Every so often we spend time in front of a mirror checking for signs of aging. We turn all the lights on and study ourselves. Are there wrinkles in our skin? Bags under our eyes? More grey hair? We scrutinize, examine. It’s a proper enough exercise. But we should be looking ourselves dead straight in the eyes when we do this exercise. In them we will see whether we are aging and whether or not there are any signs of senility. Scrutinize and examine, look for signs of aging, but spend that time looking into your eyes. What do they reveal? Are they tired, unenthusiastic, cynical, lifeless, lacking in sparkle, hardened? Is the jealousy of Cain there? Is there any fire there? Does passion still burn? Are they weary of experiencing, incapable of being surprised? Have they lost their virginity? Are they fatigued or excited? Is there still a young child buried somewhere behind them?
The real signs of senility are betrayed by the eyes, not the flesh. Drooping flesh means that we are aging physically, nothing more. Bodies age and die in a process as inevitable and natural as the law of gravity, but drooping eyes signify an aging spirit, a more deadly senility. That is less natural. Spirits are meant to be forever young, forever childlike, forever virgin. They are not meant to droop or die. But they can die, through boredom and its child – cynicism. They can die through a lack of passion, through the illusion of familiarity, through a loss of childlikeness and virginity, and through a fatigue of the spirit we commonly call despair. Despair is a curious thing. We despair not because we grow weary of the shortcomings and sufferings of life and, at last, find life too much to take. No. We despair for the opposite reason, namely, we grow weary of joy. Joy lies in experiencing life as fresh, novel and primal, as a child does, with a certain purity of spirit. This type of joy is not pleasure, though there is pleasure in it. Pleasure can be had without joy but that kind of pleasure is then the product of a lack of chastity in experiencing. That kind of pleasure, initially always experienced as a victory, as a throwing off of naiveté, a liberation, soon turns into defeat, that is, into dullness, boredom, loss and lack of passion.
That kind of pleasure very soon becomes insipid, soybeans without salt, egg custard. Our palate loses its itch for tasting. With that, our enthusiasm dies and a fatigue of the spirit sets in. Our chief joy lies in an innocence and virginity in experiencing and when that joy is no longer sought, and we tire of pleasure, we grow listless, hardened, bitter, passionless. There is nothing left in us that is fresh and young. Our eyes begin to show this. They lose their sparkle, their childlikeness. In her poignant novel, Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence describes her heroine, a lifeless and despairing lady named Hagar, studying herself in a mirror: “I stood for a long time, looking, wondering how a person could change so much…So gradually it happens. The face – a brown and leathery face that wasn’t mine. Only the eyes were mine, staring as though to pierce the lying glass and get beneath to some true image, infinitely distant.” A good look in the mirror for most of us reveals the same, a lifeless face which is not really ours, and dull eyes, our own, but hidden deeply beneath a lying glass. Our eyes and face, leathery, ossified, blank, distant, devoid of innocence and virginity; somewhere (“so gradually it happens”) our fire went out! What’s to be done? My suggestion is that we take a good long look at ourselves in a mirror. Study the eyes; ,stare long and hard. Let what we see frighten us enough to move us towards the road of unlearning and revirginization.
Look in a mirror, look at your face until some of the self-preoccupation, the cynicism, the pseudo-sophistication, and the unchastity and adultness drop away. Stare into your eyes until the lying glass breaks and you see there again the little boy or girl who once inhabited that space. In that, wonder will be born, sparkle will return and, with it, a freshness and virginity that will make you feel young again.
Our eyes seldom grow tired, though they frequently get buried. It is the latter which causes the blank passionless stare. Bodies tire, but eyes are linked to spirits. They stretch and strain and sparkle in thirst before reality’s turbid deluge. Eyes are always eager to see. One of the great contrasts between Christianity and some other world religions has to do with the eyes. For example, the Buddhist saint is always depicted with his or her eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his or her eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The medieval saint’s body is wasted to its crazy bone, but his or her eyes are frightfully alive, hungry, staring. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar inwardness. The Christian’s eyes are staring with frantic intentness outwards.