Each and everyday we encounter dozens of people. Bustling down the streets, in the elevator, at the grocery store - wherever we may go, we are sharing our coveted personal space with others.
Although we may physically see many people daily, most of us don’t take the time to truly “see” them behind their masks. Instead, we see costumes, body shapes, and hairstyles, rather than the human beings beneath with complex emotions, lived experiences, and wisdom to share.
These odd creatures passing by us, looking down out their phones, rushing to their next appointment equipped with headphones and a double latte, have actually experienced much of what we have, though probably in another flavor or at another time. They are living breathing life forces with hopes and dreams, grief and guilt, love and compassion. They have the ability to understand our struggles more than we give them credit for and share our joy in ways that we dare not allow.
Living beneath our masks in the busy and stressed society that we do today, it is very easy to forget this, and to rush right by people without ever truly connecting to most of them.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a meditation retreat led by Tara Brach at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Tara led us on a peaceful journey into her world of meditation and human connection. In one exercise, all three hundred of us were told to rush around the room as if we were navigating through Times Square. We were then asked to intermittently stop and stare into the eyes of a stranger.
As we took off our masks and looked into the stranger’s eyes, Tara reminded us that “this person in front of you is full of love, is generous and kind, and has a beautiful soul.” It was magnificent not only seeing the beauty in the other person, but knowing they were seeing our inner beauty as well. We then repeated the exercise with a new partner focusing on how the other person has known loss, rejection, fear, and anxiety. Knowing that we were being seen without our mask was terrifying. With her words, we were catapulted into another’s heart and mind, reminded of their humanity, and humbled by the stories their eyes told. The tears flowed.
Although I had done this type of staring activity many times before, hearing Tara’s powerful affirmations along with the staring, took the exercise to a whole new level. I was reminded of the intrinsic connection we all share as human beings but often fail to create with the strangers we meet daily. When asked to reflect on our experiences, a young man in the audience shared, “I will never again be able to look in someone's eyes and not see their suffering.”
I often tell my own students that we can not connect with others until we learn to connect with our own true selves. Tara reminded me that by really seeing others, we can indeed take off our masks and be seen as well.
To learn more about Lisa Lewtan's programs, book, radio show, and blog - visit www.healthyhappyandhip.com