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How to See (What I See)?

Penelope Nussbaum

See what I see? It's natural to want to pass our vision of the world onto those close to us. But a better, and harder, approach is to try and share what worked on our personal journey to vision.

We’re fortunate to have poet and philosopher Mark Nepo as part of the S&H team. In this issue’s column, he asks two questions that I love:

  • Are you grateful for the progress you were born into?
  • Are you teaching those around you how to see or to see what you see?

Most of us lead lives of unimaginable luxury and countless delights compared to our recent ancestors. Electricity, running water, packages of Oreos in the cupboard. I’m pretty sure my great-great-great-grandfathers would think I’m living in a golden age. So how do I make myself see my own life that way?

The second question is even more important, at least to me personally. It’s one of the key questions parents have to ask themselves. How can we be sure we’re not passing on the wrong things? It’s possible to pass on prejudices and resentments masquerading inside our own brain as life lessons, and I’m sure every parent sometimes does so. But what about deeply held moral convictions? What about life choices that worked out well? Should we try and pass those on?

Thinking beyond parents: Do most teachers and professors guide students down the path of how to see or down the path of see what I see? What about bosses? I’ve managed a few editors in my career, and I hope that in some cases I’ve helped them learn how to see better. But that work is hard, abstract, and nuanced, for both the teacher and the one being taught. (Once someone who worked for me asked how she could learn to be a better line editor. I replied that she should read metered poetry—in this case, to learn how to hear. Her amused/frustrated expression showed that this was not the answer she wanted.)

In Kevin Anderson’s The Soul of Therapy column in this issue, I think he might be getting at a similar concept. When couples are in conflict, they both want the other person to see what I see. But in silence and with enough space, each partner might learn how to see—themselves, the other person, and the relationship.

I see a similar sentiment in Barbara Mahany’s article on embracing winter stillness, when she quotes Henry David Thoreau: “If by watching all day and all night I may detect some trace of the Ineffable, then will it not be worth the while to watch?”

And I think I detect a version of this idea in our story on nourishing practices, in which Tricia Hersey advocates for that most humble of self-care practices: taking a nap. “We are all brainwashed. ... Napping is against that lie” she says. No matter how free thinking we might be, we’ve still been trained to see what other people see. Liberating ourselves starts with silence, rest, and emptiness.

I hope for your success in pushing yourself to keep seeing with better vision. As always let us know about your journey by writing us at [email protected]