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Seeing Beneath the Broken Surface

I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to look but not see, missing a lot in the process. For example, we “look” at another person and find only the reflection of our own biases, needs, and fears — rather than truly “seeing” the being we’re with.

It’s also easy to look at the world around us and find only banality, corruption, and violence — rather than also seeing the good that’s there, the “hidden wholeness” (as Thomas Merton called it) that lies beneath the broken surface.

Here’s a poem I wrote after a walk in the winter woods, where the reflections in a very quiet, partially frozen stream allowed me to see much more than I could when I was merely looking around.

For me, this poem is a reminder to still my mind and to practice “soft eyes” so I can see the beauty — and the potential for beauty — that’s in human nature as well as the natural world.

Today I’m heading out for another walk in the winter woods. Given the world we live in right now, it’s time for a refresher course in seeing, truly seeing!

“The Winter Woods”
by Parker Palmer

The winter woods beside a solemn
river are twice seen—
once as they pierce the brittle air,
once as they dance in grace beneath the stream.

In air these trees stand rough and raw,
branch angular in stark design—
in water shimmer constantly,
disconnect as in a dream,
shadowy but more alive
than what stands stiff and cold before our eyes.

Our eyes at peace are solemn streams
and twice the world itself is seen—
once as it is outside our heads,
hard frozen now and winter-dead,
once as it undulates and shines
beneath the silent waters of our minds.

When rivers churn or cloud with ice
the world is not seen twice—
yet still is there beneath
the blinded surface of the stream,
livelier and lovelier than we can comprehend
and waiting, always waiting, to be seen.

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