Our eyes are not only the windows to our soul, but also the windows to our nervous system. If our eyes were exclusively windows to the soul, I imagine we’d all be looking pretty fantastically at one another all of the time. More often than not, our shared glances offer a window into another’s stress. The eyes are, after all, the outermost projection of our central nervous system and our world is indeed filled with frayed nerves. While more than 99% of our central nervous system is tidily tucked away behind at least some layer of protection (skin, vertebrae, muscle fiber, our skull, etc.), when it comes to the eyes we are without barriers. We are fully exposed as we engage with the world outside, immersed in numerous sensations travelling to and from our central nervous system. WIthout a physical barrier between reactivity and expression, the power of a gaze can be immediate and transformative in both negative and positive ways.
As a rule-breaking, rebellious teen it seemed to me that most adults (and some peers), were under the impression that a good, strong, shaming stink-eye was just the thing I needed to find my way to the moral high road. Despair, loneliness, confusion, self-loathing, anger, determination, fierceness… shame… No one word or phrase accurately portrays how it felt to be me at sixteen. I smoked, stole, skipped school, got suspended and arrested.
I wished for a life where I could experience meaning instead of my perpetual anxiety, but I doubted that such a future was possible. I knew I was disliked, resented, disapproved of, and unworthy because my own self-loathing was reinforced consistently through the gazes and tight faces of my teachers, parents, neighbors, and community. The stink-eye that the world was giving me became the glance I projected back out to the world. I was spiraling downward in a world holding me at arm’s length when what I deeply needed was an embrace; I was without hope until I met my Great Uncle Henry.