Written by: Sonia Heidenreich, LGSW
D.W. Winnicott was one of the first psychoanalysts who focused his work on children and the parent-child relationship, and I have really admired his work since being introduced to his writing in graduate school. [If you’ve been reading this blog with regularity, you might have already heard me referencing him. His work was extremely influential on a range of theorists and clinicians that came after him, and if you’re curious, you can borrow my book--Playing and Reality.]
This might sound odd, but I thought about the quote up above when I came home the other day and couldn’t find my cat. (I know, I know—crazy cat lady alert.)
When I finally found her curled up in her favorite place underneath the couch, and I laid down on the floor and stared at her, without disturbing her from her hiding place. Before I had even reached out a hand to pet her, she started purring up a storm, clearly so delighted to have been found. I wondered how much she had also enjoyed knowing that I was looking for her. “It is a joy to be hidden,” I thought, “and a disaster not to be found.”
I first read this several years ago now, but it’s never far from my mind. To me, this captures something innate inside all of us: We want to have our own private experiences of the world, we want to feel like our own unique selves, and yet at the same time, we want to feel seen and understood by those around us.
I’ve also been thinking recently about the idea of finding an inner gaze, or of the power of truly gazing inward. We spend so much time with our attention focused outward, whether it’s on other people, on our work, or maybe it’s social media or whatever external stimuli that pulls our attention outside of ourselves. All of this is okay, and even necessary, but it can also be alienating. When we spend too much energy focused on external things/people/experiences, we almost forget how to look inward, to notice ourselves, and fundamentally to be with ourselves. It’s only when we are willing to shift our gaze from the external world to our own internal experience that we offer ourselves the opportunity to ask and answer essentials questions—questions like: Who am I? What is important to me? Why am I here? What do I care about? What do I want my life to mean?
Getting back to Winnicott: I think that in order to allow ourselves to be found, in a metaphorical sense, by important others in our lives, we first need to practice knowing and finding ourselves. We can do this by practicing shifting our gaze inward, with a practice as simple as closing our eyes, taking a few conscious breaths, and really and truly sitting down in stillness with ourselves.
In yoga, this relates to the concept of a drishti, or gaze. We hear about this most often we we’re told to think about fixing our gaze on something unmoving as we’re trying to balance in a challenging posture, and this is a good moment to find a drishti. Certainly, standing in a tree pose and feeling ourselves wobble back and forth is a perfect moment to practice finding our gaze, and sometimes that is a good way to practice. It’s also good practice to close our eyes, take a breath, and get really quiet and present with our own thoughts.
In therapy, we learn to sit with ourselves in the presence of another person. At first, it’s uncomfortable to share our private, personal thoughts out loud, but as we get used to it, we notice (I hope) that we feel better in some way afterwards. It’s often hard to pinpoint why exactly we feel better, but I hypothesize (as would Winnicott, I think) that it has something to do with feeling seen or being found by another person, and then leaving with an enhanced capacity to look inward and truly see ourselves.