I had an interesting exchange with a woman while I was shopping at a local grocery store. She asked me whether or not I was ready to celebrate Christmas. I said Christmas is a beautiful celebration but, as I am a Buddhist, I did not observe it like a Christian. She apologized, as if wishing me a happy Christmas might be an insult to me. I reiterated that I felt all traditions express a kind of beauty in the way they honor their holy days.
She was wearing a hijab so I asked her if she was Muslim, to which she replied yes and that she was from Malaysia. We then engaged in a wonderful discussion of our respective traditions; she talked about Ramadan and the way they calculate when the fasting season will begin each year, and I talked about the Tibetan lunar calendar and specific practice days. It was a joyous celebratory moment of recognition beyond any assumptions we might harbor. We seemed to ‘see’ each other.
To be seen, at least as much as we can be seen by another, paves the way for authentic dialog. It removes the illusion of self and other, dissolving the boundaries we create through our habitual perceptions and projections. But his takes time, a willingness to stop and experience the presence of someone. It is like walking in nature and taking time to kneel down and see a wildflower. This reminds me of a quote by Georgia O’Keefe:
Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.