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Center for Action and Contemplation
Expanding Our Vision
Expanding Our Vision

Third-Eye Seeing

Friday, June 3, 2022

It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes. —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Father Richard describes a contemplative teaching on three different ways or levels of seeing, and points out the need for people capable of seeing from the “third eye” and acting upon its wisdom:

In the medieval period, two Christian philosophers offered names for three different ways of seeing, and these names have had a great influence on scholars and seekers in the Western tradition. Hugh of St. Victor (1096–1141) [1] and Richard of St. Victor [2] (died 1173) wrote that humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third was the intuitive eye of true understanding (contemplation). I describe this third eye as knowing something simply by being calmly present to it (no processing needed!). This image of “third eye” thinking, beyond our dualistic vision, is also found in most Eastern religions. We are on to something archetypal here, I think!

The loss of the “third eye” is the basis of much of the short-sight-edness and religious crises of the Western world. Lacking such wisdom, it is hard for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into dualistic oppositions like liberal vs. conservative, as vested interests pull against one another. Truth is no longer possible at this level of conversation. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.

One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative “third-eye” seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all suffering and violence in the world. [3] It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founding teachers, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society.

We need all three sets of eyes to create a healthy culture and a healthy religion. Without them, we only deepen and perpetuate our problems.

The third-eye person has always been the saint, the seer, the poet, the metaphysician, or the authentic mystic who grasps the whole picture. We need true mystics who see with all three sets of eyes. Some call this movement conversion, some call it enlightenment, some transformation, and some holiness. It is Paul’s “third heaven,” where “he heard things that must not and cannot be put into human language” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).

[1] Hugh of St. Victor, De Sacramentis, book 1, chap. 10.2. See On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1951), 167.

[2] Richard of St. Victor, The Mystical Ark, book 1, chap. 3–4. See The Twelve Patriarchs; The Mystical Ark; Book Three of The Trinity, trans. Grover A. Zinn (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 155–158.

[3] See David Berreby, Us and Them: The Science of Identity (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2009), 28–30.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Young Shih, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Taiwan, Free Use. Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, Public Domain. Mohsen Ameri, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Iran, Free Use. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Dewdrops on grass, sunlight on the path, trees reaching skyward. It’s easy to overlook things we think we have seen already seen before. How can we look more deeply, allow our sight to be shifted so as to see anew?

Story from Our Community:

With the current political climate, I found myself put off by many of the conversations, posts and polarization on social media. I practice intentionally sending love from my heart to one or two specific others with which I disagreed. I felt the tension in my own body as I did this. It was not easy, as I also felt a wave of my own fear come up to be released. The struggle of this practice reminds me that real love is not an idea, but an anchor point within myself that I have to return to regularly and rest.
—Lauren A.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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