersonal love. When you passed Videha in the walkway, he was not like the rest of us, happily anxious to connect with a friendly face. No, Videha kept his eyes to himself.
When I lived in India for a year, one of the disciplines I practiced was Sufi whirling, the powerful method of remembrance of God danced by the whirling dervishes. Through it, I learned a tremendous amount, about life, about balance, and the nature of the Universe. Videha was our teacher, our Sufi Master.
Small boned, with long hair and beard, he was handsome but anonymously so, drawing no attention to himself or his looks. He always wore a slight smile, radiating quiet kindness. Videha wouldn’t meet your eye when you walked by because he wasn’t looking and thus didn’t see you. It wasn’t that he was spaced out or unfriendly, it was just a different kind of awareness than the rest of us “hungry ghosts.”
The eyes, he taught us, are aggressive. Rather than take his word for it, I experimented and became aware of how my eyes attacked my environment, hungry for stimulation, for connection, for beauty. We talk about a “penetrating gaze.” I also saw that the eyes scan for things to criticize, to feel superior to. With the usual way of looking, the ego is in the driver seat, and there is violence in it.
A receptive eye, on the other hand, relaxes and receives impressions. It is soft, fluid, not judging or dividing. What is seen comes to it, rather than the eye going out to capture. This gaze is of that most denigrated concept in the West: passive.
Try it yourself: for a moment, look at something with your normal reaching-out and grasping eye. Inspect the object; take its measure. Then practice relaxing your focus and contemplating with your receptive eye, receiving information about the object of your gaze, rather than dissecting it to divulge its secrets.
Imagine walking about in your world as Videha does, being a part of the environment but not the center of it, receiving information from people and things rather than “penetrating” them. How much less effort and striving would be involved? Which of these “eyes” do you think is more likely to receive love?
The point is not to lose the ability to reach out into our environment, but to become aware that it is not the only way to approach our lives and each other. Perhaps a discipline could be cultivated of exercising your receptive eye at times, to find out how much it could teach you.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth