Looking Through the Eyes of Another – Transforming Separation Into Shared Consciousness – Tara Brach


I often talk about how suffering arises from the unseen, unfelt parts of ourselves. Only when we become aware of what is here and bring presence to what we have been running from can we discover wholeness and freedom.

The same is true when we explore our relationships to each other and the world. We cannot be free if we are pushing anyone out of our hearts. If we are discounting, rejecting, or turning away, we are not living from our wholeness. It creates suffering. When we live in resentment, we have separated ourselves and pulled away from our belonging.

Trance of the Unreal Other

All life forms are designed to perceive separation. It is part of our evolutionary story. And in moments that we find ourselves stuck in reactivity or in some conflict or division, we create what I call an unreal other. Rather than a living, feeling Being with wants, needs and fears, another person has become an idea in our mind and is not subjectively alive or real to us. They are two-dimensional and flat. The more stressed we get, the less real they become. We are the protagonist of our own story and the other is like a puppet or a pawn. We begin to see them as something that can help us, hurt us, or as simply irrelevant.

We create an unreal other any time we begin to sense aversion and distance with another. There is the anger, blaming, and resentment that we sometimes feel in our close-in relationships, but there is also a level of pushing people out of our hearts on a larger scale, where our perceptions of ourselves and others are being filtered through stereotypes. Too often, we are not even aware that this is happening. We may have labeled a group of people as differentinferiorbad, or maybe even dangerous. Whether it is with a partner or a child, a political candidate, or even more global, when we are caught in aversive reactivity, we have created an unreal other.

The Suffering of Stereotypes and Predispositions

When we are in the narrow identity of perceived separation, we don’t have access to the more recently evolved parts of our brain that can be mindful and compassionate. We all have strong filters that differentiate us from others by defining us in terms of politics, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender-identity, socio-economic status, and physical appearance and we have all been in situations where we have been subjected to these biases – when people viewed us through a filter that was not true. When we are not aware of how we are shaped by these predispositions, they create separation and that sense is amplified by our culture and the society we live in through its standards, attitudes, and stories. Like fish in water, we are unaware of how much it shapes our reality. We are so accustomed to the judgment, yet it creates tremendous suffering.

Building Bridges is a program that has brought teens from different backgrounds — in this case, Palestinian and Israeli — to live together for a week or two and get to know one another. It’s an incredible experience based in mindfulness and compassionate listening.

In one group, a Palestinian girl shared her story about the Israeli soldiers that barged into her family’s house and beat everyone up and, after realizing they were at the wrong place, they left without apology.

The group facilitator then asked an Israeli girl to repeat the story in first person, as though it had happened to her, including the feelings – the rage and terror – that she might have felt. After listening to the Israeli tell her story, the Palestinian began to weep. She said, “My enemy heard me.” [1]

Looking Through the Eyes of Another

Opening up into a larger sense of Being always starts with sensing how we have turned on ourselves. If we are not able to open to the places of shame, fear and hurt inside our own bodies and hearts, we cannot have the courage and presence to be with the suffering of another.

The next step is to begin to explore looking through the eyes of those we might be feeling some distance with in our immediate circle: our partner who keeps going back on their word, our child who is behaving in a disrespectful way. This is the domain of our practice where we can notice when we are in the trance of separation and have created an unreal other and begin to deepen our attention. How are you doing? What is this like for you?

In Buddhist compassion teachings, this full presence is the grounds of Taking and Sending — a compassion practice that guides us in taking in the experience of another person, and then sending them care. This practice awakens us from the sense of separateness, and we can begin to live from the reality of our shared belonging.

I love the words of Henry David Thoreau:

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” [2]

You might take a moment to reflect: What would it be like, in this moment, to look through another’s eyes? To widen the circles of compassion and be part of the healing of our world?


Tara Brach: Evolving Beyond “Unreal Othering”

What motivates us – as individuals and a society – to build walls and knowingly hurt others? This talk explores the evolutionary roots of “unreal othering” and how when we are hijacked by fear, it can take over and disconnect us from the very real suffering of others. We then look at how meditative strategies awaken us from othering, and reveal our intrinsic belonging. Finally, we apply this to our own lives in a reflection that helps us respond to someone we have turned into “unreal other” with compassion and wisdom.

The Colorings Of Consciousness – Jack Kornfield

Consciousness is colored by the states that visit it.—Buddha

“Eh,” my teacher Ajahn Chah would peer at me when I was having a hard time, “caught in some state again?” In the forest monastery we were constantly being directed both to look at consciousness itself and to precisely name the states that rose to fill it throughout the day: frightened, bored, relaxed, confused, resentful, calm, frustrated, and so forth.

Ajahn Chah would sometimes ask us out loud about our states so that we could acknowledge them more clearly. To a recently divorced monk from Bangkok he chided, “Is there sadness? Anger? Self-pity? Hey, these are natural. Look at them all.” And to a confused English monk he laughed, “Can you see what is happening? There is distraction, confusion, being in a muddle. They’re only mind states, you know. Come on. Do you believe your mind states? Are you trapped by them? You’ll suffer for sure.”

Once we became more skilled at noticing, he would up the ante. He would deliberately make things difficult and watch what happened. In the hottest season, he would send us out barefoot to collect alms food on a ten-mile round trip, and smile at us when we came back to see if we were frustrated or discouraged. He’d have us sit up all night long for endless teachings, without any break, and check in on us cheerfully at four in the morning. When we got annoyed, he’d ask, “Are you angry? Whose fault is that?”

In popular Western culture we are taught that the way to achieve happiness is to change our external environment to fit our wishes. But this strategy doesn’t work. In every life, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame keep showing up, no matter how hard we struggle to have only pleasure, gain, and praise. Buddhist psychology offers a different approach to happiness, teaching that states of consciousness are far more crucial than outer circumstances.

More than anything else, the way we experience life is created by the particular states of mind with which we meet it. If you are watching a high school soccer playoff and your daughter is the nervous goalie, your consciousness will be filled with worry, sympathy, and excitement at each turn of the game. If you are a hired driver waiting to pick up someone’s kid, you will see the same sights, the players and ball, in a bored, disinterested way. If you are the referee, you will perceive the sights and sounds in yet another mode. It is the same way with hearing Beethoven, pulling weeds, watching a movie, or visiting Mexico City. Our awareness becomes colored by our thoughts, emotions, and expectations.

“Just as when a lute is played upon,” the Buddha says, “the sound arises due to the qualities of the wooden instrument, the strings, and the exertions of the musician, in the same way do moments of experience and consciousness appear and, having come into existence, pass away.”

Our consciousness becomes colored or conditioned, taking on whatever qualities happen to arise with it. When we see this process clearly with loving awareness, then we don’t get caught in each changing state or mood. We can smile and say “Oh yes, here’s that one again.” With mindfulness we open to an inner ease and freedom of heart that serves us wherever we go.

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