To Be Seen

It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.
— Henry David Thoreau
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Buddhist teachings invite us to accept suffering as foundational to human existence.

But sometimes it’s easier to acknowledge other people's pain than our own. And especially during this season of holiday giving, it can feel more relevant to show up for other people than for ourselves.

The irony is, of course, that when we don’t show up for ourselves, we can’t truly be present with another.

Most of us bustle around shopping and cooking and meeting the perceived needs of others. This may be generous, but it also serves as a way of maintaining control. When moral support systems aren’t reciprocal, it creates distance between us and those we serve.

It takes a degree of strength to provide for others, but it takes courage to sit with ourselves, to recognize our own suffering, and to identify our own needs.

And even more courage to ask for help.

Being seen requires a level of vulnerability that is uncomfortable for most of us. Sometimes we try to fix ourselves (or others), rather than tolerate the discomfort, uncertainty and mystery of our own humanity.

To develop intimacy with another, we must cultivate the capability to remain in discomfort.

It’s uncomfortable to embrace the fullness of a loved one’s flawed self.  Even more so, our own flawed self.

I often ask people close to me to tell me something I don’t know about them. I love hearing stories that contradict my previous understanding of their being.

We all contradict ourselves. Each of us contains multitudes.

I am uncomfortable sharing, but one of the greatest gifts we can give someone is access to ourselves. Here are some things about me you might not know.

  • People who live in spaces with clean white walls frighten me.

  • I read, a lot. Maybe 100 books a year, and hundreds of professional and student articles. I find it one of my greatest sources of pleasure.

  • When I can’t read (like when I’m running, walking, driving or folding laundry), I listen to podcasts.

  • I treat myself like a self-help project.  

  • If I have a choice, I prefer to be barefoot. Always.

  • I deeply and irrationally despise talking on the phone.

  • One of the greatest gifts yoga offers me is a container of time and space without access to a phone.

  • People think I’m an artist because I know how to juggle chaos, stay calm, and see beauty. I gave birth to 4 kids in 5 years. There’s nothing more chaotic, exhausting and beautiful than that.

  • I love to work, and I love that I have had the good fortune to have cultivated dual careers within communities that engage and energize me.

  • Nature is my preferred form of art. (Although I am drawn to many, many other forms of art as self-expression.)

  • I adore planetariums.

  • I trail run at least 3 times a week for my mental health (not my physical health).

  • I have to stay in motion. It’s not a matter of resting or not resting. If I don’t flow, I feel myself start to die.

  • I often disappear from gatherings long before they’re over (Irish exit), even when I’m not drinking.

  • I avoid conflict and emotional drama, but I love arguing about ideas. Electricity comes through the tension.

  • Deadlines, messiness and pressure to produce energize me. I love the intensity of working on a project my team and I don’t think we can get done on time.

  • I am brave enough to break my own heart.



Michelle Dowd