November 6 – When We Squint, Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

And when we squint, we think we see like a tiger, while the truth like the sun spills everywhere but through our slits.

We have all heard the gritty advice that when things  get tough, we need to dig in. This often translates to an aggressive, alert stance.We hone our focus and thinking, readying ourselves for anything. Unfortunately, when we steel ourselves for battle, our focus narrows and we can cut out as much of what we need as what we fear.

I am not suggesting that we stumble through life without thought or focus. Rather, I’m offering a deeper sense of what it means to be alert. There is a telling difference between the sharp line of a laser ray and the wash of sunlight over a field, between the sharpness of a mind in crisis and the wash and warmth of an open heart. When we need it most, it is nearly impossible to see ourselves with compassion from the slit of a narrowed mind all tensed for battle.

A few months after the tumor vanished from my head, I bumped into a very bright friend in a  restaurant who was tenacious in pursuing what I had done to defeat the tumor. I kept telling her of the enormous surrender that had overcome my life and that I didn’t really knowhow to account for the miracle. She squinted terribly, as if blocking out the glare of the mystery, and insisted that I was evidence of what mind could do over matter. As she squinted, I could feel her heart close. It was very sad. We’ve had little to say to each other since.

I have also found myself from time to time unable to stay in the feeling of a moment because my alertness in crisis, like a periscope shooting up, pulls me out of my heart, and the next thing I know, I am lost in the analysis of problem solving, of calibrating advantages and liabilities. Like my friend, when I squint, insisting solely on my own will to power me in the world, I close myself to the mystery, and I notice I become sad, having little to say to myself.

This has taught me that attention to detail can be mis-taken for the act of caring. The truth is that being alert often requires us to widen our focus and to see with what the Sufis call “the heart’s eye.” For though surprise and crisis can make us squint like a tiger and show our claws, it is the effort to enlarge and stay open that helps us the most.

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