So much of what it is to be a person is invisible to us.
Yes, we can see outward behaviour, but we can’t see the thoughts, intentions, vows, commitments, bodily sensations, meaning, love, joy, grief, sadness, hope or pain of others.
In order to see and understand other people as people and not as objects we need to be able to understand the contours of their inner worlds. And in order to do that, we need to know our own inner worlds: we need the language and discernment to notice and distinguish what’s happening inside us. But we have abandoned the practices that can support us in this.
We’ve abandoned reflection and replaced it with busyness.
We’ve abandoned sitting quietly with ourselves and replaced it with consuming.
We’ve abandoned patient and disciplined self-observation and replaced it with entertainment.
We’ve judged the contemplative practices of those peoples and traditions that came before us to be irrelevant, spooky, or superstitious – at odds with our apparently sophisticated, rational way of being.
Our capacity to understand ourselves, and to understand others, has been flattened out, rendered shallow and inconsequential as a result. We barely know ourselves, and we barely know how to respond to the suffering and difficulty of those we work with, and those we live with.
If we want to build families, communities and organisations in which people have a genuine chance to thrive, we need to take care of this.
It’s time we took back what we’ve so comprehensively abandoned, so we can learn to treat what’s invisible about others and, first, about ourselves, with the seriousness and wonder it deserves.