The “I” of the Beholder

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

The above is a common maxim which we are all familiar with no known soul as its proprietor. It was known to first appear in 3rd century BC in Greek. The eye is commonly referred to as the organ of visual perception. However, do we really see with our eyes? Are they not simply receptors, looking glasses through which the mind perceives reality? If I were to quote another not so common saying by David Humes, “the beauty of things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” If I were to rephrase the first quote based on this premise, I would say that beauty is in the “I” of the beholder. The “I” here being the mind, which is the true being or person, the observer. We are not here however, to talk on the subjective nature of beauty but of reality itself. 

Since everything we see through our eyes is determined by the mind’s interpretation of it, the observed is therefore not independent of the observer. Alright we’ll stop here to quote our first scriptural backing for the subject matter.

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. Titus 1:15 

What a person perceives in the world, in situations and happenings and even in people says more about them than the object or thing being perceived. The Hebrews regarded a lot of things as unclean and sinful. Paul in the preceding verse (verse 14) was telling Titus to not pay attention to their fables. Even today we have a lot of spirituality going around in form of condemnation towards certain practices or things that are more often than not reflections of dirty minds and troubled souls. Let’s take one of Sigmund Freud’s (father of modern Psychology) theories called the Oedipus complex. It states (I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the dislike of one parent by a child is due to sexual attraction of the child to the other parent. The Child therefore sees one of the parents as a love rival of sorts. This is clearly Freud projecting his inner reality outward and making it true for others. The truth is, we are always projecting our inner nature unto our external world. That’s because your interpretation of external phenomena is dependent on your values, moral strengths and weaknesses. Even the parts of yourself that are so ugly that you’ve convinced yourself don’t exist. They all paint our world view, therefore giving us different ideas of right and wrong, of who’s good and who’s bad etc. It also affects our interpretation of scripture and the kinds of revelations and insights we get.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matt 6:22

How much light can you perceive? The eye Jesus spoke of was not the physical eyes but a man’s perception. When all a man can see is darkness it means he himself is full of darkness. But when he is able to see light all around him, i.e. even darkness is as light and night as day, then he is full of light.

That’s why we ought to look more at ourselves than at other people or external circumstances. If we spend more time working on the inner self than on people and situations around us a lot would change. As Rumi, a Sufis poet once said, “When I was clever I sought to change the world, when I became wise I sought to change myself”.




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