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Eye Gazing at the Beloved
by Will Johnson
as archers fix their gaze upon a distant target before loosing the strings of
their bows and sending their arrows flying, so do lovers of God fix their gaze
on the face of God, each releasing the soul so it too can fly toward its target
where it celebrates its homecoming. All spiritual paths teach us that if we want
to find God, then we need to turn directly toward God, come face-to-face with
the energies of the Divine, and then surrender to whatever begins to occur as a
result of the impact that such an encounter creates in our lives. But where do
we turn? And where exactly is it that we find the face of the Divine? Is it
everywhere? Or in one particular location only? And can perhaps a particular
location, a particular face, serve as the doorway to the face of God?
Eye Gazing On the Face Of God
One way to look upon the face of God is to create an image of God, either a
painting or a sculpture, and then gaze at the image for an extended period of
time. This practice can be found in the Greek Orthodox Church where icons of
saints and personages from the Bible are the only companions that monks and nuns
take with them into the isolation of their cells during long periods of retreat.
When one fixes his or her entire attention on these images over long hours
and days, the images may come to life and enter into animated dialogue with the
practitioner. Many devout Hindus create personal shrines in their homes and
temples in which images of a god or goddess serve as the means for personal
dialogue with the Divine. It is said that the eyes of these images are the most
important of all the facial features, for by creating eye contact with the image
a devotee achieves darshan, a sanskrit word meaning "seeing and being
seen by God."
Most of our spiritual traditions tell us that, as humans, we are miniature
reflections of God and that we have been created in God's image. If this is so,
then it would follow that a more direct way to look upon the face of God would
be to sit and gaze at an actual person, a real flesh-and-blood human. If he or
she will sit and hold your gaze in return, something begins to transpire between
the two of you. If you can truly see another and be seen by the other, you begin
to see that he or she is an embodiment of the Divine, and you begin to feel that
you are as well.
The Power Of Eye Gazing
In India, darshan often occurs in formal settings between teachers and their
students. Teachers may sit at the front of a room, perhaps on a slightly raised
dais so that no one's view will be obstructed. They may sit silently, pouring
out their gazing, inviting students to meet their eyes and to hold contact with
their gaze. This contact allows the Divine to enter their students' awareness.
In the words of Ramana Maharshi, one of the great Indian teachers of the
twentieth century and one of the great givers of darshan, "When the eyes of the
student meet the gaze of the teacher, words of instruction are no longer
Why gazing at another person and having him or her hold your gaze in return
can open both participants to a direct experience of the Divine is a mystery.
All of us, whether we're consciously aware of it or not, know about this
practice from a very early age. School children will often enter into staring
contests during which their conventional experience of self is momentarily
suspended to accommodate the new and unusual energies that the visual contact
between them generates. A common response to the dramatic shift in awareness
that prolonged eye contact triggers is to burst into laughter, and so the
contest ends with both of the children being the true winners, with smiles on
As we mature and need to become strong individuals, separate from the whole,
we tend to avoid eye contact when we speak to others, for if we did hold the
other's eye gaze we might find it difficult to remain focused on the information
that we're trying to convey, melting instead into a shared sense of wordless
union with the person to whom we're speaking. Only when real love forms the
basis of our communication with another do we find it more natural to hold and
soften into our partner's gaze.
When We Eye Gaze We Enter The Soul
Because the eyes are universally acknowledged to be the windows to the soul,
when we hold the gaze of another, we hold and cradle his or her soul. This most
intimate of acts is reserved as a privilege for people who love and trust one
another. Newborn children are natural adepts at the practice and are often able
to draw their parents into gazing at them for long periods of time. People newly
in love may find that they automatically fall into gazing at each other as a
natural expression of the love that they feel. In fact, this unintentional and
spontaneous dissolving into the eyes of the other is often the signal that, at
long last, they have finally found the beloved for whom they've been searching.
When describing this newfound love, people will often rejoice that, finally,
they have met someone who truly sees them as they are.
When eye contact between two people is initiated and maintained, an invisible
energetic circuit is established between the two participants, dissolving the
barriers that ordinarily separate them from each other, drawing them ever closer
into a shared awareness of union. This experience of union is always pervaded by
the feeling tone of love, just as the experience of separation from others, as
well as from the larger world we inhabit, tends to breed feelings of fear and
alienation. However, we live in a culture that worships the individual and that
is embarrassed by joint forays into the Divine, into the great ground of being
that is our heritage and true birthright as humans on this planet. In our
culture, this most natural of actions, the holding of the gaze between two
people, is taboo. And, yet, how tragic it is that we turn away from this
heritage, forfeiting our birthright in an act of fear.
In the area of Vancouver Island on which I live, the elders of the Cowichan
tribe speak of the "disease of the eye." They describe this condition as what
occurs when we're walking down the road and avert our gaze when we pass by other
humans instead of looking at them directly in the eye, acknowledging them as
God's noble creatures, seeing them and being seen by them. This act of aversion
is seen as a turning away from a moment of grace and, ultimately, constitutes a
turning away not just from the other person, but from ourselves as well, for the
blessings of holding the gaze of other humans cure the disease of the eye and
leave us feeling whole.
Isn't it true that, if we happen to look into the eyes of a stranger at the
same moment the stranger is looking into ours, we'll usually avert our gaze? Our
fear won't permit us to maintain the contact that our interest in each other has
spawned. By choosing fear in this way, we perpetuate our notions of separation
and exclusion and continue on our way. If we're able to look into another
person's eyes and hold his or her gaze, however, a whole other set of
conclusions reveals itself. In just a few minutes' time our conventional
boundaries begin to soften, losing their hard edge of distinction and opacity.
The energy fields of our bodies, which people with particularly sensitive vision
can perceive as auras, slowly begin to merge, the one flowing into and out of
Once this connection has been established, our communication deepens, and the
feeling tone of the encounter begins to shift dramatically. Like two objects
that have entered into a whirlpool and are together drawn down inexorably to its
common source, our experiences of our personal self and of the other gradually
merge and, at a very deep level, may even become indistinguishable. We enter
into darshan together. Like iron filings being drawn to a powerful magnetic
source, we experience ourselves as being ineluctably drawn closer to a shared
feeling of union, relatedness, and love. Where formerly we were two separate
beings, we join together through the practice and become something that neither
of us could quite be on our own. When hydrogen comes into the presence of
oxygen, suddenly there's water. Likewise, through such a meeting, two people
lose their sense of separateness and drown together in the waters of love and
Looking into another's eyes and holding his or her eye gaze need not be just a
pastime of schoolchildren or the privilege of new lovers or parents of newborns.
It represents a practice capable of taking the participants to the deepest
feelings and the purest awareness of self that are available to a human being.
Some would call this pure awareness God, and down through the ages this practice
has spontaneously appeared and reappeared wherever lovers of God, lovers of the
ultimate source of their own being, have come together and truly met one
another. The quintessential Hindu lovers, Radha and Krishna, are often depicted
as sitting silently, raptly gazing at each other, surrounded by a luminous glow
for all to see. Is the light that surrounds their bodies a function of their
high spiritual station, or could it be the natural result of a love that leaves
them no option but to gaze at each other with adoration?
Spiritual Leaders Incorporate Eye Gazing
More recently, a number of modern spiritual teachers have incorporated eye
gazing into the body of their practices as a direct means to attain realization
of the most profound spiritual truths that, all too often, remain obscured from
our vision. Oscar Ichazo, a Chilean-born Sufi teacher, has developed a practice
called traspasso, in which students sit across from each other and hold
each other's gaze. The teachings of tantra that are proliferating in the West
often include periods of eye gazing between the couple who are entering into the
tantric ritual. Another story comes out of the tradition of Zen Buddhism. During
the long sesshins, or practice periods, participants may meditate for up
to sixteen hours a day for as much as a week at a time or longer. It is
customary for the students to enter into the zendo in single file, walk around
its perimeter until they come to a cushion that is placed on the floor, sit down
on the cushion with their backs to the center of the room, facing the wall, and
begin their meditation. In this way, a ring of students lines the circumference
of the meditation hall with their backs to one another. One day, however, a
Japanese teacher decided to experiment with the format and instructed everyone
to turn around, away from the wall, and sit facing the center of the room. Thus,
the students naturally encountered the gaze of other students sitting directly
across the room from them, and the teacher observed that spiritual realization
began occurring much more rapidly through this kind of direct human connection.
Joko Beck, a contemporary Zen teacher, includes periods of eye gazing in her
For me, however, the most extraordinary account of the practice of eye gazing
can be traced to the meeting that occurred in Konya, Turkey, in 1244 between the
renowned poet, Sufi teacher, and originator of the dance of the whirling
dervish, Jalaluddin Rumi, and a wandering seeker named Shams-i Tabriz.
Out of the explosion that occurred through Rumi's encounter with Shams, Rumi
began spontaneously writing some of the most splendorous poetry about the soul's
return to God that has ever been composed, and his writings are voluminous. If
you read the poetry with an eye to the practices that will be presented in this
book [Rumi -- Gazing at the Beloved], you quickly realize that allusions to the
practice of gazing at the beloved — and even explicit instructions and
descriptions of it — are everywhere. These clues trail through Rumi's
poetry and discourses like shiny pebbles that we drop along an unmarked path in
a forest to help us find our way back home. Indeed, the practice of gazing at
the beloved truly signals a great homecoming for the participants who are
fortunate enough to have found one another.
Some mysteries are like puzzles or riddles that the discerning eye and mind
can recognize, unravel, piece together, and then solve. Other mysteries (as the
mystery of dying into love) are simply to be entered into, marveled over, and
surrendered to with no hope whatsoever of ever conquering or solving them. In
fact, the only way of truly understanding such a mystery is instead through
letting ourselves be completely conquered and dissolved by it.
article was excerpted from Rumi Gazing at the Beloved, ©2003, by Will
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Inner Traditions Intl.
Info/Order this book.
About the Author
JOHNSON is the founder and director of the Institute for Embodiment Training,
which combines Western somatic practices with Eastern meditation techniques. He
is the author of Balance of Body, Balance of Mind;The Posture of Meditation; andAligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of
Mindfulness. He lives in British Columbia, Canada.
Visit his website at http://www.embodiment.net
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