Love’s Gaze: By Any Name, the Sweetest Gift
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.
Great Uncle Henry dropped into my life the summer of my sixteenth year at a family barbeque in my aunt’s backyard in Farmington, NH. I don’t remember ever meeting him before that day, but he must have heard about my reputation. Unlike most of the adults in my life who either avoided me or approached me with politely-veiled apprehension, Uncle Henry hustled toward me as soon as our car pulled up. He moved swiftly across the lawn, tripping over the rain gulley with his arms wide open and his smile enormous. Gray haired, mustached, dress-coated Uncle Henry was mouth-open laughing as he righted himself and wrapped his arms tight around me. I felt chosen as I hugged him back. And I felt loved. Just like that. Here was the embrace that I had wanted from the world around me, but it took someone like Henry to understand just what it was I really needed.
Henry was a recovering alcoholic, born-again Christian, former boot-legger and preacher, with a brilliant sense of humor and a zest for life. His spiritual enthusiasm was contagious and it was his greatest pleasure to share it. He’d pick me up and take me out to Friendly’s in his huge old Buick with an eight-track tape player that played classic country. For me, the most defining moment we shared was a time, when in the middle of a conversation across the red-vinyled booth of a hustling Friendly’s, Uncle Henry paused and his usually boisterous presence became uncharacteristically still and peaceful. As the business around us became muted in my awareness, I met his gaze which locked into mine with a piercing intensity. He spoke, as if from his innermost soul, telling me, “I see the light of Jesus in you.”
In that moment, a warm healing energy flowed into my heart. I felt like I received a transmission, a blessing, the greatest gift of grace. To receive such a gaze of love after so many gazes of judgment opened up a space of healing for me that continues to this day. I began to see the essence of all that is good as something not only outside of me, but also something I contained within myself. I could feel the sustaining nature of this energy, how it was present despite my current circumstances, pain, and personality. I think it’s possible that with this transmission of love, Uncle Henry may have saved my life. It wasn’t like I took a U-turn into emotional stability, but I no longer hated everything about myself; there was something good in me. By seeing it, Uncle Henry had allowed me to see it as well.
I was perfectly comfortable with my Uncle Henry’s exuberant Christianity even though I was raised Jewish and had, a few years before, made the choice to have a Bat Mitzvah. I loved this joyful connective energy. It felt, to me, to exist beyond any particular structure of belief and as though it included everyone. Uncle Henry’s loving affirmation, by any name, was the sweetest gift.
As a yoga teacher and a student of yoga, I have often returned to the energy of that gaze of love.
Lately, I have begun a practice of daily study of the Bhagavad Gita. In this epic tale, Arjuna bends the ear of Krishna, who represents absolute consciousness. Krishna shares many lessons with Arjuna, who is a willing seeker and wants to know how to live in a way that brings harmony and wholeness. At one point, in chapter 6 verse 30, Krishna tells Arjuna, “I am ever present to those who see me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never separated from me.” I think this is what Henry showed me and it has deepened my commitment to continue to practice yoga.
Science has shown us that numerous yogic practices help to heal and calm the nervous system. When we can find more calm and down-regulate our nervous system, we can begin to move in the world with intention rather than reactivity. With less stress, our eyes express more of our souls, our generous and non-judgmental consciousness. I think of my yoga practice now as a practice of “cleaning the windows” so that I might more often be able to share a gaze through which others may more fully perceive the goodness they too contain. The language is irrelevant when the gaze of love is shared; it bypasses our belief systems and our personalities and reminds us of another layer of who we are. In this place of loving consciousness, we are all worthy, equal to one another, and unconditionally cherished. I will be forever grateful for having received such a gift when I needed it most. I wish for each of us that we experience such a connected and loving gaze in our days ahead; may these shared moments bring healing and comfort to one another in our inner and outer worlds.
Lisa Rockenmacher, M.A.T., ERYT- 500 and YACEP, is a senior faculty member for the YogaLifeNH teacher training program. Lisa is dedicated to encouraging others to share their gifts through helping them discern and embody their unique wisdom. Her yoga certifications include Classical Yoga E-RYT 500, Kundalini Yoga (including 120 hours of Level 2 training), and 300 hours of Comprehensive Yoga Therapy education. Lisa’s love of exploring energy and consciousness is an integral part of her work not only as a yoga teacher, but also as an intuitive healer and Reiki master teacher; she is certified in Usui-Tibetan as well as Karuna Reiki. Lisa’s teaching invites self- inquiry, spontaneity, and the opportunity for her students to be receptive to awareness of mind, body, and breath as a path to inner wisdom.
Lisa has many years of experience teaching chakra classes, workshops, and series. As a result of her yoga experience and intuitive energy teaching and practice, Lisa has gained an experiential knowledge of how energy feels in the body. She enjoys awakening and encouraging this energy awareness in others. Lisa’s classes use many varied modalities to facilitate learning, enjoyment, and increased understanding for all types of students. When teaching in a group setting, Lisa is sensitive and responsive to the needs of the moment; her classes are cohesive, energy-balancing, and welcoming to all.