I’ve worn glasses since I was 7 years old. I remember the smell of Dr. Karnett’s office, the optometrist who fitted me with my first pair of cat-eye glasses. And I remember, quite vividly, when I put those glasses on the first time, and the world, once wobbly and blended, popped into sharpness and distinction.
I don’t just need my glasses once in awhile, or only when driving. No. I need my glasses to see. All the time. I can’t do anything without them. So, from a very early age, the clarity of my vision became a metaphor for me. Throughout my life, the desire to see clearly, to perceive with keen vividness has fueled me at every level, not just physical vision: my intellectual drive, the yearning to understand emotions and feeling states, and the overarching urge toward knowing, in some fundamental way, in order to feel secure and in control.
Recently, I managed to get a scratch on the right lens of my glasses. It is smack dab in the middle of my sightline, so not easy to avoid. At first, it was annoying, and I was mad at myself for being careless. But then I remembered something an artist friend once taught me while at a museum. After looking at a picture for awhile, she stood further away and squinted. “What are you doing?” I asked, perplexed. “Oh, It’s really helpful to look at paintings like this. I always see new things. Try it.” So I did, and sure enough, new areas of the painting popped out. I saw relationships in the work that hadn’t been evident when I looked with my usual intent focus. The squint forced me to let go of the boundaries of things, see the blended places, and the areas where things merged, where shadow and form became each other, and the sense of distinction faded, so the whole was visible. I also noticed that while my eyes were squinting, the rest of me was relaxed. My body softened and I felt like I, too, had blended in and was a part of the whole.
It was a radical way to see, and I regularly practiced this when looking at art. But now, with this smudge in the middle of my vision, I find myself looking right into the blur—not just in museums, but in life. And so, without planning, the scratch has become a not-so subtle reminder of all the fuzzy areas—areas that are neither clear nor distinct nor, in fact, in my control. Each time I “see” the blur anew, I find myself asking internally: How can I let the blur support all my perceiving as a reminder of the softness where things meet and become each other, where the boundaries are watery, and where I am part of it all, not separate? And each time, I smile, and feel my body and breath release as I experience my connection with the whole.