My daughter Dani asked me a few weeks ago one of those ridiculous questions that you really have no right answer for…if you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be?
Saying I’m nearsighted just doesn’t quite convey how absolutely blind I am without my contacts or glasses. If you understand amounts, my prescription is -1150 or what I see at about 20 feet away is equivalent to someone else looking at over a third of a kilometer away. As a child, like so many others with poor vision, I had no idea other regular people could see so much better. My older brother wore glasses and I complained to my mother that I thought I might need glasses too. The first eye doctor I saw in forth grade, didn’t believe me when I said I could see nothing on the chart. He chided me for exaggerating and told my mom I just wanted to be like my brother and until I could be honest, he wouldn’t examine my eyes again. Well Dr. Bologna , I wasn’t lying. It took three more years of me fumbling through life before I finally went to a new eye doctor who most definitely grasped just how poor my vision was.
Looking back I wince, not because I was accident prone, though I was, (I was known on a first name basis at the local emergency room.) because there is only so much reaction time when nothing comes into focus farther than a meter away, but because of my lack of sight, I was not very good at sports with balls. These were the days of alpha males in gym class that always picked me last and with a groan or two, pulling me aside, basically saying to just stay out of the way. Tennis and volleyball were comical, I mean really where did that ball come from? Some mysterious place from the far fuzzy reaches on the other side of the net…
Anyway, after the miracle of sight, leaves on trees, seeing the board at school, seeing peoples faces, I was awakened! My nickname in school of “space” because I just daydreamed off out the windows no longer applied. As well, though somewhat shy, I was certainly viewed as aloof or odd as I never had returned smiles or waves but now I saw it all in real time and was participating. My new sight was spectacular, beautiful and vibrant but also dirty and harsh, nothing comes without it’s darker spectrums, does it?
It wasn’t quite up to my level of myopia now, I gradually lost more and more until finally leveling off in my mid twenties. Contacts have been a godsend. I can not see as well with glasses, because of the severity of nearsightedness, I have no real depth perception in glasses and no peripheral vision. I’ve relied on my contacts faithfully and with gratitude, until a few months ago. Sometimes these subtle things just happen, and I have developed a reaction to the silicon in the lenses. (I’m really thankful I never had the courage to get my boobs done, because I can’t fathom the reaction on the inside! ) I keep trying different brands but there are only so many that go up to my strength…so glasses it’s been mostly. I’m not purposefully vain about it, but they do make my eyes look five times smaller than they are, sigh, and even with ultra thin lenses, they are still pretty thick. I also can not practice yoga in my glasses, it’s impossible. They slide off and distort from the very first down dog, so I’ve been practicing blind.
Nothing comes into focus until it’s about a hands width away from my eyes at this stage. Colors fade just as much as shapes. On the bright side, there can be no visual distraction while I’m practicing, because I can barely make out my own hand. Drishti is awesome if sometimes blurry, and I realize how much reliance I have had on sight, yet conversely have learned how much my mind sight can work in it’s place if I trust it. Muscle memory and knowing how an asana feels.
Balance is the biggest challenge. Without sight, there is no true focal point, at least with my eyes. I by no means have perfected my balance even when I see, but I’ve been learning to “see” with my other senses. The feel of being in samasthiti, of finding a plum line, it’s hard not to depend on sight when it’s available, but equilibrium and distribution of weight really don’t require any sight, at least outwardly. Comically it’s when I remember that I can’t see that I wobble and lose my steadiness. Trusting, the same way I trust that my glasses are exactly where I left them, or that no one rearranged the furniture allow me freedom to move. Whether it’s instinct or mind sight guiding me, there is always a silver lining to the obstacles that trip us up. I find hope in Degas and Monet painting in spite of their vision problems.