Monday 19 August 2013

What I See

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

"So, just how much can you see?"

Having a visual handicap has lead me to many interesting insights about life, not the least of which is the discovery that there is a curious gap in our language. Our language is oddly limited in its ability to convey one's direct experience to others. How can I tell you what I am seeing?

The lack of words is a limitation but it is also an opportunity for me to learn to communicate my experience in new ways.

I've had great fun inviting others into my visual world. I began by asking people to do little exercises, like putting their feet out forward and staring straight ahead. When most people do this, they can see their foot in front of them. But when I do it, I can't see my foot because of my lack of peripheral vision. Even if I wave my foot around, I still can't see it.

I also need to remind people that I do not see as if looking through a tunnel, even though my periphery is limited. A tunnel is dark around the edges. The eye, when it cannot see, substitutes not darkness but the continuation of patterns it does see. So my vision will pick up the brown carpet beneath my feet and extend that brownness and pattern of the carpet into wherever my vision has gaps. Or the blueness of the sky above. Looking down I may see brown carpet instead of a coin or looking up I may see blue sky in the corner of my eye where, if I turn to find it in the centre of my vision, I discover an airplane.

This lack of sight makes it hard for me in crowds, so when I travel with others I often place my hand on someone's shoulder and let them guide me. If I'm called upon to lead a retreat, I often have people perform this exercise, one person closing their eyes and taking a shoulder while the other guides; and then vice versa. I let them go into the experience of giving up control and relying on another person to lead them. This experience transfers well into the life of prayer. We try to let go and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us.

The night is especially beautiful. The darkness prevents me from picking up fine distinctions and leaves me with general impressions. When I truly look at something, it never seems banal. The richness of its colour and shape and texture is always fluctuating as I take in the image from different angles.

In an effort to share with you what this is like, I'll leave you with an image I've created using an image-editing program. I've tried to capture how the subtler colours blend together while the light-sources stand out in sharp relief, alone in a dark field. 

Look for the fellow waving from across the street. If you squint your eyes and just take in the scenery, he'll vanish. But if you lean in and focus on him, you'll see him.

I'm not special as regards seeing. Everyone sees things in their own unique way. And anyone can take the time to really look, to really explore the beauty of the textures and colours in front of their eyes. I can only heartily encourage you to do so. To look and see the shapes and shades rather than leaping to 'what' the object is. You may find it an enjoyable experience. And it may open you up to perspectives you hadn't considered.

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