The Sanskrit word darshan translates as vision, or sight, but as with many Sanskrit words, it has a deeper and more beautiful meaning. People talk of receiving darshan from their spiritual teacher and it means to be in the presence of someone who is living in a state of grace; to get a glimpse, through them, of the possibility of living in a higher state of awareness, compassion and bliss; to see God/divinity/peace in them so clearly that it helps you to find it in yourself.
In the Hindu tradition, one seeks out a teacher specifically to receive darshan from them, so thousands of people every day go to visit Amma, the hugging saint, or visit the ashrams of renowned teachers, to be in the presence of beauty in another person.
Ram Dass describes first receiving darshan with his guru as being the mind-blowing experience of having his teacher see in an instant everything that was hidden and dark in him; everything that was secret and shaming; and loving him anyway.
In other traditions, the word Darshan is not used, but I thought of it when I read a story by a Buddhist monk, who described travelling with the Dalai Lama. Every day the Dalai Lama would say hello to everyone he passed in the hotel in which he was staying; by the end of their stay, every day, there was a queue of people waiting by the lift so that when he emerged they could say hello to him and have him say hello to them.
I believe that there is a more prosaic meaning of darshan and that is simply to see and be seen by another human being.
I think of a friend who told me last week that she felt she was invisible; working mother, busy lady, vibrant, wonderful, vital person that she is, she feels that the world is not seeing her. I have felt this too. The world can sometimes be in too much of a rush for us to feel noticed; or perhaps we have ceased to take the time to truly notice ourselves and to acknowledge our need to be seen.
I think of a neighbour of mine, who told me that when you get old, people don't see you any more. She wasn't sad about it, so much as resigned to the fact of it.
And I think of the people that we deliberately don't see, because it makes us uncomfortable: the homeless person begging, who we don't want to give money to; people who are handicapped or different, who make us feel awkward because we don't know how to respond; people who annoy us and who we therefore avoid.
When someone really looks at us, specifically and with all of their attention, we know it in that moment as the greatest gift. When someone looks at us and sees all of the mistakes and the flaws and the pain and the sorrow and keeps on looking, then they see the very essence of you, which is beautiful and is of God. It's a gift you can give every day and it's perfectly reciprocal - if you really look at someone, they tend to really look back at you. And then you find all of these little connections firing off all over the place. The more you practice darshan, the more you receive it.
But you don't need to go round staring meaningfully at strangers! Just look at people when you talk to them, wherever you are - in a shop, in the street, at home, at work - see them and (just as important) let them see you.
When someone truly sees us, it is deeply meaningful. When someone really sees us it is love.