“The eyes are the window to your soul.” – William Shakespeare
“Look me in the eye and say that!” is a taunt used in anger or indignation, urging someone seen as cowardly or inferior to repeat the challenge or insult that has been spoken. Looking someone in the eye creates a direct and personal connection; letting someone look into your eyes invites communication, even intimacy. A helpful tip for travelers at friendly border crossings is to take off their sunglasses so that the Customs agent can see the eyes of the travelers. Doing so conveys openness and engenders trust.
I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague from another college at a recent learning community retreat. She and I have known each other for a dozen years, seeing each other annually at this retreat. We usually ask about each other’s families and have a pleasant conversation. This year our conversation became deeper, sharing more of the details of our lives and our histories, our ups and downs. In the midst of a lively, noisy reception we were had a heart-to-heart conversation about our hopes and dreams. I think the turning point was our eye contact. As I started to share more about myself I became aware of feeling deeply moved, and I realized that there was a decision I could make – I could move off to talk to different people, or continue the conversation at a lighter level by changing the subject, or I could look her in the eye and risk feeling the emotions – both sadness and joy – that were attached to the things we were talking about. I looked at her and we held our eye contact, our eyes tearing up as we did so, knowing that it was an unusual moment of connection and grace. The colleague and friend I knew professionally was now a much closer friend. We had given each other the gift of ourselves and our attention, really listening to and hearing not just the words of the other but also the emotions in those words and stories. Strange that eye contact had opened up my ears, but it was more my heart that was opened, the better for my senses to work.
When is the last time you really looked into the eyes of an acquaintance, a friend, or a loved one, holding that eye contact and listening to the emotions behind the words? Try it today for a jolt of connection, a powerful and bold way to give that person a gift of love and grace, an affirmation of his or her importance and worth.
Thank you, Lord, for eyes to really see into the hearts of others, and to let them see me too. Amen.
P.S. – a shout out to Barbara S., whose words of appreciation at the retreat made a huge difference for me, and got me back online!