What We See

Walking down Main Street. What do you see? Is it each individual separate from everyone else – whether that person is strolling alone, holding hands with a loved one, or in a group that takes over the sidewalk? Maybe you like some of them, don’t like others, and don’t even notice the rest. Maybe you evaluate: too young, too old, too fat, too sloppy, weird clothes, stupid expression on their face. Or compare: better than me, worse than me, equal to me. Perhaps you want them all to go away, so you don’t have to talk to anyone. Dogs are better.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to see. Luminous vision is available.

Jack Kornfield writes: Thomas Merton, the Christian mystic, was walking down the street in Louisville, Kentucky – at Fourth Street and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district. Right now, there’s a monument there. It’s the only monument I know that the government has put up to a mystical experience.

Thomas Merton reflects: I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, and that they were mine and I theirs, and we could not be alien to one another. It was like waking from a dream of separateness. It was monastic holiness. The sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such relief and joy that I laughed out loud. I saw the secret beauty of everyone that was passing, and the only problem was that I wanted to fall down and worship each one as they went by. No more need for war, cruelty or greed when we could see each other in this way. This is really the miracle – that each person who passed me is walking around shining like the sun.

What if Merton’s way of seeing could become normal?

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