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Learning How to See
Learning How to See

How Difficult It Is to See Clearly

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Learning How to See

How Difficult It Is to See Clearly
Sunday, February 28, 2021

Every viewpoint is a view from a point. Unless we recognize and admit our own personal and cultural viewpoints, we will never know how to decentralize our own perspective. We will live with a high degree of illusion and blindness that brings much suffering into the world. I think this is what Simone Weil (1909–1943) meant in saying that the love of God is the source of all truth. [1] Only an outer and positive reference point utterly grounds the mind and heart.

One of the keys to wisdom is that we must recognize our own biases, our own addictive preoccupations, and those things to which, for some reason, we refuse to pay attention. Until we see these patterns (which is early-stage contemplation), we will never be able to see what we do not see. No wonder that both Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE) and Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) declared self-knowledge to be the first and necessary entrance way to wisdom. [2] Without such critical awareness of the small self, there is little chance that any individual will produce truly great knowing or enduring wisdom.

Everyone sees the world from a certain, defined cultural perspective. But people who have done their inner work also see beyond their own biases to something transcendent, something that crosses the boundaries of culture and individual experience.

People with a distorted image of self, world, or God will be largely incapable of experiencing what is really real in the world. They will see things through a narrow keyhole. They’ll see instead what they need reality to be, what they’re afraid it is, or what they’re angry about. They’ll see everything through their aggressiveness, their fear, or their agenda. In other words, they won’t see it at all.

That’s the opposite of contemplatives, who see what is, whether it’s favorable or not, whether it meets their needs or not, whether they like it or not, and whether or not that reality causes weeping or rejoicing. Most of us will usually misinterpret our experience until we have been moved out of our false center. Until then, there is too much of the self in the way.

We all play our games, cultivating our prejudices and our unredeemed vision of the world. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and other scholastics said that all people choose as objective good something that merely appears good to them, foreseeing the postmodern critique by 700 years. No one willingly does evil. Each of us has put together a construct by which we explain why what we do is necessary and good. This is the specialty of the ego, the small or false self that wants to protect its agenda and project itself onto the public stage. [3] We need support in unmasking our false self and in distancing ourselves from our illusions. For this it is necessary to install a kind of “inner observer.” Some people talk about a “fair witness.” At first that sounds impossible, but with patience and practice, it can be done and even becomes quite natural.

[1] Simone Weil, “God in Plato,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, trans. and ed. Richard Rees (Oxford University Press: 1968), 104.

[2] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. Mirabai Starr (Riverhead: 2004), 45, 46.

[3] For a deeper exploration of Richard Rohr’s teachings on the True Self/False Self, our Immortal Diamond course is now open for registration.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2020), 12–13, 140–141; and

What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2015), 91.

Story from Our Community:
Having had my “feelings hurt” by being overlooked, I was shocked to realize that everything within me seemed to scream out that I surely deserved more credit, greater appreciation, and significant affirmation. In searching for direction, Richard’s astounding words—YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT—pierced me to the core and then connected me to my real self, whose only desire is to be in union with my beloved Lord. —Jo C.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953–ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Two long lines of some of the buses used to transport marchers to Washington (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Much of the work of dismantling systems of oppression involves a continued willingness to learn new ways of seeing. The March on Washington in 1963, where this image was taken, became a major tipping point in the United States’ collective story of learning how to see. May we continue the work of our ever-unfolding ability to see, understand, and act.
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