Something About the Eyes
By Mel B.
AA Members Speak Both with Words and
Through “The Windows of the Soul”
Volume 20 Issue 7
“THE door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?”
Thus wrote AA’s co-founder Bill W. in his dramatic personal account of the chance visit from an ex-drinking companion who brought him the message that was to become the Twelve Steps. The man had undergone a startling change in appearance and bearing, something that Bill recognized immediately. Something was inexplicably different about his old friend; something had happened. What was it? Why was it so obvious?
As we know, Bill’s old friend had had a spiritual experience that had changed his outlook, and had also kept him sober for two months. His thoughts and feelings were no longer the same, and his sobriety had probably improved his physical health. This was considerable change for any person to make, particularly one whose alcoholism had almost resulted in a court commitment to a mental institution just a short time before. But the most obvious change was the new look in his eyes. This is what Bill saw instantly.
This is something that all of us see in our fellow AA members, although we aren’t always aware of it. When we talk of the look on a person’s face, we are really talking about the look in his eyes, for this is where one expresses what he really is. The eyes truly are “windows of the soul” and they have powers of communication that are far beyond words and actions. “The eyes have one language everywhere,” wrote George Herbert. Which is what Emerson touched upon in his essay on behavior: “The eyes of men converse as much as their tongues, with the advantage that the ocular dialect needs no dictionary, but is understood all the world over. When the eyes say one thing and the tongue another, a practised man relies on the language of the first.” But the truth in all of this had been discovered centuries before, and in the sayings of Jesus we find: “The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
This explains what is meant when one person is said to “smile with his eyes” while another looks “hard.” Good thoughts and feelings are shining through for the one person, while confused and selfish thoughts are clouding the outlook for the other. All of us have seen sick alcoholics whose eyes, besides being bloodshot and red-rimmed, revealed terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair. We have also had the joy of seeing these same alcoholics recover, and before long they looked confident, happy, serene and charitable. When the inner man changes, the outer man changes also.
The nature of this change is probably nowhere more readily observable than in a remarkable set of black-and-white slides shown during talks by an AA member from Des Moines, Iowa. This member is also a judge, and the slides are “before” and “after” pictures of alcoholics whom he and his friends have been able to help through a unique assistance plan connected with his court. The good judge first tells his AA audiences about the workings of the plan, and then flicks on the projector and shows them the results. The “before” pictures reveal defeated and sullen alcoholics as they appeared in custody, while the “after” shots show how they looked months later when an effective recovery had taken root. The change is so startling as to be almost unbelievable. These are completely new people and they look it. In most cases, of course, there was a great improvement as a result of regular barbering and good diet. But the big change was in the expression in their eyes; it was as if each of them had found an inner light that now sparkled brightly for all to see. Interestingly enough, AA members who saw these slides at the Michigan state conference of AA in Lansing last September were quick to notice this. Had they stopped to reflect on it, many of them would have realized that the same kind of change had also occurred with them; they just didn’t happen to have “before” and “after” shots to prove it!
The look in a man’s eyes must always have a profound effect on the sick alcoholics he meets for the first time and the alcoholic need not understand just what it is that looks genuine and worth having. It is necessary only that it exists, and he will quickly sense it. All of us can remember people who attracted us and made us feel good the first time we met them, while others repelled us for some unaccountable reason. Our inability to explain just why we dislike certain people probably accounts for the popularity of this verse, which is actually three centuries old:
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, The reason why I cannot tell; But this alone I know full well, I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.
We can sympathize with the confused student who wrote this. Doctor Fell was probably a man of learning, a faithful church-goer, a steadfast citizen, and a defender of law and order, along with all the common virtues. By all the rules, he was a man one should like and respect, and our student knew this. Nonetheless he found himself intensely detesting Doctor Fell, who apparently hadn’t harmed him at all. Why?
The answer lies somewhere in the depths of Doctor Fell’s long-departed soul. But it is a safe assumption that he had a meanness of spirit and a coldness of heart that was revealed by the flinty hardness of his eyes. The student saw this without knowing that he saw it. No matter what Doctor Fell did to present a warm and friendly exterior to the world, people were made uneasy by the cruelty he tried to suppress.
Why do our eyes tell so much about us? Well, according to some teachers, such as the late Emmet Fox, everything in a person’s life must eventually correspond to the thoughts and feelings he habitually entertains. This is but another way of saying that poor mental health will finally result in poor physical health and a disorderly environment. In the long run, any person who maintains a sour outlook will have a sour face to go along with it, and perhaps a sour family life and social life to boot.
Knowing and accepting this, what can a person do to improve the quality of his own “look”? Can he develop the so-called “single eye” by willing it? And how does he know when he’s “got” it?
Apparently this is the kind of thing that cannot be pursued directly. Like happiness, it is the result of entertaining a favorable combination of thoughts and feelings. One gets the kind of a look he deserves, and if he has mean thoughts he’ll have a mean look. He may work diligently to give a pleasing impression, but his real self is what people will see. If he has a deep love of humanity, which some fortunate people find, he will have about him something that will cause total strangers quite involuntarily to smile in return when he greets them on the street. He will find that some of the conventional barriers and rigidities in social relationships don’t apply to him, and he will make friends without seeming to try. He will also be speaking the universal language of the heart, and people will see in him something that they want for themselves.
It was that “something about the eyes” that helped carry the first AA message to one of our founding members. It is still carrying the message in a thousand different ways. Every AA member who addresses a meeting gives two talks: one, of words, the other, in the silent language of the heart as spoken by the eyes. The latter persists after the words have been forgotten.