Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.
InnerNet Weekly: Inspirations from

The Practice Of Soft Eyes
by Parker Palmer

[Listen to Audio!]

In a sacred landscape, with its complexities and convolutions, surprise is a constant companion: it lies just around the bend or hidden in the next valley, and though it sometimes startles us, it often brings delight. But on the flatlands of a desacralized world, where we grow accustomed to seeing things approaching us long before they arrive, surprise is neither expected nor welcomed. When it suddenly arises, apparently out of nowhere, we are stricken with fear and may even respond with violence. […]

It is possible to respond differently to surprises, to allow one new idea to generate yet another in us — a process sometimes called thinking. But in a flattened, desacralized culture thinking is not what happens when we are taken — or threatened — by surprise. Instead, we reflexively defend ourselves by reaching for a weapon that we know how to use, an old idea whose use we mastered long ago. [...]

This reflex is rooted in a million years of evolution, so it may seem inexorable. Yet there is some physiological evidence that this need not be the case. Normally when we are taken by surprise, there is a sudden narrowing of our visual periphery that exacerbates the fight or flight response — an intense, fearful, self-defensive focusing of the “gimlet eye” that is associated with both physical and intellectual combat. But in the Japanese self-defense art of aikido, this visual narrowing is countered by a practice called “soft eyes”, in which one learns to widen one’s periphery, to take in more of the world.

If you introduce a sudden stimulus to an unprepared person, the eyes narrow and the fight or flight syndrome kicks in. But if you train a person to practice soft eyes, then introduce that same stimulus, the reflex is often transcended. This person will turn toward the stimulus, take it in, and then make a more authentic response — such as thinking a new thought.

Soft eyes, it seems to me, is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes wide with wonder, we no longer need to resist or run when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery. 

About the Author:  Parker Palmer from The Courage to Teach.
Share the Wisdom:  
Email   Twitter   FaceBook

Latest Community Insights New!
The Practice Of Soft Eyes
What does having "soft eyes" mean to you? Can you share a personal experience of a time you countered visual narrowing by widening your periphery? What helps you develop soft eyes?
Jagdish P Dave wrote:  Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.What we see depends on how we see. If we see the world with narrow eyes, the world looks narrow to us. If we see the world with hard eyes, the world look...
david doane wrote:  For me, having soft eyes means being open to hopefully see what is, not just see my thinking or prejudices or expectations or preconceived judgments.  Having soft eyes means being open and...

Share/Read Your Reflections

      Awakin Circles:
Many years ago, a couple friends got together to sit in silence for an hour, and share personal aha-moments. That birthed this newsletter, and rippled out as Awakin Circles in 80+ living rooms around the globe. To join in Santa Clara this week, RSVP online.

RSVP For Wednesday

Some Good News
•  What It Means to Hold Space & 8 Tips to Do it Well
•  9 Scientists Share Their Favorite Happiness Practices
•  GK Chesterton: A Piece of Chalk

Video of the Week
•  Counter Mapping

Kindness Stories

Global call with Jeff Warren!
Join us for a conference call this Saturday, with a global group of ServiceSpace friends and our insightful guest speaker. Join the Forest Call >>

Back in 1997, one person started sending this simple "meditation reminder" to a few friends. Soon after, "Wednesdays" started, ServiceSpace blossomed, and the humble experiments of service took a life of its own. If you'd like to start an Awakin gathering in your area, we'd be happy to help you get started.

Forward to a Friend
Awakin Weekly delivers weekly inspiration to its 91,524 subscribers. We never spam or host any advertising. And you can unsubscribe anytime, within seconds.

On our website, you can view 17+ year archive of these readings. For broader context, visit our umbrella organization: