Earlier this afternoon, I was speaking with one of my group coaching clients about self-knowledge. She said something that stopped me in my tracks:
“Enlightenment is scary.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“What if we don’t like what we find? What if our real truth isn’t ‘acceptable’ or will stand in the way of making money? Sometimes it feels better to not know.”
I then wrote out an article about self-knowledge, because of course I have all kinds of thoughts about it, but couldn’t bring myself to press publish. It felt wrong somehow. So I took a step back and allowed myself to feel what she was trying to say.
I suspect that all this talk of head-based knowledge is a distraction from the real, vulnerable heart of the matter: being seen for who we really are.
Recognition is one of our core needs. Not in a flashy “look at me” way, but in that magical intersection of individuality and belonging. It’s about being seen — truly seen — by another, and when seen, accepted.
Perhaps this explains the interest in Marina Abramovic’s 2010 performance art, The Artist is Present, where MOMA-museum visitors could sit across from her, seeing and being seen, for as long as they wanted. She never moved or changed expression.
“The overwhelming feeling I had was that you think you can understand a person just by looking at them, but when you look at them over a long period of time, you understand how impossible that is. I felt connected, but I don’t know how far the connection goes.”Dan Visel, Participant (from the New York Times: Confronting a Stranger, For Art
How far does the connection go? We’re seen by people, sure. We’re seen by our partners, family, co-workers, bosses and friends every day. But are we really seen? It’s a felt sense of pure recognition, through the defenses and the masks, down to the very essence of who we are as an individual human being.
I haven’t felt seen for most of my life. As I grew up, I felt different… and I assumed that the only way I could be seen is by conforming myself to what other people wanted to see. It was an early, intuitive, subconscious process starting with my own family.
When I failed to conform — when I lost friends, relationships and jobs because I was trying to be someone I’m not — I assumed that something within me was flawed. That I was flawed.
I didn’t want to see myself. I both dreaded and craved being seen by another.
I hid for a long time… until I reached the point where I knew something had to change. I remember this point well; I was staying on a farm outside L’viv, Ukraine last year. I took a lot of walks in the forest, journaled for hours every day, went inward, and embraced what I found there. I wrote this post called We Find Belonging in our Darkness; I’d never felt simultaneously so vulnerable and strong.
And in that moment, everything shifted; I began to step into my power. I had to see it to claim it.
The biggest compliment my clients share with me is that they feel seen. I feel such incredible gratitude that I can serve in this way.
Thing is, we can’t be truly seen by another until we are willing to see ourselves completely, and embrace whatever we find there. And it’s only from this place of true seeing and deep self-compassion can we see the essence of another.
Perhaps this practice of seeing self and others truly is the one thing that could change this world.
PS. If you’d like to be part of a likeminded group where you’ll feel seen — and learn how to see yourself truly — I hope you’ll join us in the Intentional Rebels program. We’re just a couple days away from shutting the doors; if you’re interested, email me at jen at jenrice.co I’ll add you to the intro call tomorrow, Thursday, at 11 am EST. Or we can set up something 1:1 for Friday.
It’s my mission to help original minds be seen and valued for their unique gifts. I’m always happy to have a live conversation; you can book a call with me here.