Updated: Nov 21, 2018
Do you ever get so transfixed by something that withdrawing your gaze would take a herd of sub-Saharan elephants to drag you away?
Narcissus got a bad rap.
Narcissus, a hunter of "extraordinary beauty" in Greek mythology, was lured to the edge of a pond by the gods after upsetting them by rebuffing the affections of an admirer they so loved. According to lore, he became so entranced by his reflection in the pond and, not recognizing it to be his own handsome mug, he fell deeply in love with it, as if it was somebody else. [Spoiler alert] Depending on the version you read, he either dies from thirst or turns into a gold and white flower as the passion inside him melts away in his bewitchment of self-adoration, essentially, taking his own life. whoa.
And what's his legacy? Narcissistic personality disorder. A disorder characterized by persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, a personal disdain and lack of empathy for others, arrogance, a distorted sense of superiority, envy of others, intolerance for criticism, and exploitative of others to achieve personal gain. Geesh, that's cold, no mercy for our boy Narcissus.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most of our lives would be enhanced with a little more self-love. True self-love. Not the sort that twisted Narcissus's narrative from self-awe and intrigue into conceit and self-greed. But the kind of self-love that reallllly appreciates the life we've been given, with all of our unique physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual attributes. How many years did I want to cover my banged up bruised legs - skinny and scared and in constant need of a shave, only to realize today, how good they've been to me? Years of unwarranted judgment that vanished with a paradigm shift in my perspective.
If only we could all see ourselves through the eyes of love like Narcissus did on that fateful day.
My eyes have seen you*
Outer sight begins with inner sight.
Imagine you're looking at your reflection in the pond. The sun shining brightly above, some light is absorbed into the water and other light bounces off of it, sending waves of various amplitudes towards your eyes. The light enters the outer clear surface of your eye, the cornea, and bends as it floats through to the next layer of your eye, the iris. The iris is the colored, donut-shaped portion of your eye and the middle of the donut is actually a sphincter muscle called the pupil. The pupil expands and contracts to accommodate the amount of light present. The sun's light is bright so your pupil will contract, maybe to the size of a pin, allowing less light to pass into the curved lens behind it where it bends, once again. It continues to project through a jellylike fluid, the vitreous humor, finally arriving at the back of your eye, the retina. The retina is made up of receptors called photoreceptors that convert light energy into electrical signals, all this data is processed and an image of your radiant reflection is formed. But here's the kicker, the double bending reverses the image and turns it upside down!
This never gets old. In essence, something, seemingly solid refracts light, sending it to my eye as a wave, that wave enters my eyes, bends twice, and is processed first by receptors at the back of my eye that receive it both UPSIDE DOWN and REVERSED, converting it then to electricity. Say whah?
There's more. After the photoreceptors of the retina convert light energy into electrical signals, it travels through the optic nerve out of the back of BOTH eyes, some of the signals crossing midway through the brain to the opposite side of the brain eventually being processed by the visual cortex located in the back of the brain, the occipital lobes. And, wallah, the image of your dashing reflection is brought back into its proper upright perspective. Huh?
I mean, how is it even possible that we can get an image even sort of close to what is actually outside of us with all of this bending, flipping, and crossing going on?
To sum it up - it's not my eyes that see you but rather - my eyes + my brain = seeing you.
Looking through the eyes of love*
If we characterize the seeing you we just explored as the mechanical contributions to sight, then what about all the socio-cultural-emotional-spiritual components that provide such a vast overlay onto our perception of what we see? These are the more personal, subjective contributions to sight that make everything we both see distinctively different.
This portion of our program is brought to you by, infinity - because there are countless events that can occur inside us and even around us, down to the molecular level, that influence our experience of sight.
Sight is the dominant sense in the human body. Neurons devoted to visual processing number in the hundreds of millions and take up about 30 percent of the cerebral cortex, as compared to 8-11 percent for touch or just 3 percent for sound (two senses covered in my earlier blogs). Amazingly, nearly 70% of all the sensory receptors in our whole body are in our eyes! Frankly, neuroscientists don't even really understand what is happening in a pretty significant amount of visual processing beyond the basic mechanics. So much of what we understand is more easily defined as philosophy or prediction than hard science.
Are you getting where I'm going here?
We are living, breathing, perceiving mystery machines. Each of us, billions of cells conspiring to be here - and not to get too deep (too late), but why, if not to tap into our limitless senses?
And what about all those things that get in the way of our pleasurable experience of sight. All those things that get in the way of seeing through the eyes of love.
Sometimes an old memory gets in my eye*
Pleasure is a funny thing. Isn't it?
Pleasure can be impossibly elusive at times despite being surrounded by seemingly pleasure inducing opportunities everywhere we go. And, it can also be in abundance in an otherwise pleasure deficient environment. So, it really comes down to our own appraisal if something is experienced as pleasurable or unpleasant. As I've discussed in earlier blogs, so much of what we experience is massively influenced by brain activity that is outside our conscious awareness. Fortunately, there's SO much we can do to inspire those health promoting, life-sustaining, resiliency boosting chemicals in our bodies.
The more our brain is kept busy with present time situational stress, haunting histories, and future tripping, the less real-estate in our heads will be available to open up to the natural pleasures around us. We all experience life static, like periodic distractions that tune into our frequency of aliveness and distort the present moment, taking us offline. We just need to learn how to adjust the dial back into a place of harmony, with a rhythm and beat that's individual to each of us.
Finding your rhythm and beat is a daily practice, just like learning to play an instrument or compose a symphony. In my blog on touch, I discuss the really fantastic revelation that the most sophisticated pharmacy in the universe exists inside each one of us. We are giant medicine bags full of potential to heal and live bright, purposeful lives. Tapping into our senses is an effective daily practice that enhances the production of our feel-good chemicals, delivering us there. Learning occurs through repetition, so we practice, practice, practice.
The practice is not just in looking at something. You can look at something and say, "oh, that's a coffee cup," and feel nothing. But you can look at that same coffee cup and remember the day you unwrapped it as a gift, made it in a pottery class, or found it at the flea market. Take it a step further and see if you can bring up positive memories of when you drank out of it, where you were, who was with you, what the weather was like. Really explore all of its surfaces, colors, materials, with your eyes and captivated mind, drink in your cup of coffee as if you were delivering visual caffeine directly into your sensory system. Stimulating all those inner groovy juices.
Instead of sharing a list of suggestions for you to practice enhancing your natural pleasures of vision, I have a list of a different kind. Since we know that what's visually pleasurable to me is not necessarily visually pleasurable to you, the following suggestions are a universal path to get you started in the pursuit of your own unique rhythm and beat:
Slow your breath down - ease-fully
Notice how you're feeling inside - sensations, emotions
If you have a busy brain it'll be more challenging to move into exploring the richness of your sensory experience. You can choose to stop here or explore whether or not you can spur on some goodness inside by digging in deeper.
Choose something or someone to become your muse. Do more than look - reverently gaze at it with your eyes and mind. Lingering...
Notice where sensations and associated feelings show up inside. The more attention and moments of lingering you sustain, the more your chemical soup inside will churn out the good stuff.
Inner-sight affects outer-sight.
How we feel and experience ourselves will reflect how we feel and experience the world around us. By doing the work of tuning into our unique frequency, reducing and even eliminating the static (a constant practice because change is constant), we can live in high definition, technicolor. Experiencing life in all its mysterious magnificence.
In gratitude and health,
* Video links to the song titles included in this blog:
The Way I See You - Dolly Parton
My Eyes Have Seen You - The Doors
Looking Through the Eyes of Love - Melissa Manchester
Sometimes An Old Memory Gets In My Eye - Dolly Parton
I'm Arinn Testa, your forever devoted companion of all things goofy and curious. With a husband that humors me, three kids that humble me, a wild dog that exhausts me, and an adorable hamster – who loves me the most, I'm constantly looking for opportunities to bring health and healing into our lives that are easy and fun. Sometimes the process is neither easy or fun, so hopefully I can short cut some of that for you and share what I've learned along the way. I'm the Director of Research for Emotional Brain Training and facilitate brain based interventions as a Master trainer for individuals & groups — connecting with people from all over the globe! To learn about how to create more natural pleasures in your life and to clear away the stress that blocks our feel good chemicals go to ebtconnect.net or visit arinntesta.com