by Reyna Eisenstark
At some point in our lives, we all find ourselves confronted with the following question, often posed in the context of superheroes: Would you rather be invisible or would you rather be able to fly?
For me, the answer was always obvious (so obvious that I was actually astonished when my younger daughter had a different answer): to be invisible. Of course, this probably has to do with my intense desire to spy on people, but it occurs to me now that there’s something more to it. What if you could simply look at people as much as you wanted without having to look away?
Growing up in New York City, I was always faced with a perplexing situation: In a place that’s home to some of the most interesting-looking people I’ve ever seen, you have to be careful not to look at anyone for too long. But the temptation is powerful. All I wanted to do was stare.
This past April, at Kripalu’s Inner Quest Intensive, I got to do exactly that. For three days, we spent a great deal of time looking directly into each other’s faces. I mean, really looking at them. I found this to be an illicit treat, just as I’d expected, almost like being invisible.
We spend so much of our lives trying not to look directly into people’s eyes, especially people we don’t know. Imagine being given the privilege to do just that. We were encouraged to look directly at each person we spoke with—to really listen, yes, but also to really look.
I was amazed by the beauty and openness I saw in every single face. The young people had remarkably smooth, unsettled faces. Their beauty was obvious, recognizable. But it was the beauty of the older faces that truly moved me. The longer we looked at each other, the easier that beauty was to see. I felt that, if I could keep doing this forever, I would never feel impatience toward another human being, ever again. It occurred to me that we’re all just doing our best, trying to connect in this sometimes cruel, sometimes unbearably lovely world.
At the same time, of course, people were also looking at me, really looking at me. I had never considered what this might feel like, and at first it was as uncomfortable as you could possibly imagine. But then, after a time, it wasn’t. Just as I was really seeing others, they were really seeing me. And as terrifying as that sounds, I knew that their compassion and patience were growing stronger the longer they looked at me, just as mine was for them.
It occurred to me later that this was the most genuine exchange of emotions I have ever experienced. In a way, I got to be both invisible and truly visible for the very first time in my life. For a short time, I had superhero powers. And the feeling was intoxicating.
Reyna Eisenstark is a freelance writer living in Chatham, New York. She writes about paying attention, in all areas of life, in her blog, Collected Stories.