“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens”—Carl Jung
Seeing and vision are as different as hearing and listening.
For vision we need both eyes….our physical eyes and our spiritual eye. What matters most is invisible to our physical eyes.
John Gardner, at the beginning of his 1978 essay On Moral Fiction, tells a story about Thor circling Middle Earth each year to beat back the enemies of order. As Thor aged, he got slower and the circle occupied by Gods and men grew smaller. Woden, the wisdom God, was concerned the world would eventually plunge into chaos. He went to the King of the Trolls, got him in an armlock, and demanded to know how order might triumph over chaos:
“Give me your left eye,” said the troll, “and I’ll tell you.”
Without hesitation, the God of Wisdom gave up his left eye. “Now tell me,” Woden demanded.
The King of the Trolls said, “The secret is, Watch with both eyes!”
Giving up our left eye is akin to looking at just one prong of an issue, one facet of a personality, one branch of a family or one source of a problem.
I just acquired a pair of prescription reading glasses. While I paid a lot more for them than the generic pair from Walgreens which they replaced, they were specifically tailored (by Dr. Taylor) to allow me to read comfortably for hours. But they only function well when I’m holding something about eight to fourteen inches from my eyes. They aren’t effective when I’m driving or needing long-range vision. I need more than one lens to be able to see everything I need to.
Our vision improves dramatically when we look through the lens of others’ viewpoint. Nothing serves as a more powerful reminder of the dangers of relying solely on my own experiences and expertise than the fable of the Six Blind Men of Indostan. I wrote about that fable in The Dangers of Personal Observation -- The Advantages of Collaborative Vision. Recently, a friend shared another version of that fable by the Sufi philosopher, Rumi, in which he describes what happened in a Hindu village one night when an elephant was brought into a dark room where no one had previously seen such a beast:
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
A water-pipe kind of creature.
Another, the ear. A strong, always moving
back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.
I find it still, like a column on a temple.
Another touches the curve back.
A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,
feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.
He is proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark
are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together, we could see it.”--Rumi
So the next time you approach a new problem, please consider asking others to hold up a candle for you. What have they’ve seen and experienced which will help you better see and respond to your new challenge. Are you using both of your eyes—physical and spiritual?
May we all be willing—whether within the sacred space of family, the workplace, or our communities—to hold up a candle for each other. Through collective vision we will see the whole picture. And by watching through both eyes—physical and spiritual—we can bring harmony and joy to whatever corner of the world we occupy.
"If I have seen farther than othes, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants."--Sir Isaac Newton