Sunday, March 24, 2013

"I See You"


Many years ago I was on the adventure of my life, driving in a VW van with friends across the Alps, through northern Italy and into southern France. On the Saturday night before Easter, we arrived in the beautiful ancient city of Arles. We parked the van and quickly found a seat in a café in the main square, very eager to observe the holiday crowd doing all the interesting things that crowds do.

Many of the local young men had been drinking heavily throughout the evening, and all around us was noise and mayhem. Suddenly, two men began shouting at one another, and as they grew angrier and angrier the conflict escalated into a right violent fight with lots of flying fists. As they were too drunk to land many blows, they grabbed one another’s shirts and continued the struggle.

Both of the men were completely lost in their anger, and this little episode was surely not meant to have a peaceful outcome, but then something quite extraordinary happened. One of the men happened to glance into the eyes of the other, and then amidst the struggling, he kept looking. His opponent could comprehend that the other man was actually seeing him for the first time---not as an enemy but as another person. At once both men looked deeply at each other, they held the gaze, smiled, gave up their struggle and began to dance together in one another's arms. Yes, dancing together in one another's arms!!

In the whole of my life I will never forget this, and it is not only because we were saved one bloody fistfight on an Easter evening that I remember this so clearly, but also because this is such a grand metaphor of how life can be. When we actually SEE one another as fellow human beings, then our apparent differences look a lot different. We can have wildly divergent life’s opinions, be of different ethnicities, have opposite views of politics and have no language or culture in common, but we can surely SEE one another despite all that.

There is a beautiful greeting in the Zulu language: “Sawubona.” It means “I see you,” but this lovely phrase is not meant only in the common way of, “Oh, there is a body standing there,” but “I SEE you in all your humanness and in our commonality as people.” When we see another in this way, we are seeing the essence and we are not being distracted by all the distinctions. When we have this clear vision, we allow our recognition of the oneness of all things to be sustained. We hold this truth to be self-evident---that there is only one thing here, and when we SEE, that is what we see.

“Namaste” is another lovely greeting that exemplifies what I am pointing to. This is a greeting used in India; the word comes from Sanskrit and is a combination of “nama” and “te.” "Nama" means to bow, make reverential salutation or have adoration for, and “te” means “to you.” Its deeper meaning is “the god in me bows to the god in you,” and the greeting is done with the two palms brought together in front of one’s heart to symbolize the oneness. How wonderful a way to greet and be greeted and how brilliant a reflection of the way things really are!

As noble and as inspiring as these customs are, clearly we need reminders of this nobility as we move through our lives in day to day existence. We are constantly coming into contact with people with whom we wildly disagree, people who we feel are getting it totally wrong, and we sense the need in ourselves to make them see their wrongness. It may well be that at some level for us all these people are getting it wrong, but where is our attention directed? Are we seeing only our disagreements, or are we truly able to SEE them as non-different from ourselves?

When we observe a passenger at the railway office shouting and cursing at the employee because the train was late, we can be pretty sure that the passenger has lost sight of what really matters. If, however, we can see the evidence of loving support, respectful relating and gracious kindness---even in the midst of grand disagreement---then we can be equally certain that the important things are being acknowledged.

As with all things, it is a choice we have. No outer circumstance can force us to forget our commonality; we decide that for ourselves. As for myself, I know for sure that I want a life that is filled with joy and peace and which finds the end to conflict. Only by each of us making that choice in each moment and in each encounter will the war-ravaged world we live in change for the better. Hmm, better to dance than fight, wouldn’t you say!