We do not really see other people. Our spouse, our children, our lover, the person living next door or the stranger on the train, we do not really see them. We live in an age of ubiquitous devices and media obesity, which disturb our inner calm and shatter our concentration. When we look, our attention flickers like a candle in the wind and we see superficially, fleetingly only. Our gaze rests briefly here, hurriedly moves there, before trailing off to a different distraction. We never stay long enough for our attention to settle in and really connect.

When it does stay long enough, we do not really perceive the other, but pick up reflections of our projections. The other is a canvas onto which we project the emotions, beliefs and desires we haven’t yet fully embraced or resolved in ourselves. We don’t see the other as he is, but attribute traits and meanings that echo our own inner structure. And often we see in the other what we need the other to be rather than who the other actually is. Because of this, the other remains fundamentally unknown and neither can connect on a meaningful level. This fosters feelings of alienation and reinforces our dependency on the ersatz intimacy we derive from social media.

To connect deeply, we need to see truly. True seeing requires us to withdraw our projections and cease our judgements. Seeing means silencing our incessant internal chatter about which aspects of the other we like and dislike. It means cultivating a quiet mind and an open heart, and the ability to be present without an agenda, without the need to manipulate the other into doing or being something that suit our needs. Seeing comes from having the genuine curiosity to wonder why people do what they do, what they really mean, what else is present or emerging within. Seeing means having the courage to be in a state of not-knowing regarding what is or should be. Seeing means having the humanity to grant the other the freedom to be whole, which in turns means giving ourselves the freedom to be as we are.

True seeing requires us to practice placing and holding our attention and staying with what presents itself regardless of external and internal chatter. It also asks of us that we educate ourselves about our inner life, just like our eyes and ears need to be educated to fully appreciate a concerto or a painting. Without this frame of reference, without knowledge of the places and principles of our psyche, we cannot recognise what impresses itself upon us.

Learning to see means learning to drop from the superficial level of behaviour to the rich inner world beneath. What awaits inside is an immensely rewarding landscape. A closely woven tapestry of metaphors that connect thoughts with feelings, aspirations with memories. Emotional patterns repeating themselves within larger patterns in a fractal-like fashion. Layers of psychological deposits that, like layers of sediment settled over geological time, point to different ages of our inner world. A world filled with illuminated areas, hidden passages, unexplored caves, arid deserts and peaceful oases.

Seeing is not just an act of pointing to any of those things and calling them by their name, but the process of discovery itself, the process of uncovering the layers and connections and hidden spaces within. True seeing is exploring the unknown terrain and experiencing ourselves and the other in an entirely new light. This means true seeing is co-existing, which is connecting our way of being with the other’s way of being in order for either to emerge more real and more whole.

Ilja van Roon