I’m not really sure where this phrase came to me from: ‘the compassionate gaze‘, but it’s been playing around in my head / heart for a little while now.

(If any of you know its origin, please do let me know!)

And although I’m not really into resolutions for the New Year, or all the brouhaha that now surrounds the choice of one glittering word for the year, this phrase, and what it conjures up for me, is something that I do want to carry with me into 2014.

I’ll try and explain what it means for me.

The compassionate gaze is something I’ve learned from taking photographs.

It works like this, simply:

If you soften your gaze, your photographs will change.

Perhaps this is because (in ways we can’t rationalise) something of your feeling – appreciation, affection, respect, love – is translated in the image.

I have often felt though that there is something else going on, that (in ways I definitely can’t rationalise!) the subject of your photograph somehow responds to your noticing, to your attention, to your gaze.


It’s one of the reasons that the experience of photography is, for me, more about connection than ‘taking’, about that sense of rapport you can get by paying loving attention with the lens.

I’m sure this kind of looking with kindness can be applied in other ways.

I think we can probably learn to try and look at people like this.

It’s a bit like smiling at a stranger as you walk down the street, and noticing the ripple of energy that can follow their noticing.

Sometimes smiling is beyond us but perhaps even with the most difficult people you can learn to soften the way you look to get beyond the surface, beyond the labels, beyond the normal way of seeing to the point of connection that lies somewhere… beyond.


The more I think about it, the more I can see ways I would like to practice this way of looking.

Perhaps the most critical scrutiny is that which we apply to our selves: our stories, our work, our creative expression, our decisions, our sense of what things all add up to.

If you put any of that under a magnifying glass, or the harshness of a bright neon light, it can look less than pretty.

But perhaps we would see something else: softer, more textured, richer, more clearly part of the stuff of the whole, if we stepped back and softened our gaze.

Perhaps you could.

Perhaps I could.

I think this might be a way of looking that takes a lifetime to achieve.

But perhaps the new year is a good a place as any to begin.