The Second Gaze — Center for Action and Contemplation
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The Second Gaze

Contemplation and Action Summary

The Second Gaze
Friday, January 1, 2021
New Year’s Day

Contemplation happens to everyone. It happens in moments when we are open, undefended, and immediately present. —Gerald May

Even after fifty years of practicing contemplation, my immediate response to most situations includes attachment, defensiveness, judgment, control, and analysis. I am better at calculating than contemplating. A good New Year’s practice for us would be to admit that that most of us start there. The false self seems to have the “first gaze” at almost everything.

On my better days, when I am “open, undefended, and immediately present,” [1] I can sometimes begin with a contemplative mind and heart. Most of the time I can get there later and even end there, but it is usually a second gaze. The True Self seems to always be ridden and blinded by the defensive needs of the separate self. It is an hour-by-hour battle, at least for me. I can see why all spiritual traditions insist on some form of daily prayer; in fact, morning, midday, evening, and before-we-go-to-bed prayer would be a good idea too! Otherwise, we can assume that we will fall right back in the cruise control of small and personal self-interest, the pitiable and fragile smaller self.

The first gaze is seldom compassionate. It is too busy weighing and feeling itself: “How will this affect me?” or “How does my self-image demand that I react to this?” or “How can I get back in control of this situation?” This leads to an implosion of self-preoccupation that cannot enter into communion with the other or the moment. In other words, we first feel our feelings before we can relate to the situation and emotion of the other. Only after God has taught us how to live “undefended” can we immediately (or at least more quickly) stand with and for the other, and for the moment.

It has taken me much of my life to begin to get to the second gaze. By nature, I have a critical mind and a demanding heart, and I am impatient. (I’m a One on the Enneagram!) These are both my gifts and my curses, as you might expect. Yet I cannot have one without the other, it seems. I cannot risk losing touch with either my angels or my demons. They are both good teachers. The practice of solitude and silence allows them both, and leads to the second gaze. The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of divine intimacy is really all I have, and all I have to give, even though I don’t always do it.

In the second gaze, critical thinking and compassion are finally coming together. It is well worth waiting for, because only the second gaze sees fully and truthfully. It sees itself, the other, and even God with God’s own eyes, the eyes of compassion, which always move us to act for peace and justice. But it does not reject the necessary clarity of critical thinking, either. Normally, we start with dualistic thinking, and then move toward nondual for an enlightened response. As always, both/and!

References:
Richard Rohr, “Contemplation and Compassion: The Second Gaze,” Contemplation in Action, Richard Rohr and Friends (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2006), 15–16, 18–19, 20.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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