Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seeing in the Dark

Well I've just had a very interesting experience. I've had this small growth in my eye called a pterygium for a number of years. It was slowly getting bigger and bigger and my eye comfort and vanity were getting tweaked so I went to an opthamologist. He recommended surgery. He said it was easy to do that I'd have three days of intense pain and that I could expect all redness to be gone within 3 weeks.

As I walked out of the doctor's appointment I remembered that Emily Dickinson and St. Francis both had extreme difficulty with their eyes. Emily was taken to Boston to see an eye specialist and was ordered to remain in a dark room for months. When she came home she was only able to do housework. And, in secret, this was one of the most prolific, creative periods of her life. Afterwards these bouts of eye trouble would come again and again. On and off for over ten years she would have to remain in dark rooms. Her upstairs bedroom became her sole haven in her later years. Towards the end she became totally blind.

St. Francis also had reocurring problems with his eyes. Some may have started as early as his twenties when he was a soldier for Assisi against Perugia. He was captured and placed in a prison in a dark damp basement where he may have contracted malaria and or bone tuberculosis. He was released after a year and almost died. Instead he had a revelation about his God. The combination of malaria and later conjunctivitis plagued his eyes throughout his life. His followers begged him repeatedly to do something about it. In his own way he probably did. Often wherever he traveled he'd search for dark caves for prayer and contemplation - particularly if he was struggling. The caves were probably also a refuge for his eyes. He would emerge refreshed and with new clarity and directives about his path. In his final years the pain in his eyes was so intense that his followers fashioned a hood for him which kept his face in shadows. Finally under spiritual orders from Brother Elias, now his Superior, Francis submitted to a treatment which was so brutal it probably hastened his death. Towards the end he became totally blind.

Both Emily Dickinson and St. Francis spent big portions of their lives in darkness, semi-blindness, and blindness.

Well I went in for the surgery. My husband drove me home, led me up our steps (I had been told to keep the other eye shut since this would help me not blink which would reduce the pain). So I had a patch on one eye and the other eye shut and as I was about to cross the threshold the sunlight hit the doorknob and bounced into my eyes. Blinding. I almost fell to my knees. I covered my closed eye with my hand. It did not help. I spent the next three days in the darkest corner of every room I could find with the blinds shut. The light was finding me wherever I went and it stunned me every time it found me. It felt like a blow. One night I lay on the floor with dark glasses on since my family was in a lit adjoining room. Good God this was a taste of what Emily and Francis had gone through.

Three days in the dark with no reading, my god I never realized I read so much, playing every conceivable bit of music I could lay my hands on. I thought this was a chance to go to a different place in myself to "be more still" inside which was my New Year's Resolution. I started pulling out all the music CD's that were highly recommended to me, but that I didn't really like like John Adam's version of Emily Dickinson's "Wild Nights", Buddhist monks from the Sera Je Monastery singing from such a deep place it sounded like Lucinda William's gravel road and I mean THE road. All of a sudden I was "getting" this music. I wasn't trying to get it. I just was. I was enthralled. I could hear what the sound was creating in terms of emotional places or physical locations in the body. I was in the world of sound. I was listening from inside of my body. I started hearing the whirling of the wind as it circled around the house (I do have to say at this point that I was able to do all of this with such equinamity because contra the surgeons's warning I had almost no pain--I'd gone to my acupuncturist and gotten some herbs and took homeopathic arnica--and it worked! God's green earth. It worked.) I could hear the wind echoing, bouncing off the trees near our home. I started hearing all of the clicks and thumps and whirrings and shudderings in our home. I had heard them all before, but now it was not heard one at a time , but more like a a concert. The sound was connected. This was even more so when I went outside (in the shade with dark glasses) and heard all the different bird calls, and tree stirrings from the wind, and the cows mooing - it was a symphony. One bird's full throated call evoked a yearning - I started to cry. I started living in rhythms and feeling rhythms inside of me. I started living in a different part of my brain.

Then, I started opening my eyes for little moments as the healing took place and the colors were leaping into my eyes: the translucent shimmering yellow of the daffodils, the deeply saturated lime intensity of the green slope in our meadow whose force of color was so wild that it seemed to shoot up into the air, the deep bluish-grey gravel of our driveway that pulled me in so deeply I could not look at anything else. Gravel for god's sake.

And then it hit me that those intense periods of blindness and seeing that Emily and Francis went through again and again throughout their lives contributed to their intense mystical and poetical brilliance. Sound is poetry. Inner hearing is poetry. Color is very close to sound. I believe mystical experiences blur the boundaries of the senses, blur the boundaries between people, between physical objects to create a unified experience, a feeling of unity. From my tiny experience I postulate that their life time relationship with eye difficulties and the necessity to retreat into the dark altered them both, intensified their experiences so greatly that it supported mystical experiences and their ability to hear these sounds and brilliant colors to write words that ignited the world. These physical experiences gave them a physical base for their own inner prayerful natures. The dark isolation supported them to write and preach/sing from their very souls.

"I taste a liquor never brewed
From Tankards scooped in Pearl.
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol.

"Inebriate of air am I
Debauchee of Dew--
Reeling--through endless summer days--
From inns of Molten Blue." --Emily Dickinson

(Emily Dickinson's poetry was so far ahead of her time that it is still ground breaking today.)


"Canticle of Brother Sun"
...
"Praised be You, my Lord, with your your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
And bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised by You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
...
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth.
Who sustains and governs us,
And who produces varied fruits with colored flowers, and herbs."

--St. Francis

(St. Francis has been called the first Italian poet and the first to bring the world and it's beauty into the Medieval Christian Church where before there was only room for heaven.)

3 comments:

Jon Hancock said...

Congratulations on your journey and healing.

I was born blind. Didn't see a thing the first few years and gradually and with 3 surgeries my eyes became a better. I never read a book in its entirety until I was 23. My mind still "sees" differently. But few people know... to most, I just have bad eyesight no different than others that wear glasses.

Do I think and experience things differently from this? I suppose so but don't know much more than that.

Thanks for the post.

light touch said...

Thanks so much for your comment. Interesting that you know that your mind "sees" differently. Some day we'll know that whole world so much better. I know now that I have what some people would call some form of dyslexia which actually gets better the more that I dance and get physically centered. I found this out tangentially. I also had hearing problems attributed to different difficulties and didn't know it. A teacher for the hearing impaired pointed it out by noticing that i was reading his lips when he spoke.

light touch said...

And I know that these differences in hearing and reading change how I receive information and perceive. I know the hearing difficulties made me very good and nonverbal seeing. Information processing: I need to sit with this more.