The Importance of Being Seen

This is a more personal piece than usual. It came early one morning as I was thinking about my mother on her birthday.

I have been fortunate throughout my life to have family and friends who see me and love me. Some are still my dear and good friends while some have passed: my mother died in March 1981; good friends Mary Curran and Jean Westcott died in 2002 and 2008 respectively. An important teacher and mentor, Angeles Arrien passed unexpectedly in 2014.

Each, in their own way, helped and continue to help me see and care about myself so that I can, over time, pass these gifts onto others and experience the sweet relief of letting go of self-judgment and having the confidence to do what I most want to do.

How did I know they saw me and loved me? They listened and asked questions that helped me deepen my understanding of myself and my experience. They challenged me when I needed to be challenged. Although it was not comfortable, they confronted me in ways that communicated their care, enabling me to hear the truth in their words.

We are profoundly social human beings. Our sense of survival and safety is inexorably interwoven with our sense of connection with others. We become who we are through our relationships, the context (culture, community, organizations) in which we grow, and through the choices we make about how we live and with whom we spend our time.

The more we love and are loved, the safer we feel and the more able we are to offer our gifts to our families, colleagues at work, and our neighbors.

Who in your life sees you and loves or cares about you?

If your answer to this is, “I don’t know;” or, “I don’t have anyone,” I encourage you to look more closely. Perhaps there is someone in your past you are overlooking or someone in your current life you might not realize is seeing you and caring about you.

If no one person is coming to mind, how about you? Do you see and love or care about yourself? My experience is that this takes time and effort to develop. Sometimes it’s too easy for many of us to only see the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or object to.

What might happen if you paid more attention to the parts you do like and admire and to the gestures and words of kind attention you receive at work, at home, and in your neighborhood. Every thank you, smile, kind eye contact, and “How’s your day going?” count.

And, who do you see and love? Here is a secret. The more you offer kind attention and love to others, the more you get it back. Not just from others, but from inside yourself. The handy reward circuit in the brain lights up and releases the socially-bonding neurotransmitter oxytocin into your system when you extend kindness to others. The other good news is that it is self-reinforcing, the more you activate this circuit the stronger it gets and the easier it is to continue being kind to yourself and to those around you.

This, of course, does not mean you do not set boundaries and limits on what you can offer to or accept from others. However, it appears that many of us are so well defended that we don’t need to exercise this boundary-setting muscle. My experience is that we do need to strengthen the extending-kindness muscle.

Which aspects of you do you want to pay attention to and appreciate today? Whose kind words and appreciation do you want to pay attention to and digest? And, who do you want to see more clearly and love today?

Note: One of my closest friends and colleagues who has offered me her clear seeing and caring for decades is offering a workshop on “The Power of Presence: A Women’s Retreat” May 18-25, 2019 in Hawaii. Karen Wilhelm Buckley is a wise, loving and masterful teacher. Find more information here.

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