In some of the more woo-woo corners of my life, I’ve often heard the phrase “Love is to see and be seen.” You know, see. Like, in a deep way. It’s usually assumed we should all know what this means (and if you don’t know, you’re just not woke enough.)
Rise and shine, because the answer actually is very, very simple!
What we actually mean by seeing someone is being them.
There was a line in an Eckhart Tolle lecture that sparked this for me. Eckhart was talking about being present, and remarked that when one is fully present, here and now, objects in one’s experience take on a different character. He was looking at a tree, and all of the sudden, he saw the tree where before he’d only ever seen the image of a tree. It wasn’t as though there were some tangible hologram, just that there was a character to the tree he had never before seen. It was alight with a new quality, an “is-ness;” it was somehow newly alive.
Anyone who has ever taken psychedelics (and many people who have not) can relate to this experience instantly.
It is this type of “seeing” that we talk about when we talk about love: the moment when a person turns from an object, a character in your story, into a subject in their own right.
I believe love comes in moments and in waves, and the line between any kind of “lesser” positive regard and “love,” platonic, romantic, or otherwise, is really only drawn when we deem it more or less socially acceptable to call it love. But love is not timed to a clock like that. Love appears in our consciousness and subsides into other things, many of them we confuse with love, but they are still not love itself. It is in these love moments, the true seeing moments, that something curious happens.
Where before there had been an image, a façade of this person’s existence, suddenly there is a person. It’s as though an endless hallway opens up behind the image of this person and their character takes on depth in what had before been a flat, two-dimensional image.
It is not simply uncovering new “layers” of a person; those sorts of layers are more akin to assembling puzzle pieces to show a broader and richer façade. This moment of truly seeing into someone has a different character. There is a depth there that cannot be measured, nor uncovered with enough “So what’s your favorite…?” questions. This quality is infinite; rather than a set of characteristics and images and memories and habits, the person before you becomes an unending expanse of possibilities and realities. The total quality of perceiving them, not visually but emotionally, shifts to an entirely new sensation.
They turn from a character in your story into a story of their own. They turn from an object to a subject. Their life becomes more than where their life touches yours, and yet, their life is totally, wholly yours. You become perceptibly aware not of what they are, but that they are. Infinite, whole, alive, their “is-ness” (to use Tolle’s term) becomes palpable. That is-ness, I liken to the words of the Almighty Burning Bush itself: “I am who am,” or to put it more intelligibly, “I am that which is.”
This is the difference between seeing someone as something, and seeing someone.
But what is it that actually happens when you see someone?
You become them. Not in the sense of a metamorphosis into them; you become fully aware that you and this person are not separate. When another person goes from an object in your experience to a subject, there is still but one subject in your experience, and that subject is you. Their being cannot be separated from yours. Their well-being cannot be separated from yours. Their feelings, their needs, their story, their now, all of these become a part of you. They become yours, owned by you not in the way you own a car, but the way you own your self.
To love someone is not to see multiple sides of them, but to see them beyond sides. Not to see their depth, but their infinity. Not to attach more labels, but to render them label-less. Their quality goes from an image to a pan-dimensional fractal, forever emerging out of itself, out of you, out of everything that is. You see the truth of them from the truth of yourself. And what is that truth? That each of you, both of you, are nothing more or less than that which is.
So, how do we love each other?
By treating each other as ourselves, not simply as we want to be treated or (forbid) as extensions of ourselves. By being fully present with each other, which requires being fully present with ourselves, dipping into the clear water of the moment with the full totality of ourselves as that which is, and sharing in that experience with another.
Love of a person’s qualities or characteristics is just that: love of qualities and characteristics. But this infinite, spontaneous love that comes only in the present moment, “the timeless now” as Eckhart would say, that is what we talk about when we talk about seeing someone. That moment of being them, because you could never not be.