12 Mar When was the last time you felt truly seen?
To be truly seen is our deepest yearning
Jungian analyst Irene Claremont de Castillejo says that we spend our life mixing with others, but we rarely truly meet. This includes the people who are closest to us:
“After the business of the day we go home and join our families, where it is quite easy for the various members to rub alongside one another without meeting each other at all, and without anybody noticing the fact.” (Knowing Women. A Feminine Psychology.)
Growing up, even though we were ten siblings, I didn’t have anybody to share my fears, hopes, and emotions with. Over time, this painful isolation also made me feel safe: when there’s no intimacy, there’s no risk, because your vulnerability hides behind a hard shell.
Now, I have to fight the tendency to live side by side with my husband and son as impenetrable islands, because that’s what feels familiar to me, and therefore, comfortable.
Truly meeting someone, says Claremont de Castillejo, happens only when the whole Self is present. It has nothing to do with duration, nor common interests. A touch of a hand may suffice.
I’ve felt more than once this brief but meaningful connection. I describe one such moment in my memoir, when I dance a bolero with a stranger, during a lonely time in my life.
“With the first notes, I hugged this man, letting my body fall into his. He did the same. We pressed together from shoulders to feet, my head buried in his neck, his head draped over mine. There were no kisses, hands on butts, or an erection on my hip, but we shared a bond as profound as I had ever experienced. For three minutes, without an ounce of fear, our bodies were one in a tight embrace, as lovers saying farewell at the airport before a long trip. We surrendered to each other.
When the song ended, I said, thank you, looking at the stranger straight in the eye.
He pressed my hand and sustained my gaze, hushed, his eyes wide with wonder. We had met. Then we turned away, and never saw each other again.”
I was reminded of the power of a fleeting but lifechanging connection last week, when I saw the movie by French director Cécile Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It narrates the doomed love between two women in the 1800s, but it’s not the typical lesbian film full of hot sex scenes. Instead of centering on pleasure, it centers on the effect of seeing someone to their authentic core.
The protagonists are a painter and her model. Numerous scenes focus on their eyes seeing each other, on the feelings born from their rapt attention. Although they are only together for a scarce few days, the depth of their connection will sustain them for decades.
Being truly seen and seeing another truly is a gift. It reminds us that only when we are fully present with ourselves can we be fully present for another.
When was the last time you felt truly seen?