“Seeing...and Being Seen”
by Cognitive Dissonance
"While I suspect western culture has always been afflicted with the desperate need to be seen, affirmed and acknowledged, we appear to be nearing the climax of self destructive behavior in our mindless pursuit to escape our true self by having our madness verified as normal and natural by other mad men and women.
Misery, and madness, loves company.
Last week Mrs. Cog and I traveled to our daughter’s capital city university to retrieve her for several days of rest and relaxation before she returns to begin a grueling summer study session at college. Basically Sarah will stuff a full semester (15 credit hours) into a few months of intense work before beginning the fall semester in late August.
We decided to grab something to eat before heading back and drove over to a popular eatery for a quick bite. Naturally it was packed and parking (this being the inner city) was at a premium. In fact, so precious was the ability to park our four wheeled steel cage that the small parking lot was overseen by a man whose sole purpose was to manage vehicle traffic in order to maximize lunch hour meal service.
While I admit seeing a parking lot attendant is a bit of a novelty since we moved to a sparsely populated area of the state possessing very few parking lots, let alone attendants, I was immediately struck by the ‘presence’ of this man. There was something about him that was arresting and my curiosity was peaked. So while we waited for a parking space to clear I settled in and began one of my favorite pastimes…people watching.
We are strange and wondrous animals and fascinating to watch when prowling our natural habitat, regardless of whether it is a busy city street corner or the wide open rolling hills of rural Southwestern Virginia. Go sit for an hour in a busy shopping mall, Wal-Mart or downtown park for a first hand education in human nature.
But I digress.
The attendant, middle aged, reasonably trim and wearing a bright reflective vest, displayed a body language that spoke volumes to anyone who cared to listen. I first noticed him when his back was turned towards me. But even then it was immediately obvious he was alert and engaged, yet somehow calm, relaxed even. Or maybe the better phrase might be comfortable in his skin. He was at ease with himself and his surroundings, in his element, finely tuned and ticking like an exquisite Swiss watch. When he finally turned and faced me, for I was now next in line to be parked, I saw intensity, focus, professionalism and pleasure. He liked what he was doing and he was good at what he did.
He studied each face he interacted with and remembered who they were and where they were parked when they came back out. He had command over the small lot and was expert in directing waiting cars around to allow those wishing to leave to quickly vacate so those waiting could quickly fill the empty space.
Our daughter and her friend, who were waiting to park ahead of us, decided to leave and park at a nearby garage to expedite the parking process for Mrs. Cog and I, then walk back to the eatery for lunch with us. Even though the attendant never ‘parked’ them, he remembered them and commented that they had made their way back to the restaurant, then warned them not to park across the street, a place notorious for towing unauthorized parked cars.
While he accepted tips and had placed a sign at the exit informing those leaving that tips were welcome and appreciated, I did not sense he was hustling just for money, but rather for the joy of being in the groove and at his best.
I tipped him on the way in to be seated and once again on the way out, telling him I found his personality engaging and a joy to behold. He expressed gratitude upon hearing my comment and said it had made his day. I heard honesty and sincerity in his voice and saw it’s reflection in his demeanor.
He had been seen by someone else and it meant a great deal to him. And upon reflection, it meant a great deal to me as well for he acknowledged my acknowledgment of him. Two ships, passing in the night, signaling to each other Hello and Goodbye.
What I saw was someone who was being the best he could be at what he was presently doing. While I have no way of knowing if this is true, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find he approaches many, if not all, of his daily tasks with the same vigorous perspective. He wasn’t being obsessive/compulsive; there wasn’t this intense need to complete certain tasks before moving on to the next, just him being thorough and precise in a relaxed but alert manner.
I suspect the vast majority of others, myself included, who might be pressed into service as a parking lot attendant, willingly or not, would not invest anywhere near the time, energy or thought into his or her task as this man clearly does. I felt, sensed really, he was at ease and in command of himself, and therefore at ease and in command with everything and everyone he interfaced with.
There is a powerful scene in the movie “The Last Samurai” where the captured soldier (played by Tom Cruise) is free to wander within the village and interact with the natives, thought always shadowed by an armed guard. He observes how all whom he encounters are disciplined and focused as they complete each task, no matter how small or trivial, to the highest perfection without being wasteful of time, energy or material. They are being the best they can be for no other purpose than to be true to themselves.
Rather than seek meaning in life from external sources, they infuse life with meaning and purpose, thereby creating a virtuous circle where they both give everything they have and gain everything they can from giving of themselves. In order to truly receive, to be capable of receiving, they must first give it away by infusing themselves into whatever it is they are creating.
They live a life based upon a simple concept; only when they are all they can be, thus are, will they see their self fully and honestly. And only then can anyone else see them, and therefore their self, for whom and what they really are. Otherwise all they see, and are seen as, is the false façade they project to others, eventually believing through endless repetition this is what they truly are when in fact the exact opposite is true.
Either we are the truth we seek by living it on a daily basis, or we practice the life of a lie and are easily distracted and manipulated. The difference is being a rock, barely embedded in the soil, easily dislodged and carried away, or one deeply buried but for the top, rooted to the Earth, impervious to surface disruptions yet fully cognizant of all.
Of course, the inner knowing we all possess, the true non-egoic self, recognizes the fundamental lie for what it is, thereby setting up and inflaming a terribly disruptive cognitive dissonance within. This inner conflict sets upon us a terrible emptiness and craving to be affirmed in our lie, less we be forced to face the truth of our own self deception. The vast majority of us are at war with our selves. And it shows in the increasingly dysfunctional and neurotic lives we lead and live.
The insane asylum is becoming increasingly insane, the natives progressively more manic and the lies more deeply intertwined and nonsensical. In a paternal hierarchy, the authority declares what is truth and lie, the mindless minion helpless to do much more than to submit to the tyranny of the hive mind. This is why insanity is contagious when contracted in groups, while sanity returns, even thrives, one individual at a time.
This brings me back to the ‘presence’ observation I made when describing the parking lot attendant at the beginning of this piece. While everyone has experienced presence at one time or another, most don’t recognize it for what it really is because it quickly blends into the prevailing fog of our lives. Or we mistake presence for celebrity, be it actor, politician or athlete. But true presence is sensed before it is seen, felt before touched, perceived by our inner knowing as real, genuine, sincere and authentic. True and unabashed sanity glows, lighting the way forward by action and deed rather than empty rhetoric and proffered falsehoods.
Animals, babies and young children instantly recognize presence while we adults, severely degraded by decades of decadent cognitive conditioning supplemented by a poisonous diet, barely notice the ripple in space and time as another opportunity to experience sanity passes by.
I claim no special powers other than the desire to declare I have seen the depths of my insanity and wish never to go there again. The one and only endowment bestowed upon me when I visited my madness was the gift of desperation, of knowing that sanity does not just happen but must be vigorously and endlessly pursued. Insanity seeps in when the mind and spirit are lazy and infused with an entitlement mentality.
Madness cannot be escaped when one is surrounded by insanity unless one is willing to actively seek the one flower of sanity always in bloom, the one found deeply within our self. The only question remaining is, how desperate are we to unearth the sanity and set our self free?"