Sunday, 17 March 2013

Eye of the Beholder

Oasis once sang “Slip inside the eye of your mind, don’t you know you might find a better place to play.”

Quite a beautiful image really.

For reasons that are way beyond my understanding eyes have been on my mind for quite some time recently; actually probably for a couple of weeks, since I had my little elephant exploration. So many people have commented to me about how beautiful and soulful they are. Their eyes are tiny, in comparison to the rest of them, especially their nose and ears and yet it is their eyes that people keep on speaking to me about. Of all of the characteristics of the elephant people talk about, it seems it was their gentle and beautiful eyes that reveal so much about the elephant’s character.

They say that our eyes are the windows to our souls; they say that our eyes reveal our personalities  I always remember my old minister John Midgley would often ask me how I was and as he did he would look intently into my eyes. I found it a little disturbing at first, but I understand why he did so. He wanted to see and not just hear how I was. He wanted to see with his own eyes. After all seeing is believing, or so they say.

It’s a curious phrase “Eyes are the windows to your soul.” I looked up the origin. Some say it comes from The Bible and certainly there are similar references to be found there. Luke chapter 11 vv 33-36 reads “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”...Certainly sounds similar...

Others have attributed it to Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Emerson, Milton. Still others have said it is an old English folk phrase. I suspect the true author of the exact phrase is the American sculptor Hiram Powers who said “The eye is the window of the soul, the mouth the door. The intellect, the will are seen in the eye; the emotions, sensibilities, and affections, in the mouth. The animals look for man’s intentions right into his eyes. Even a rat, when you hunt him and bring him to bay, looks you in the eye.”

Whatever the exact origin of the phrase it has been around in public consciousness probably ever since we became conscious. Why you may well ask? Well because it reveals a deep truth about humanity. We can hide so much about ourselves, behind a thousand and one masks, but if you look into someone’s eyes and really pay attention, you will see the soul of the person. You will glimpse not merely the crescent, but the whole of the moon. No doubt this is why John looks deeply into people's eyes when he asks “How they are?” He’s not just saying it for the sake of it, he really wants to know.

Recent research at Orebro University in Sweden has suggested that that there is real truth  in the statement that "The eyes are the windows of the soul". Researches looked at patterns around the iris of the eyes of 428 subjects and compared them with their personality profiles. They claim that certain patterns were consistent in individual who had similar personality profiles. Matt Larrson a behavioural scientist at the university stated that “Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines...These findings support the notion that people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different trajectories in regards to personality.”... They claim that genetic mutations may be the reason that some people have poor social skills and act impulsively and that this can be revealed through studying the pattern around the iris. Interesting...Maybe, maybe not...

Meanwhile psychologists as Yale University, in America, are suggesting that we believe, even if we do so sub-consciously that our eyes truly are the window to our souls. They conducted visual experiments with adults and pre-school children. The findings revealed that both groups reacted almost identically. Both groups believed that the essence of a character is to be found in or around the person’s eyes. They claimed that this is not culturally conditioned, more that this is something that is felt intuitively.

Christina Starmans of the Mind Development Lab at Yale claimed that

“The indirect nature of our method and the fact that these judgements are shared by adults and preschoolers, suggests that our results do not reflect a culturally learned understanding...but might instead be rooted in a more intuitive or phenomenological sense of where in our bodies we reside.”

They are suggesting that most of us intuitively believe that the essence of the person is located in or around the eyes.

Could this be true?

There is another curious phrase that we often hear uttered, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” This phrase suggests that beauty is subjective. Again this is of disputed origin. Some say it was coined in ancient Greece. While others site Shakespeare, “In Love’s Labour Lost he wrote:

 “Good Lord Boyet, my beauty though mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongue.”

Benjamin Franklin, in “Poor Richard’s Almanack”  wrote “Beauty, like supreme dominion is but supported by opinion” David Hulme wrote “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” The exact phrase though is attributed to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who in “Molly Bawn” (1878) wrote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

But is it merely beauty that is in the eye of the beholder? Maybe everything is subjective?
I recently came across the following in Bill Darlison's wonderful book of short stories "Concentration and Compassion"

“The Dog in Hall of Mirrors”

"There once was a dog who wandered into a room filled with mirrors. The dog looked around, seeing what appeared to be lots of other dogs, growled and showed his teeth. When he saw the other dogs do the same, he got frightened and cowered. When he noticed the other dogs cowering, he once again growled and started barking. A similar reaction from the others made him cower and become very frightened once again. This continued over and over again until the dog finally fell over, dead from emotional and physical exhaustion.

I wonder what would have happened if the dog had, just once, wagged its tale?"

Bill asks the question is the world merely a reflection of our attitude towards it? Can we change the world by changing our attitude towards it? A question worth pondering I think.

It’s seems that it not only beauty that is in the eye of the beholder. So much of life is about how we see things and how we look at things; so much of life is about perspective. If only the dog in the story had just wagged his tail instead of snarling and cowering he would not have frightened himself to death. Instead he could have lived a happy and carefree life.

So it’s not just about our perspective, it’s about “how” we look at things. The eyes reveal so much. So often we get back what we give off in life.

At a recent Lent Breakfast talk, I attended in Urmston, we were asked what characteristics of Jesus had the greatest impact on us. I said it was his eyes or at least the way he looked at those he came into contact with. The accounts say that when he looked at the crowds of people or individuals, no matter who they were, he “looked on them with compassion”. 

How we look at others is so important. We can look on people with compassion, or we can give them a “hard look”. Think about it when someone gives us a “hard look”, what do we do? Well often we turn away in fear, or respond in anger or aggression. What if someone looks at us with compassion, how do we respond to this? Well usually we look back with compassion. Well we do unless we have fallen so far down into that pit of nihilistic despair that we respond to love with utter hatred. I’m sure most folk have been there at some point. I know that I have.

How we act towards others really matters. But it’s not just about doing what is right; it’s also about the spirit in which each task is conducted. We can appear to be encouraging and loving and doing the right thing, but our eyes may well say otherwise. Think about a smile. We think we smile with our mouths, but we do not, we smile with our eyes. When I smile my eyes almost slant shut. Whatever we do and however we do something our eyes will reveal the truth of our hearts and people will intuitively pick up on this. They will see it in our eyes.

The other week I was walking down the street and passed several friends, one after the other walking on the other side of the road. As they past I waved and offered a greeting to them. They responded by waving and saying hello back. I walked away smiling and chuckling to myself. Then a thought came to me. I wish I had a hat. I wish I had a hat because I could tip my hat to them instead of just waving. I could greet them in what seems to me to be a more reverential way. By tipping my hat I could show reverence to their sacred uniqueness, in much the same way that a Hindu does when they bow, with their hands held together. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could find ways to revere one another as we passed each other in the street.

Then this week I thought about it again. We do not need hats to tip, we have our eyes and our eyes reveal our persona, they truly are the windows to our souls. We can show how we feel about one another and life simply by how we look at the world. We can see the world through hard eyes, by giving one another a hard look or we can look on the world with love and compassion. When we walk into the hall of mirrors that is life we can see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of one another and either cower or snarl or we can wag our tails. The choice is ours. Which one do you choose today?

How we see the world matters and how respond perhaps even more so. Life truly is in the “eye of the beholder” How we see one another is vital. Try not to look so hard today and you never known those eyes looking back at you might just be stretched by a smile.

I'm going to end this little chip of a blog with this little reflection by Robert Walsh. It's another example of what I like to call "The Chaos Theory of Compassion"

“Glad To See You!” by Robert Walsh

The drivers on the island of Dominca blow their horns a lot.  I was there for a week and drove a rented car over truly terrible roads, and on the left side too. The roads are narrow mountain roads with no centre lines, no speed limits, and lots of curves.
The car rental guy explained. When they blow their horns, they may be warning whoever or whatever might be around the corner, but more often it’s in the nature of a greeting – they are just glad to see you. I think maybe they’re also glad to be alive, to have a destination ahead, and to have all four wheels on the narrow road, passing through the beauty of the rain forest and the misty mountains.

Soon I got into the spirit of it and began to give a little honk when I met another car. Eventually, I learned to wave at the other driver as I steered with one hand.

At first, I was suspicious of the friendliness of the Dominicans. I assumed they wanted something from me. I assumed they wanted to sell me something, or ask for a handout. Some of them did. But most were just, as the man said, glad to see me. After a while, I began to trust their essential goodwill and relax.

The “kingdom of God” is a mysterious idea to me. I’m not sure what it means. But if it came to be, I imagine as one of its characteristics that people would always be glad to see each other. They would react to the presence of another human being with joy and awe. They would smile and wave and maybe blow their horns or pluck their harps in greeting. Even if the person they met was a stranger, even one of another race or nationality or lifestyle, they would show with their greeting that they really believed that the other person had inherent worth and dignity” 

No comments:

Post a Comment