Thirty years ago, I recall being moved by a story I read in “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” by Peter Senge et al. It describes the greeting used commonly by native tribespeople in a northern area of South Africa. The greeting is “Sawu bona”, which is the equivalent of “hello” in English. However, “sawu bona” is literally translated as “I see you”. If you belong to the tribe, the appropriate reply is “I am here”. The meaning of the exchange implies respect and acknowledgment of other as a person.
How often in our culture do we actually see the other person when we say hello? Consider your experience with acquaintances and, most importantly, with family and friends.
I remember having a sense of longing for this type of exchange and acknowledgement in my own life and relationships. At the time, I recall the experience of feeling like I had not “been seen” and yet, it was only something I knew intuitively, as I couldn’t explain what was missing. Today, I understand it being about connection….not only with others, but, with myself.
Now, after more than 20 years of mindfulness practice, I often describe the practice as one of “seeing and being seen”. It is connection.
Let me explain further what I mean by “seeing and being seen”. To practice mindfulness in this way involves a conscious choice to make a connection with others and our environment. “Seeing” means more than just seeing. It means the appropriate use of any of the senses to take in your experience including hearing, tasting, touching, and smell. The intent is to “see clearly” what is being experienced.
With respect to a relationship between two people, this “seeing clearly” is accessible very clearly through hearing. And yet, how often do we find ourselves only partially hearing what is being said, as our attention is often caught by our own opinions and judgements about what is being said as well as our mind’s tendency to start preparing a response.
The “being seen” means allowing, if we choose, the other to see that we are present. We can do that in our body language and actions while communicating. We can also make choices about our words that convey our intention and meaning in any communication.
This “seeing and being seen” calls us to raise our awareness of our habitual and sometimes conditioned ways of behaving that may lead to a sense of “disconnect”. Mindfulness of communication promotes clarity and understanding and will enable us to behave in a way that connects with others and also with yourself.