There are many blessings that my healing work brings to me. And one of the most unexpectedly moving of these is the experience of seeing myself reflected in the stories shared by my clients.
Whether the story takes the form of an actual account told in words or an honest emotion conveyed wordlessly through the eyes, something deeply touching happens when I, as listener, recognize something of my own story -- the hopes, the yearnings, the struggles, the fears -- expressed through the essence of the other’s story. In that moment, a boundary that seemed to separate me from the other dissolves and I can’t help but feel a sense of oneness and connectedness.
These moments of recognition - of seeing ourselves reflected in the other - have a powerful ability to transform and heal us. By reminding us of our shared humanity, they draw us out of the isolation and alienation of our ego’s self-centeredness and into the richness of relatedness and of knowing that we are not alone. In the process, something in us is healed.
Whatever belief we may have held about how peerless and unique our life issues are is dispelled by the realization that those issues are just a reflection (a microcosm) of a much larger and transcendent reality (the macrocosm) that touches all of us.
Moments of recognition evoke this kind of healing whenever at least two people come together with a particular intention: the intention on the part of one person to open up and reveal something of herself; and the intention on the part of the other to listen and receive what is shared without judgment or regard for personal opinion. This is the meaning of the well-known biblical passage in which Christ says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.” Here, “in my name” means to see beyond the ego’s illusion that we are separate and to realize that on a deeper level we are interconnected and one.
However, even where two or more are gathered but only one person holds an intention to experience oneness with the other, a different but still meaningful moment of recognition can still occur. This is possible because the capacity to create a moment of recognition lies in the act of listening, not in the speaking. So it is independent of who is speaking and what is being said.
In such a case, the moment of recognition may not evoke the boundary-less sense of oneness described above. In fact, the awareness of what is different or conflicting about the other may even be heightened. But by listening with the right intention, we can cut through those superficial differences to find the essential humanity we share even with those with whom we are in conflict. (For example, seeing the fearful child consciousness that hides behind the superficial rage or the worthlessness that is camouflaged by arrogance.)
By offering us more clarity in the midst of conflict, the moment of recognition goes a long way towards helping us to accept the other as they are and ultimately to walk away from the conflict.
Not surprisingly, moments of recognition come more easily to us when we see ourselves reflected in familiar or acceptable ways. In fact, in such cases, it can even come upon us by surprise and with little conscious effort on our part. It can be a very different experience, however, when we fail to recognize some aspect of ourselves in the other.
But even when the moment of recognition seems more elusive and effortful, we can still create it if we have the will to stay present to that otherness and the courage to be open to seeing something of ourselves in what otherwise appears to be different, foreign or even reprehensible. (For instance, to see the humanity in a murderer, we must be willing to acknowledge, without judgment, that in some way the killer instinct also resides within us.)
At a time when the world is becoming increasingly polarized, when we seem to be constantly reminded of what separates and divides us, whether the other’s story is similar to ours or so different as to be unrecognizable is not what is important. What matters is the willingness to listen to each other with compassion, i.e. with an intention to find the heart of what is being expressed.
When we listen in this way, we always find some part of ourselves reflected back because the heart of what is being expressed is always human. And in the process, we discover that every encounter with another becomes an opportunity to create a moment of recognition.