The ‘I’ of the Beholder: What You See Is What You Get

Portrait of a Young Woman Wearing a Hat in the SnowUsually we talk about the “eye” of the beholder, not the “I”, but the eye just looks—it’s the “I” who does the seeing, right? Here’s delightful proof.

On the first Saturday of 2015 I took a lovely, long walk in New York’s Central Park and it started snowing big, luscious, wet flakes, which melted before hitting the ground. The air was fresh and cool. I had an umbrella in my pocket and left it there because I so loved the soft feel of the snowflakes landing on my hair and face.

Flake after flake melted on my cheeks, a meditation of loveliness. Soon my clothes and skin were wet, but I didn’t care—I felt so free and open, and it wasn’t really cold. A man passed by and gave me a big grin, answering the grin pasted on my face, and I smiled even more right back at him. I was so happy. He felt good, too, so we enjoyed the moment together, two enchanted “I’s”.

After some time another person passed, saw that I was soaking wet and looked at me with horror, worried, I guess, that I was a mad person about to catch the flu or a terrible cold brought on, she might have thought, by my foolish exposure to the elements. I grinned at her, too, thought that might reassure her that all was well, that I was happy and healthy, but she looked even more frightened. Maybe she thought I was “crazy”?

She might have started out enjoying the day too—who knows?—but she was programmed to see trouble, and her worried “I” had an entirely different response to my fancy, free “I”, which she thought was in danger and perhaps dangerous, too.

I was the same me, of course, who was delighted by the day and who shared my pleasure with others, but not with this person. Maybe she was in a worried mood; she saw someone different and emphatically did not want to share anything with me. She did not see my enjoyment at all. She saw a foolish woman who wasn’t smart enough to get out of the weather. Good thing she couldn’t see that I had an umbrella in my pocket—that might have pushed her over the edge and made her call 911. Maybe what I had was contagious!

I could have been annoyed or sad or angry that my walk in the park was colder and wetter than I had planned; I don’t usually like snow, but I did like it this time. I was free and in Central Park and I had nothing to do and nowhere to go but just be there and enjoy every moment of clean air and big snowflakes.

Some of us, some of the time, see threats where there are none and are prepared to fight, flee, or turn to stone and freeze like rabbits. Some of us, some of the time, see love and beauty. We all want to be in reality and see what is there, as much as is possible, but our feelings affect our vision. Eyewitnesses are “I” witnesses and not always reliable. Memory of what we’ve seen or experienced isn’t 100% reliable, either. We are all unreliable observers and narrators of experience. Nevertheless, if we can see the good, we can affect what’s in ourselves and what’s out there, and make the world better sometimes, too. You know the saying: “You buy your ticket and you take your chances.” So why not pay for something great?

It’s not easy to see reality. Buddhists and yogis, mystics, philosophers, and psychotherapists spend lifetimes cleaning and clearing their vision and helping others do the same because ignorance isn’t bliss—it’s the cause of suffering.

In my three-person scenario in Central Park, were we all ignorant? Most people avoid being cold and wet, after all, except sometimes when it just feels so damned good and you decide to embrace it.

Attitude has a lot to do with happiness.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vanessa

    Vanessa

    January 14th, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Well this one just landed and slapped me on the face today! And I needed it! There are way too many times when I blame someone else for what is going on in life without taking the time to look at the ways that possibly I am contributing to the situation

  • melinda

    melinda

    January 14th, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    Sort of a good reminder to mind our own business… if someone looks happy, even if it is not my idea of happy, then who am I to judge?

  • Sybil

    Sybil

    January 15th, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    It sorts of feels like there are too many times when people are too busy worried about our business instead of just worrying about their own, which is probably the best policy to follow! I mean, of course if I see someone and it looks like they are being hurt then I would hope that I could step in and offer assistance. But then again I think that we see things out of context and we should be content with the fact that most people, if they need help, then they will ask.

  • joey

    joey

    January 17th, 2015 at 1:16 PM

    I think that it is easy to see reality, we just have to remember that what we are seeing is our version of what reality is, and that not everyone is going to see things in that same way.

  • Claire

    Claire

    January 21st, 2015 at 2:36 PM

    You know that that there will be people who will choose to see only what they want to see because to them this is the only right answer

    those are the ones that you will never be able to change their mind no matter what you do

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    January 21st, 2015 at 5:13 PM

    Oh Claire, you are so right.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • LaJune

    LaJune

    January 22nd, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    “Attitude has a lot to do with happiness.”
    Agreed!!

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