Multi-Faith and Belief Chaplaincy, For All Faiths and None

Gentle Eyes

This week's blog post has been written by Associate Chaplain, Geoffrey Baines.

Doodle based on Munch's 'The Scream'. Yellow and blue doodle with the text "You may not see what you are looking for"

Always be ready to see what you haven’t seen before. It’s a kind of looking where you don’t know what you’re looking at.* (Corita Kent)


Our times are driven by the inestimable energies of the mechanical mind; its achievements derive from its singular focus, linear direction and force. When it dominates, the habit of gentleness dies out.** (John O’Donohue)


Placing these two ideas side by side made me wonder, What would it mean to see with gentle eyes?


If it were possible for us to look outside and beyond the tight focus of filter or agenda or judgement, perhaps there would be more to see about people, the world, ourselves. Things that had previously been invisible would come into view, meaning gentle eyes is a skill we are able to develop.


The context of Corita Kent’s words is an art exercise in which she encourages her students to adopt a “soft focus,” allowing things to be seen for what they are and the peripheral to come into view:


There is an exercise I’ve learned lately, and that is to be quiet and look at an object or space directly ahead of you. Keep a soft focus and also allow your attention to reach past your peripheral vision, left and right. In addition, place your attention on top of or above your head. All of these directions - front, right, left, above - being looked at with a kind diffuseness. You try to have a clear moment when you are empty and open to things around you. You see them new - your vision is cleansed and you can make contact with what is really there, uncluttered by old thoughts and prejudices.*


We know this is more than seeing with physical eyes and so we may care to join this with John Cage’s composition 4’ 33”. Setting a timer for four minutes and thirty three seconds, playfully looking with gentle eyes at the scene we have chosen, and then listening with gentle ears to the same scene. An exploration of more in less than ten minutes.


What have we noticed that we hadn’t seen or heard before? How has the experience changed us, however small this might be? How can we take gentle seeing and listening into the activities of our day, noticing things about this walk, this meal, this person, this problem, this project?


Of course, what we are developing is a gentle heart; it’s the difference between looking for something and seeing what is there, be it object or subject.


(*From Corita Kent and Jan Snowden’s Learning by Heart.) (**From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty.)