To See and Be Seen:The Power of Presence
This is my second blog post. I am going to do my best to keep it brief so I can finish and publish it today, to stay on schedule with my commitment to putting out one post a week. I started one yesterday that I am excited about, but after five hours of writing, I realized I need more time to finish than I had available, so I decided to write something else instead.
This story came to me on my hike today, so I will share it with you and finish the other one another time. I haven’t thought about this story I’m about to tell you in ages.
I must have been thirteen, because I remember my hairstyle at the time - a shag. It was the summer of 1974 and my parents, two sisters and little brother and I were on our yearly vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey.
One afternoon we were taking a walk on the boardwalk and saw an artist doing oil pastel portraits for people. My mother really liked her work and asked if she would be able to do a portrait of the four of us kids. She agreed, and the next day we all had separate sittings for her. I was really surprised and pleased that my Mom wanted to do this. When extended family was over for holiday gatherings when I was young, I would often sit and draw my grandfather or grandmother, Uncle Dick, or my little brother, Hank. Now I would get to be drawn!
I remember really looking forward to sitting for this woman while she did my portrait. She was quiet, and seemed thoughtful, gentle and kind. I was a very quiet person myself, back then. I was also quite lonely when I was with the family. There always seemed to be a lot of mayhem, and this may or may not be others’ experience of me, but my experience in the family is that no one saw or got me, and I didn’t feel like anyone liked me. I often felt sad and disconnected from everyone, so I preferred just sitting in a corner reading a book most of the time, getting lost in another world.
Back to the sitting… I remember before getting there, I thought to myself, “This is a chance for someone to look at me and see me. I really hope that she can see my goodness, and that she can capture that in the portrait.” I have to say, I really longed for someone to see my goodness. I so often felt misunderstood and judged. I don't blame anyone for that - it's just how it was.
I liked the fact that I could just sit quietly and know that she was going to pay attention to me - and just me - until she finished the portrait. I felt so peaceful at the thought of it. I remember sitting there and focusing my attention on my heart and my eyes, allowing the feeling in my heart to flow though my eyes. I also focused on the crown of my head at the same time. I can’t tell you where in the world I came up with that. It was just something I decided to do. I had never heard of it or thought of it before.
I felt peaceful and relaxed the whole time she was drawing me. We were not allowed to see the portrait until it was completely finished with all four of us in the picture and when it she finished she would ship it to us.
When the portrait arrived, I was excited to look and see if she had captured that feeling I felt inside. I was so happy to see that when I looked at it, I could feel my heart and see my goodness. It hung in the living room by our piano, and I looked at it often. I felt good when I saw it, as it mirrored something back to me about myself that I desperately needed to be reflected back to me - simply that someone saw my heart and goodness. It helped me contact that within myself when I felt lonely, sad, resentful and withdrawn - and was actually a comfort. I did not know the word back then, but today, I can see that it was a way of self-soothing.
As an adult reflecting on this story, I know it is healthy and natural for us to want to be seen, “gotten”, understood - and to have our goodness reflected back to us by someone - to have someone look us in the eyes, really make contact, and see us, see our goodness. Without getting this basic need met for love, connection and bonding, it sets us up for using substitutes that will leave us forever craving more and more of something - like being thirsty and go to the ocean to quench our thirst, leaving us even more thirsty. I really believe that the greatest gift we can give another, is our full, loving Presence.
For me, thinking of this simple story is a reminder to rest in the energy of my heart, and look for and open to the beauty in the heart and eyes of another. No matter what. That doesn’t mean pretending to care or being sappy, or glossing over upset. Sometimes the heart is fierce, sometimes gentle. If there is discord or disagreement, I can ask for the grace to be willing to listen, speak and act from that place. If I did not do that in the moment, it’s OK. I forgive myself. I remember who I am.Who you are. I really believe this is more powerful than we can imagine. Don't you?
Thank you for taking the time to read this… I welcome your thoughts, experiences in the comments below!