New sight

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Here and Now,Simplicity | Friday, May 8th, 2009

This is a bit of a long story, and it ends with my date thinking that I fell asleep on my feet at a Bruce Springstein concert two weeks ago. But don’t worry — that’s not the punchline.

Springstein Concert

I started wearing eyeglasses in 1st or 2nd grade. Since then, my eyesight has gotten steadily worse and my vision prescription has gotten steadily stronger to compensate. I don’t want to be overdramatic — I’m not legally blind. But sometimes I do emit a little bat noise to make sure I don’t hit anything in the dark. Without my glasses, I cannot see my own shoulder clearly. Everything from my mid-sternum down is blurry, so I would guess I have a sight range of about 6 inches.

I’m a very visual person. In fact, you could say that a natural proclivity plus years of art therapy training have made me hyper-aware of visual details. But, something odd happened a couple of months ago as I was leaving work.

I don’t know that it was a particularly long day at work, but I was tired and a little stressed. I stepped out of my office and, without thinking, took off my glasses and perched them on top of my head. That’s an odd thing to do, I thought, but kept walking through the blurred haze. In fact, I walked all the way to the subway in this near blindness.

That blurry walk was so relaxing, so carefree, so quiet that I felt completely renewed. I was free from the need to process everything, to catch every detail, and to see. The stress of work seemed to fall away from me, like so many chunks of broken crust. 

So, I began to experiment.

I walked blind to the subway nearly every day after that, and each time I did, I felt refreshed. When I deprive myself of visual acuity, it disengages a part of my brain that chatters at me non-stop. I no longer wonder Where did she get those shoes? or Why did he look at me that way? or Is that person in pain? or They look lost; should I help them? Instead, I get reconnected to breathing and centering and just walking. Sure, I think a little bit about not tripping or stepping on invisible-to-me gum, but only a little bit. I think about the basics. I eliminate the distractions and am left only with myself.

I’ve started  to experiment with un-vision-ing in other settings. To unwind before bed, I now take my shower with the lights off. This intense experience reduces the sensory input to an almost raw and primitive state. I become hyper-aware of my body sensations, the pounding rhythm of the water, the steam and the shadows. I shampoo, soap down, rinse, and all the while am relying on my body to judge my place in space and time. I don’t know exactly why, but this not-seeing quiets everything down and I sleep marvelously well. 

When I was invited to a Bruce Springstein concert a few weeks ago, I decided to go even though (a) I’m not really a Bruce fan per se, (b) it was on a weeknight after a long day of work, and (c) the tickets were general admission which meant close proximity to the stage in exchange for two-and-a-half hours on my feet. My date was a rabid Springstein fan who has never missed a Boss concert within 100 miles.

By the time the show started I was already tired, and a little cranky, but I was determined to enjoy myself. It wasn’t too hard — there was plenty of good people-watching and my date was a really nice guy. Soon, my therapist-brain began to formulate theories about the people around me based on body language, clothing style, and interactions. The show itself was visually interesting — lots of lights and staging and imagery. I was hearing each of the songs (even old classics) for the first time so I know I was missing a lot of the messages and meanings. Although I was entertained with these little games, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like an outsider in the sea of fans — each singing along to every lyric, jumping up when everyone else jumped, and pumping their fists in the air.

I sighed, long and loud. I tried to exhale the stress of my workday, my aggrivation at myself for agreeing to this event, and my hyperawareness of the clock. Only 142 more minutes to go. As I exhaled, I shut my eyes. When I did, I felt a surge of electricity.

Woah.

I did it again. Within moments, I was caught up — swept away in the same unifying undertow that had already washed over everyone else. No, I didn’t know the lyrics. I was still tired. But I was lost in a surge of rhythm, beat, vibration, release. I felt my body in the midst of it all. I was aware of my skin — the place where my body meets the world — but I lost my sense of self and became part of the rush of the crowd. There was only me, and my breath, and my vibrating sternum, and the balls of my feet, and the roar of the crowd, and the energy of ten thousand people all riveted to the same purpose. I danced, and crooned, and roared, too. And then I stood very still, eyes closed, leaning against my date.

What happened? Is it like the proverbial blind woman whose other senses are heightened? Do I rely so much on my sight that my other senses have atrophied? Can this new skill be used to my advantage in my therapy work, my art-making, my relationships with others? Whatever it is, I’m curious to follow this path where it leads. (I just hope I don’t trip on anything along the way.)

5 Comments »

  1. This is a most interesting post. I’m pretty visually impaired without my contacts, so I’ll have to try this…thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Sarah — 8 May 2009 @ 11:06 am

  2. This is fascinating, Mal! I am extremely nearsighted and feel so insecure without my glasses. I’ll have to give this a try!

    Comment by amy — 8 May 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  3. I totally hear you. About a month ago I read a book called “The Tai chi of Walking”, that said (paraphrased) we can relax better if we take off our prescription glasses and let the muscles of our eyes relax, because glasses cause the muscles to contract in order to focus. In addition, it described activities (not exercises) designed to let the muscles relax and then view the world… so that you basically relearn how to see without constantly wearing your glasses. Computer work and close work causes the muscles to contract, walking outside and/or looking at the horizon and sky releases the contraction, increases blood flow and brings a feeling of well being. I’ve been experimenting with talking my morning and afternoon walk breaks at work without my glasses on. So I completely know what you mean about it cutting down on the visual detail and hence the internal chatter, what I usually call ‘noise in my head’. Thanks for your post. My prescription isn’t as strong as yours, so I commend you. =D

    Comment by Leslie — 11 May 2009 @ 4:38 pm

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  5. New sight | turning*turning

    Comment by Solomon Jastremski — 15 May 2013 @ 6:28 pm

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