The Shift: Seeing with New Eyes

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In the despair work of the previous lesson we are encouraged to look full-face at what is happening to our world, and that means dropping our defenses against our own feelings of
 dread, anger, guilt, and grief.


As you allow these emotions to surface, do you perceive their distinctive character, that the dread we experience is not the same as fear of our own individual death, and that the anger is on behalf of others as well as ourselves?

Do you find that the sense of guilt is not personal blame so much as collective accountability as a society and as a species?

Do you discover underneath all these responses a depthless well of sorrow for the suffering and losses inflicted on our brother-sister beings and those who will come after us?

"Suffering with" is the literal meaning of compassion.

This in itself is a remarkable discovery, for it flies in the face of what the Industrial Growth Society has conditioned us to believe about ourselves. It doesn't match with the assumption that we are separate, independent beings, whose happiness must often be secured at the expense of others. On the contrary, it reveals that, in the depths of our psyches, we suffer with them. That "suffering with," we now recall, is the literal meaning of compassion. Far from being a sign of personal craziness, it is the noblest of capacities in most spiritual traditions.

It is from our inter-connectedness that feelings of pain for the world arise.

Now we can realize from actual experience that it is from our inter-connectedness that feelings of pain for the world arise. The very distress that, when we hid it, seemed to separate us from other people, now uncovers the connective tissue bonding us. This realization, whether it comes in a flash of insight or as a gradual dawning, is a turning point in our perceptions--or, more precisely, in the way we interpret our perceptions. We shift to a new way of seeing ourselves and a new way of understanding our power.

Nature of the shift

Many metaphors come to mind for describing this shift.



Here are a few metaphors. See which one resonates with you and then keep it in mind as you work with this lesson on seeing with new eyes:

  • It is like a turning of the tide, or the pause between breathing in and breathing out. As we allow the world's pain to flow in, it rearranges our internal structures. Then, on the outflow, our gifts of response release back into the world.
  • It is like a fulcrum, letting us shift the weight of our despair, turn it and raise it into new understandings.
  • It is like a hinge. This hinge can swing us from pain to power because it is anchored in their common source: our inter-existence within the web of life.
  • This shift is a gateway. The approach to many an ancient temple is guarded by ferocious figures. In facing them down, in moving through our dreads and griefs, we gain entry to the truth that awaits us. We discover our mutual belonging, our "deep ecology," and the promise that it holds for us. Now we can see in our anguish for the world the good news of a larger consciousness at work; it is the universe knowing itself through us.

Turning over

This shift in perception is an inner revolution which religious traditions call metanoia—turning around. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is termed parinamana, turning over, and described as filled with jubilation and dedication to the welfare of all. We "turn around" or "turn over" into wider awareness of who and what we are—as jewels in the Net of Indra.