In 1993, I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles to visit a photographer I was dating. He took me to a party in LA. Everyone I met at the party seemed to be looking over my shoulder every few seconds, perhaps to see if they could find someone more interesting. The level of distraction, this kind of superficial seeing and being seen, seemed to be the game. The most famous person at the party was Darryl Strawberry’s father, and when he arrived, I’m sure that most others at the party were instantly de-prioritized.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of seeing and being seen. Not like that LA party, but seeing a person fully. Looking at another person, asking how they are, and really listening for a real answer. “Presence” and “mindfulness” tumble around until they are dulled by overuse, but I can’t think of better words to describe what I’m thinking about. Every month, I gather with a group of others to practice (among other things) seeing and being seen. Only sitting and listening, attending, has become a crucial practice to me. I think it’s expanded my humanity.
When my daughter’s Nursery School teacher, Ann Guthrie, talked about how the children get to know each other, she described how they really see each other. They know which child to go to for what type of fun, or solace. Even before words can form in their brains to articulate what they understand, they know, they see in each other that inner coil of humanity, the ineffable it-ness of each person. When Ann talked about this, I thought, “Yes, of course! Yes.” Maybe that’s what the game of peek-a-boo is about. ”I see you!”
I want more of my day to be spent in this practice of true seeing and being seen. Rather than doing three things at once, I am slowing down, breathing as I listen to the human across from me. Try it. Try it with a beloved or with a stranger. Try it with a Democrat or a Republican.
Try it with yourself.
I will if you will.