Watch Your Eyes

Athens Square Park AstoriaA few blocks from my apartment there is a little park where Socrates reclines on a granite slab, frozen in bronze while elaborating on some point about happiness or the nature of knowledge. The great philosopher sits beside three Grecian columns capped in a curve to trace the hint of an ancient amphitheater. Children from the school next door, named after Henry David Thoreau, run circles around the bust of a stern-faced Aristotle. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, towers over the entrance, while her owl sits hidden in a shady corner.

I grew up in the suburbs, so in my mind a paved expanse without any grass was more accurately named a “parking lot,” rather than a “park.” But I had moved to the city to live with Hazel and I sporadically did my best to embrace my new neighborhood, so one spring day I brought a novel and a notebook to this paved oasis. Armed with a coffee purchased at the bakery across the street, I claimed a bench in the sun and began to read. I had only gone through a couple pages when a man in navy blue coveralls interrupted me:

“Watch your eyes, sir.”

I have the ability (or weakness) of getting lost in a good book, so it took me a moment to regain awareness of my surroundings. As the fictional world I had been submerged in drained away and reality returned, I took in his uniform and the Con Edison truck parked just beside the gate.

“I’m sorry?” I apologized/questioned.

“Watch your eyes, sir.” He used the enormous circular saw he was holding to indicate a patch of pavement a few feet away that was now surrounded by cation tape.

“Alright…” I answered, a bit confused.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was surrounded by monuments to great thinkers, or the handful of trees putting my nature-starved psyche into a reflective mood, but I approached this Con Ed worker’s words of warning as I would a Zen koan.

How do you watch your own eyes? This was a line straight from the Buddha. Shakespeare too, actually: “The eye sees not itself / but by reflection, by some other things.” We can only ever know our selves by our interaction with that which is not ourselves. And if this is so, then do we actually exist independently within ourselves as we suppose, or is it more true to say that we exist in relation, in the space between? And if you are watching your eye by reflection, or watching thoughts stream through your mind, than what are “you” really? Where can you locate your self if the observer and observed must be distinct entities? If I am watching my mind than I am not my mind. So who am I?

These heady revelations were interrupted by the shrieking cry of a saw starting up. The noise grew even louder as the Con Ed worker began cutting into the pavement, sending sparks and gravel in all directions. I wondered for a moment if my glasses would do much to protect my eyes from the flying debris but quickly decided my best course of action was to find a quieter place to contemplate, ideally one where I wasn’t in danger of being blinded.

I went back home that day but have returned to Athens Square many times over these last few years. It was too cold to write this piece there this morning but I walked over to snap this picture of Athena and have further revelations. Another piece on this park is in the works, but until then I advise you: Watch your eyes.



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8 Responses to Watch Your Eyes

  1. Ashley February 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Your idea on “We can only ever know our selves by our interaction with that which is not ourselves” makes me wonder…because often I hear from people, writers, musicians, family, etc. that we are the only ones who truly know who we are…and in thinking that we may ever only know ourselves based on our interactions with others, makes me think…..if I don’t know myself…if I am lost…then what is going on with my interactions? Am I misreading everything?

    • Ashley February 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      oh, and kudos on the insightful post. :)

    • Doyle February 4, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      It becomes this recursive mind explosion eventually, in a sense that what koans are designed to do: blow up your head and make you give up dualistic thinking. But the idea is that we need an idea of other in order to have an idea of self. Drawing the line between gets very tricky though. In a sense, we can only ever see ourselves in a reflection. It’s not just with other people. Writers and musicians find themselves in their craft, but first they must lose themselves in that craft.

      • Zach February 11, 2013 at 12:33 am #

        Enlightening and Empowering

  2. John February 5, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    This is a great piece. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that “park,” having lived around the corner for 5 years, and attempting to ride a unicycle there.
    It’s a great literal exploration. Also, when you see your reflection it’s typically reversed, so our idea of our self image could be completely backward.
    …watch your cross-eyes.

    • Doyle February 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      That’s a big part of it too; if all we ever see is the reflection then the image we have of our self is distorted. That’s something I was trying to get at inBallast. All of these things we use to shore up our identity and navigate through the day to day are actually weighing us down and preventing us from getting at our true inner self.

      You still have that unicycle?

  3. John February 12, 2013 at 6:02 am #

    I’ve got a flat tire.

  4. Janelle June 28, 2015 at 5:15 am #

    Spending time on a boat, enjoying a calm breeze, and casting your line is certainly
    an enjoyable way to spend a day. This is more likely to attract fish from a distance than artificial lures with more
    subtle or less natural scents. If you don’t check the weather,
    you might find yourself in a bind that you can’t get out of.

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