Wayne C. Allen's "Works in Progress"
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Soft Eyes

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Many moons ago Darbella and I saw a live dinner theatre performance of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." The theatre is large and well appointed, and the dinner buffet is quite generous. The problem was with our seats.

We found ourselves plastered right up against stage centre. The stage was probably 5 feet off the ground, so if we looked straight ahead, our heads were at the actors’ foot level. Prior to the show beginning, we were laughing about how one could not get any closer to the action.

Then the show started.

The actors towered over us, and we had to crane our necks to see their faces. This led to stiff necks pretty quickly. But that, really, wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we were way, way too close. We discovered a lot of things:

  • that the wardrobe people repaired rips and tears with whatever fabric and thread was around, whether it matched or not. Mostly, it didn't.
  • that the female cast members, who were dressed in fishnet stockings and underwear or baby dolls (they’re whores, remember), were all wearing ripped, torn fishnet stockings, with pantyhose under them, and the pantyhose had runs, and tears. And,
  • that none of the blondes in the cast were natural blondes. If you get my meaning… if you catch my drift.

Darbella and I initially snickered at the "crotch level view," and amazed ourselves at how much "detail" we were seeing. After five minutes, the novelty began to wear off, and all we could see were the rips, the tears, the errant hairs. (Gee, that rhymed.)

I thought of this story and its opposite—what might be described as having "soft eyes."

All too often, clients get into the loop of wanting to analyze, to death, each and every situation in their lives. One client refuses to do anything with her life -- all I hear is the same story, over and over, and all that changes is the cast of characters. I work at getting her into the present, and she asks, "Why????" Progress, for her, is asking, "Why, oh why, do I ask why all the time?" I invite her to change one thing in the here and now, and her eyes glaze over - hard eyes.

Too much detail, too close

Wanting to know is a delaying tactic. It’s delaying the possibility of letting go and moving past. If you think about it, this focus on detail is never comforting, enlightening, or fun. The process has no other effect than to point to the next problem, and the next, and the next. And each problem ups the distress level.

Much like our seats at the theatre.

Nothing we did from those seats could change anything. We made jokes, we rubbed our necks, we looked away. And every time we looked back, we saw more. Razor nicks. Band-Aids. Varicose veins. Bruises. With each new revelation, our attention was drawn away from the enjoyment of the play, and into, "I wonder what we’ll see next—I’m sure it will be worse!"

The only way we could have fixed the situation was to get up and move, or get up and leave. In other words, the fix was less detail and more distance.

Here’s the funny part about living life. Staying stuck in the middle of the swamp is not required—it’s optional. Or, "Engagement with life is required. Drama is optional."

It gets even more interesting when we do the drama bit about something that’s not even happening. We’re in the middle of our 2nd move in 4 months, with one to go before we move to Costa Rica. We just learned that the family whose house we are now living in is coming back in three months, six months, a year, or two years.

After learning they had no set date for their return, we spent a sleepless few hours concocting scenarios regarding having to move in either December or March, then wondering if we wanted to live here for two years. Now, remember, none of this ruminating was being done with the family, and it wouldn’t have helped if we had. They won’t know how long they are staying until after they are in Chile for a while.

All we did was chew, make ourselves miserable, and lose sleep. In the real world, nothing changed. We'll likely find out when they are returning by e-mail, either 3, 6, 12 or 24 months from now.

So, what do "soft eyes" look like?

Well, in the above example, having "soft eyes" required that we stop focusing on what could go wrong, and simply see softly. The next morning we said, "Hmm. Isn’t that interesting. I guess we’ll figure out how long we are staying when we find out how long we are staying." In other words, there is absolutely nothing we can do about their decision about when they return. And it is the height of stupid to spend time trying to plan for each eventuality.

There is always the burning desire to hook ourselves into the dramas that continue to emerge.

And, most of us are surrounded by others doing drama, so at the very least we are reminded of drama’s dubious attractions. Most of the time, Dar and I quite quickly extract ourselves from the dramas of others. We just stand way, way back, and watch them spin.

In our own relationship, interestingly, there is even less drama. Soft eyes allow me to see Darbella clearly, (seems like a contradiction, eh?) whereas too much focus on detail only leads to the endless noticing of flaws. Band-Aids. Razor nicks. Etc.

This soft eyes approach plays out when I simply notice what Dar is doing, remain curious about her life, motivations, stories, and directions, while having no involvement with playing into her dramas. And vice versa—I find that I can extricate myself from my dramas quickly when Dar is simply there, observing and curious.

We’ve had acquaintances upset themselves when we have smiled at their dramas and refused to join them in their dance. "If you were really my friend, you’d be as upset as I am." Well, no. It’s not mine, and I don’t want it, and besides, all that happens when we bite is we have a large pity party and nothing changes.

We find ourselves seeing much more of life with soft, non-judgmental eyes.

We stay present with the situation without spinning it into a drama. Our focus continually turns from explanations, obsessions, and endless rumination, to simply noticing the situations as they pass by.

And they do. Situations are here and gone. It is the mental gaming that seems to prolong them.

Begin to look with soft eyes, a light heart, and without drama. Watch life pass, without clinging. It’s going to move along anyway. It’s better to stay present for the ride.

And remember, you can’t repair fishnet stockings.




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