Jun 18

The Gaze

Below is a posting I had sent to a subscriber list about an extended journey I took in 2005 in South East Asia.  This particular entry brought home to me just how powerful it is to really meet and see The Other. 


“Within an hour or so we turned off the Mekong into the Nam Tha River which immediately narrowed and began to present us with rapids.  It was like a journey back in time.  The further up we went the more we would encounter life all along the river.  Many small villages presented themselves with each bend in the river.  What impressed me was that there was no sign of modernity to note.  All the building material was from the local forests: wood, bamboo and thatching.  This could have been the medieval ages and no one would known the difference.  Men were in their skiffs throwing their fishing nets, water buffalo were bathing or sunning on the beaches, ducks were waddling around, women were doing the wash and cleaning dishes, children were playing in the water and jumping up and down waving with glee.  As we passed by people they would gaze at us as we gazed at them each of us totally naked to each other’s scrutiny.  But the looks I received were from people who had only curiosity and enjoyment.  There were no stares of hostility or fear.  What a pleasure to look at another human being, a stranger, and feel relaxed and able to remain open.”


We are, in deed, social beings.  And yet much anxiety exists when we really look at each other, look into each other’s eyes.  I think at first flush, we experience feeling uncomfortable.  Especially when who is across from me is a stranger.  Xenophobia lurches up and there is mistrust about this stranger’s intentions.  I would contend, that this initial reaction is more the shadow mirror we project about who we are.  This stranger, the Other, becomes the occasion for conjuring up all that I disavow within myself.  That is, those parts of me that I don’t like or fear.  This Other that seems so external to me is also a reflection of me.


Encountering the Other - © jkelton 2008

Encountering the Other – © jkelton 2008


And so in the wake of my own self-loathing another sentiment can pierce through.  As my skiff passed this fisherman’s’ boat and we locked on to each other’s gaze there was this disarming engagement where all the fears and expectations of the Other’s intention dissolved.  In that moment, I was thrown back on my self and fleetingly connected to the innocence of childhood.  With no threat in play we could sincerely take in each other’s presence and relax into just Being.  For the briefest of moments I felt exhilarated and free.  It was what I was hungering for; to really feel at home with other humans.  It connected me to some core place in my psyche, to something ancestral.  In the presence of the Other I was once again aligned to something much bigger, call it God or Source or whatever that implies All and Everything.


Ryszard Kapuscinski notes that “as we travel, we can feel that something important is happening, that we are taking part in something of which we are both witnesses and creators, that there is a duty incumbent upon us, and that we are responsible for something.”… “we are responsible for the road we are travelling.  …The road we are on is very important, because each step along it takes us nearer to an encounter with the Other, and that is exactly why we are there.” (The Other, p. 17)


In this passage Kapuscinski elevates our awareness of travel to perhaps one of its core intentions.  Inherently, travel is self-reflective and involves an examination of “conscience”.  And yet, if I can dive deep I go beyond my self and reclaim a larger aspect of my life.  By remaining present to what is wholly Other I can become whole in myself. 


Kapuscinski, Ryszard.  The Other.  NY: Verso, 2008.


  1. Iris Stanfield

    This post left me with a peaceful, hopeful feeling about our world.

    I just watched a U-tube video sent to me from a childhood friend. It was a scary topic–one full of war-like fears and phobias fostered by our media. Reading your uplifting rendition of travel and experiencing “the gaze” was just the medicine I needed to get beyond fear and hate that often is stirred toward others from another culture.

    Thank you Jeff for sharing your experiences of the world we inhabit with others.

    PS: I would like to see more of your fabulous photos of the trips you refer to in these posts

    1. jeffkelton

      I feel touched and grateful that this post could serve you in this way Iris. How we meet the world is so much related to how we meet ourselves. Let us approach the world and ourselves with an open peacefulness simultaneously.

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