A Story of Senses: Sight


"Golden Age", János Miklós Vaszary (30 November 1867 – 19 April 1939), Hungarian

In this journey of exploring our senses & the subtle realities that surround them, I have purposefully left hearing and seeing for the end. That is because they differ from our other three senses. Although I have tried to make these essays more contemplative than philosophical, it is impossible to avoid the philosophical aspect to the sight and hearing. I believe that even the reader of this essay, can intuitively feel that there is a subtle difference between tasting and seeing, even if it is difficult to explain what exactly is the difference. It is because these two senses, unlike the other three, do not primarily engage our sense as such, rather they serve as a vessel for our minds. Unlike the other three, the sight and the hearing have an intellectual component.

 

The Admiration

"Apollo and Thetis", Jacob de Wit (19 December 1695 – 12 November 1754), Dutch

"Pulchra sunt quae visa placent" - "Summa Theologica", St. Thomas Aquinas


Like every other sense, we also use our sight to gather information from our sensory surroundings. However, our sight is not only passive - other than gathering and receiving information, our sight is also putting a piece of our own awareness and consciousness towards the world of phenomena. It is through our sight that we gaze and recognise that which is beautiful. We may visit a museum and enjoy a beautiful work of art; we may likewise visit a church or a temple and stand in awe gazing upon beautiful architecture or frescoes; we may also engage our sight in reading a beautiful poem or a novel. But the pleasure that we get from looking at a beautiful piece of art, or even a beautiful face, is not necessarily the pleasure that's within the eye itself, rather, the pleasure we get comes from our intellect. When we eat a piece of a luxurious chocolate, our pleasure comes from the sensation itself, but when we gaze upon something beautiful, or when we use our sight to read philosophical or other intellectually engaging work, it is our mind that is directly engaged. It is therefore, our intellect that recognises something as beautiful and harmonious, and not simply our sensory side. Our lustful side may gaze upon that which is beautiful and desire to possess it, steal it, or even harm it if it is not able to have it. Our intellectual side is capable of gazing upon the beautiful without giving in to the desire of making the beautiful thing a means towards an end (in this case satisfying lust). The intellect lights up and reveals the beauty of the object we are looking at and our pleasure is in the beauty itself. Looking at the object of our admiration, directing the light of our consciousness towards it, even the act of taking pleasure from it, is a gift towards the object. We give a piece of our own light to the object of our devotion, and in return we are gifted too - our intellect has been stimulated and it was offered a chance to enjoy its own radiance through the object.

 

The Eye of Imagination

"I love the silent hour of night, for blissful dreams may then arise, revealing to my charmed sight what may not bless my waking eyes.” — "Best Poems of Bronte Sisters", Anne Brontë


Since our sight is our most projecting sense, and the sense so closely connected to our intellectual world, it is also that which directly awakens our imaginary capacities. For example, we may read a beautiful novel or a poem and then imagine the events, characters, imagery and descriptions the author brings to us. It also does not matter if the said work is a translation, especially if we speak of a novel or an intellectual work - we still will be able to understand the story, characters and messages, or we still be able to understand an intellectual idea or a concept. Like I mentioned earlier, this is because our pleasure in a beautiful novel is not in the sound or shape of words, rather it is in the novel itself. Our sight does not only lend its light to the world of phenomena. Our inner sight shows us the hidden jewels of our own being. Not only does it bring to awareness to that which we have kept hidden from ourselves, but when this inner eye interacts with those parts of ourselves, we feel inspired, creative and insightful. Does it surprise us then that we all admit that most of our creative, insightful ideas, but also intrusive thoughts and self-destructive tendencies appear during the silence of the night? It is in this deep silence that the state of both our consciousness and our soul is revealed to us. If our soul is fearful of the light, and if our light is so agitated and frustrated, with nothing to receive it and reflect it back to us, our whole being is in a state of confusion and anger. Just like the light of our eyes gives colour to our external world, if we allow it, it can light up our own inner world and reveal to us stories, symbols, archetypes that speak to us. This inner world can be very similar to the sensory world, but unlike it, this inner world becomes our little universe which we boundlessly explore and in which we endlessly play. Ibn 'Arabi said: "God placed sleep in the animate world only so that everyone might witness the Presence of Imagination and know that there is another world similar to the sensory world." --trans. by William C. Chittick from al-Futuhat III 198.23.

 

The Consoling Gaze

"Amicizia", Rodolfo Morgari (1827 – 1909), Italian

"I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – To tell one's name – the livelong June – To an admiring Bog!" - Emily Dickinson There is a primordial consolation in being offered a disinterested, detached gaze. So much of our perturbation comes from feeling insignificant and from a feeling that nobody has neither courage nor capability to sit before us and look at us the way we are. The disinterested gaze is consoling because it neither cares to judge, nor to compare, nor to comment - it only cares to look and it gains all its pleasure and joy only by being allowed to do it. To be looked at and yet nothing to be asked of you is freeing because there you are free to be the empty space, your own universe that does nothing but enjoy the radiant, warming light of its star. One is finally free from being something and someone, and allowed to be everything and everyone.

 

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