Have you heard the story of the man who glanced at a coiled rope, assumed it a snake and jumped back, panicked?
Have you heard the tale of a monk who lived for decades in a cave and who painted on its walls? For years, he worked to create a picture of a floor-to-ceiling tiger with bold stripes and wiry whiskers. After the monk put his final touches on the wild cat’s intense eye, he stood back to admire his fine art. Then, fearful that the bloodthirsty carnivore might eat him, the man screamed and bolted from the cave.
We humans tend to glimpse things a certain way and react as if our thoughts are true with what Einstein called “a kind of optical delusion of consciousness”. So, Marcel Proust no doubt spoke truth with, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
My journey of new eyes began with my first pair of glasses in third grade. My ophthalmologist said I must also wear a patch on my right eye until my left eye strengthened. He said, “Your left eye is lazy. It rolls in, resists work, so it rests near your nose. We need to cover the right one to force muscular effort in the left.”
With lazy eye, with left eye sleepy, and before glasses, when I’d look straight at other kids, they’d goad, “Hey, cross-eyed, are you looking at me?” They’d zig-zag their eyeballs and sing-song, “cross-eyed, cross-eyed.”
I’d stare at the ground. My gut would tighten. I’d choke up and curl up small. They teased me and I saw a terrifying tiger. They taunted me and I believed I was not worthy to play with them. It’s hard to make friends if we perceive people as scary snakes.
So, I wore my new glasses and patch with hope. Now things would change on the playground. Again, they mocked me, “four-eyes,” and with the patch, “three eyes.” Yet I had somehow grown into envisioning four eyes as a chance to see well, to uncross my eyes. I fancied my blue and silver frames chic. And because I also had adopted a new mental frame of glasses/patch/vison correction, their jeers didn’t bother me. Funny how perception works, how beliefs craft our reality.
For over sixty years, my glasses have symbolized metaphor, have taught me to ask, “What are my delusions of consciousness? How might I sharpen my worldview? Can I focus more skillfully?”
How do we gaze into our lives? Do we look upon pain, setbacks, defeats, illnesses and new diagnoses as snakes and tigers? Or can we transform our optical delusions, patch up our perceptions? Could they offer us new ways to envision life’s struggles, to see chances for growth?
Recently someone stole my bifocal sunglasses. Maybe they liked the shiny case. They won’t like what they can’t see through my prescription. The thieves will suffer blurriness. Will they see their folly? Feel guilty? Feel sad at their lack of clear vision? And for us, when in emotional pain, when we wither in woes, when we feel stuck, can we ask, “what am I not seeing?” (Maybe the sunlight, the spring buds, the smiles of children, someone else’s point of view, the support of loved ones or a needed behavior change).
Today when I feel blind, blinded or blindsided, I try to remember to envision a new outlook, to change the view, because the lens through which we assess the world clarifies whether we see crisis only myopically as danger or also as opportunity.