‘I see you’ – a path to intimacy with self and others?

We can neither see ourselves as a whole, nor can we truly conceptualize that in ourselves which experiences. The answer to the question ‘Who (or what) am I ?’ is by its nature a koan*. But perhaps it is a profound act of self-love to be able to affirm our emotions, our joys, our pain (emotional or physical) with the simple words ‘I see you’, without latching onto them and giving them power over us.

That loving acknowledgement can release the threads of attachment that so often ensnare us. It can enable us to own our darker thoughts and feelings, our shadow selves. We can experience what is as ‘real’, but within the context of the transience of all things. We can embrace the things we perceive as difficult or challenging and let them pass. We can also accept life’s gifts without clinging to them – these too will pass, yet the fact that we have experienced them will not.

One of the greatest desires of every human being is the longing to be seen . . . this is the miracle of love and friendship. (John O’Donahue in Four Elements)

It seems to me that when ‘I see you’ begins to permeate our way of being, it underpins all interactions. It is the grounding space that anchors each human encounter. We find it easier to enter the powerful place of deep receptive listening.

It is also the loving recognition of each creature, great or small, that crosses our path.

‘I see you’ directs us to the wellspring of love.

Unless you see a thing in the light of love, you don’t see it at all. (Kathleen Raine)

* koan – a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment


Water lily

Who am I?

‘I am’, cries the wind . . .
the song that stitches together
the seams of my life,
its melody
a ribbon running through it.

Crackling flames 
feed the fires of passion,
compel me forward,
agonized and exultant
and alive.
But it is in the still,
red coals
at the heart
of the fire
that wisdom lies.

Feet, firmly planted,
dig into the earth,
skip over fields
and frozen puddle-drums
and hot sand.
Odd that it is in
the dynamic of dance,
as my feet
leave the ground,
that I put down roots.

Held in the flow,
luxuriously floating,
buffeted, battered,
water brings me home 
to the self 
that is so much water,
as I learn and become
the depths
of its calm
that is and was and always will be.

‘I am’, cries the wind . . .
and the invisibility of air
surrounds me,
and I know ‘am’
as the invisibility of air . . .

“Who am I?”

July 2018
written during a retreat focused on Awakening Devotion and Heart Wisdom

Enlightenment as letting go

I’ve always struggled with the term enlightenment.

For some reason, the idea of an individual as ‘enlightened’ has held for me a distinct tinge of superiority and speaks to a sense of a goal achieved, both of which leave me uncomfortable. I have also tended to interpret the word enlightenment in terms of the light of insight.

Recently I have arrived at a different understanding for myself that has a very different resonance and one that I can relate to much more easily.

I am ‘enlightened’, made lighter, by the experience of letting go of attachment to thoughts and feelings that net me in in the weight of habit and preconception.

This lightening of heart and soul can only happen through hard work and disciplined practice. It is an ongoing process, rooted in the way you respond to each moment – I cannot envision an end point.

Compassion and non-attachment

Compassion – an interesting word; its structure seems to imply ‘with passion’.

It seems to me that the truest compassion cares deeply for another being, yet without being wedded to or judging that being’s actions or their outcomes.

Yet again, there is a sense that depth and passion are intensified and strengthened by the capacity for non-attachment. And the distinction between non-attachment and detachment becomes even clearer.

As a footnote, perhaps our children are our greatest challenge in aspiring to non-attachment and thus our teachers at a profound level. It seems particularly difficult not to be attached to outcomes in the context of those we love – I guess this is the point of connection between non-attachment and unconditional love.

Passion and non-attachment

Passion and non-attachment are often seen as mutually exclusive.

I think this is a false assumption; indeed, without passion, we come back to ‘detachment’ rather than non-attachment.

Passion is often viewed as fire. But could it be that this is only the youthful manifestation of passion, that passion also also resides in the still waters of a deep pool?

Mindfulness, being fully present in the moment seem to be fundamental to both passion and joy. Yet these are also an essential part of non-attachment. I aspire to living this moment utterly and with integrity, yet to be unattached to the outcome. And only by being unattached to the outcome can I inhabit this moment, for otherwise there is always at least some part of me projecting into the future and the ‘what ifs’.


It is interesting that those who have urged the path of non-attachment have done so from the perspective of later life, having first experienced all the agonies and ecstasies that attachment can bring.

It seems to me that non-attachment is an aspect of wisdom that can only be achieved as part of the wisdom of aging.

Young people need to experience attachment, to ‘feel’ value through it and so gain an understanding of what is important and worthwhile.  Without this understanding, there is only ‘detachment’, which negates value.

Non-attachment recognizes and acknowledges value but without the need to hold on to it, be it in the form of a relationship, an idea or experience or something material.

Only through holding on in the first place can you learn to let go . . .