What Does “Clearing the Lens” Mean?
This piece is part of a series meant to give readers an inside view of the Clearing the Lens Retreat that was held in June . Participants cultivated awareness within themselves while engaging with others to deepen sangha and gain tools to live happier and more meaningful lives.
The workshop was led by Aaron Stern, president and founder of the The Academy for the Love of Learning®, and Marianne Murray, a member of the core faculty at the Academy. They were joined by Namchak Foundation founder Lama Tsomo who shared Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices during the workshop.
Similar retreats will be offered in the future.
The three jewels of Buddhism are Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teachings), and sangha (the community). They are all at the heart of the Buddhist path. Sangha is one of the intersections of Namchak and the Academy’s work. At Namchak, we seek to support students with tools to build and experience healthy sanghas. The Academy provides many hands-on, small group exercises to create awareness and deep connection between participants.
Healthy sangha is often difficult to cultivate and maintain, as we take our introjections and projections into our interactions. We see others though lenses shaded by our own experiences — both positive and negative— often leading to communication breakdowns or misunderstandings. This results in keeping distance between people and preventing authentic connection. Conflicts and misunderstandings arise even among friends with the best of intentions. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had an experience in some type of community where we felt very hurt or misunderstood by people we trusted. The goal isn’t to avoid this but to learn how to navigate it in a healthy way. At the Clearing the Lens Retreat, we learned and practiced tools to help us truly see ourselves and one another. Projection is often a source of conflict, and at the retreat we did a helpful, albeit difficult, exercise to shed some light on our own projections.
Here’s a summary of the Academy’s exercise:
The exercise can help participants “clear the lens” while interacting with others. Before doing this exercise or any small group exercise, it’s important that the group agree to provide acceptance of others and confidentiality. At the retreat, Aaron and Marianne emphasized that the practices must be approached with deep sensitivity and care. Once connection is established, the exercise is done in pairs – one a speaker, the other a listener. Roles are switched once the speaker has completed the exercise.
While sitting facing one another, the speaker honestly vocalizes and completes the following phrases:
I imagine you’re feeling…
I imagine you’re thinking…
I imagine you’re feeling…about/by me.
I imagine you’re thinking…about me.
Next, the speaker applies what they imagined the other person was feeling and thinking about them to themselves. That’s a mouthful, so here’s an example. Suppose the speaker said, “I imagine you’re feeling slightly annoyed by me. I imagine you’re thinking I’m a bad speaker,” it would go something like this:
(Speaker) I am annoyed by myself.
(Speaker) I think I am a bad speaker.
Then the pair takes a few minutes to reflect on the exercise.
Speakers should consider the effect of the projection they aimed at their partners by applying it to themselves. Does it feel true?
Meanwhile, listeners should consider how it feels to be projected on.
You might be thinking, “Wow, that sounds really awkward.” It definitely can be uncomfortable, but what valuable work isn’t? When I did the exercise, I struggled to vocalize my honest thoughts, to the point where I wanted to be dishonest and conjure up fake thoughts and feelings. Eventually I shared what I imagined my partner thought and felt about me. That led to a heartfelt dialogue and my realization that he was not thinking what I assumed he was. Instead, my own fears and insecurities clouded my view of him. Had we not done that exercise, I would have carried some false and potentially harmful beliefs about him into our interactions. It’s safe to say that this exercise cleared my lens.
You can do this exercise in your sangha at any time. No need to save it for when conflicts arise. It’s a tool to connect with others and learn where they are coming from. Most likely, participants will learn a little about the beliefs their partners hold about themselves and the way they see the world around them. How often do we think we know someone only to realize what we were thinking about them was totally wrong? Humans are fantastic at creating stories about each other. Unfortunately, they are misguided and keep us from one another. The goal is to see the stories we write about others and take a minute to examine the origins of those stories. Meaningful sangha requires awareness and acceptance so that we can genuinely connect with one another.
You don’t have to wait until you’re in a group setting to try this exercise. Begin this practice on your own. Notice the next time you are feeling insecure or uncertain around another person. Say to yourself what you imagine the other person is thinking and feeling about you. Turn those statements on yourself, as though they’re what you’re thinking and feeling about yourself. Reflect. Then you may be able to see and own what you’re projecting onto that other person. This can help you see them as they really are, and vice versa.
As humans, most of us long for genuine connection and to be seen. Clearing our lenses with practices like this helps us truly see one another and forge a path to connection.