Being seen as we are

29 04 2018


One of the most curious things about being human is our inability to see ourselves for who we truly are. We must rely on others to act as our witness. As we know, being witnessed is often an uncomfortable experience. To sit within the gaze of another is to feel unmasked.

And yet when we are working in the fields of coaching, writing or education we are keen to lift the masks and peer at what lies behind. In our enthusiasm to educate, heal or interview, we may innocently come across as intrusive or unaware of the fear we are generating by simply asking someone to come out of hiding.

Last weekend, I experienced a way of witnessing that was simultaneously bold, searching and beautiful. I watched people from many different fields of experience from professional film-makers to therapists, a funeral celebrant, a pediatric consultant and an ontological coach practice sitting still.

People had travelled from Denmark, Finland and other parts of Europe as well as many parts of the UK to sit and watch another human being wrestle with being human. So many busy, highly accomplished people from all over Europe gathered together to do essentially nothing for a weekend. I found it absurd, provoking and utterly absorbing.

The frame around the weekend with film-maker Nic Askew presented it as a course on authentic story-telling for the video camera. We actually did quite a lot. There were plenty of technical tips on lighting and framing and all the usual elements of  making something look and sound great on screen, but that wasn’t what I learned.

I learned how to wait. I learned how to stop evaluating. I learned how to watch. On the first day, I hunkered down behind my writer’s mask and played around with my notes to make poems of the words that fell into place when the faces being filmed appeared on screen. The sitters were all nervous at first, but after a while their expressions cleared and their emotions shone through like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. I felt as if I were witnessing some sort of secret transformation. I composed my list of words: dignified delight; powerful focus; playful knowing; strength; kindness; quietness; intensity; timelessness; relief; wonder; acceptance, and I fell in love with the extraordinary beauty of the human face.

The emotional geography revealed an undulating terrain of knowing; it was fascinating to see life come to light through the lines of experience, every one a mark of the interior self, pointing to the soul. I saw people come out of hiding as shyly as young children, and in the act of being seen they met themselves, some for the first time.

Those present spoke of their joy at having been seen, of freedom, of respect, of a multi-faceted diamond turning its faces of turquoise, yellow and violet light.

I came away wondering why it is that we don’t love the world and each person who shares our world more than we do because when we see one another, we see life itself and that must be worthy of our full attention.

More about Nic Askew here:



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