When I was first told I had cataracts 12 years ago, I didn’t believe it. Only decrepit men with milky eyes and crusty old women have cataracts. Like death, it was something that only happened to other people. By then, I was socialized enough to not admit, at least aloud, that I secretly believed that I was immune to such things.
Several years later, the little cataracts had grown, as things left untended tend to; they either grow or whither. I guess I was hoping for the latter. Ignoring them was still reasonably, my action of choice, through I did concede that eye issues were certainly in my genetic roll of the dice. Another three and a half years lapsed.
It’s not that I didn’t trust the two different surgeons I consulted in my new home town, it’s just that I couldn’t quite relate to the notion that my vision was that impaired because I thought I saw well, could go about much of any day without glasses and this I took as the measure of good sight. I even managed to squint my way into passing my driving test without being required to wear glasses to drive.
The story of the frog did come to mind: it is simple and we all intuitively understand the principle. If you throw a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. If you heat the water slowly, it will adapt and die. It’s a human trait that both protects and harms us. This capacity to adapt is brilliant but the downside is it allows us to stay in the heating waters far too long, even till the icecaps melt and the seas rise. Even till we wake up in increasingly dysfunctional political climates that have become less and less hospitable to healthy lives. Or we stay in bad relationships or …the list is long.
Maybe I had just adapted to a world that had lost some vibrancy. I loved my various reading glasses, assuming that needing to change prescriptions on an increasingly regular basis was due to natural aging. Even so, the increased eyestrain meant that I was reading less, so I decided to at least entertain the idea of correction.
This was something of a ploy, a way of educating myself as to what was involved, because in reality I had no intention of allowing anyone with a sharp cutting object anywhere near my eyes, no matter how great their reputation. Still in the spirit of at least some semblance of collaboration, I started the research in earnest. I settled on a local ophthalmologist who was kind, patient, unhurried and super experienced.
All this flirting around the edges of exploration drew me in closer till the decision was finally upon me and I leapt in, rather than away. He had told me that my blue spectrum was particularly affected by the kind of cataracts that I had. Of course, my eyes immediately darted around the bland room to settle on a photograph which included a man wearing a blue turban to prove that I could indeed see blue. Maybe he was saying something that didn’t really apply to me.
The procedure itself was blissfully uneventful, as one wants all surgeries and plane flights to be. Uneventful is good. Is the best. One may wonder why I would bother to ponder the effects of a procedure so common in the western world, in fact in many parts of the world, so as to be not only un-newsworthy, but actually somewhat commonplace. It was what happened afterwards that was noteworthy, even blog worthy on three counts.
The most shocking was the vision itself. It took just one day for my eye to heal enough to start seeing a whole new world, at least out of the newly operated eye.
The southern Oregon early morning winter light that I had seen as a flat grey on cloudy days was now shimmering shades of dusty midnight, royal, and light baby blue. Luminous blues, soft shy blues, bold strident blues, with undertones of purple ranging into iridescent greys.
To my amazement running water is not only clear, but has shades of lilac and yellow; and the birds, I had no idea that a simple junco was such a colorful creature with their oil black heads, their pert orange beaks and that brilliant white flashing as they open their tail feathers in first flight. The blue jay was a wonder to behold. Have you ever really looked at a blue jay?
The second thing that struck me pertains to the capacities of the brain. It takes a few days for the brain (any brain, but in this case, mine) to come into a stable relationship with this massive amount of new information. A few days to realize that I wasn’t on some mind altering, perception altering drug, other than the intoxicating experience of seeing life, the ordinary and the extraordinary things of the world so sharply, it was almost painful.
A few days of utter fatigue followed, as my poor brain attempted to form one frame out of two rather disparate views of the world. The yet to be operated eye saw muted, gentle sepia tones with somewhat diffuse soft boundaries, while the new eye was just the opposite, to a shockingly vibrant degree.
It took a full 10 days before the two frames became one. I would close one eye, then the other, so amazed by their very marked difference, then further marvel that my brain had managed to find the ‘transcendent function’*, the unifying vision that included both, but was broader than either.
Of course I mused that if one ordinary human brain could do that massive task in just over one week, what exactly did it say about our politicians and their collective capacity to work with different viewpoints.
Two weeks after the first eye was done, the second had its equally exhilarating uneventful turn. My brain did not have to work so hard second time around, since both eyes were seeing a more similar world, stripped of its muted covering to expose its raw pulsing beauty. A place where every leaf had its own shape and sheen. Trees were no longer trees but events. The droplets of water after the nighttime rains shone with the brilliance of glistening pearls and the fur on my dogs’ coats were striated into variegated tones that revealed each individual hair’s distinct color. My artist self was having a perpetual field day. Walking the neighborhood with me was like walking with someone on LSD, in wonder and awe, a tad oblivious to cars as I marveled the foliage along the sidewalks.
The third remarkable point (that I suspect we can all relate to), was to do with the surety with which I had assumed that what I saw was the way things were.
Because I didn’t see and genuinely couldn’t see a more vibrant world, I had no way of knowing it existed and that the barrier was within me. I believed (through my ongoing experience) that what I saw was in fact the way the world was. This is both literal as well as metaphorical. I do trust/hope that our philosophers, our artists and maybe our scientists do not fall so readily into this certainty trap.
It often takes the better part of a lifetime for most of us to learn to trust ourselves and our perceptions. After all, we all need a basis from which to view the world, yet, now I realize in a whole new way, that there must also be a huge space in our hearts and minds to accept our experience as being subjectively true without it being ‘the truth’. Most of us understand this on some theoretical level, without it really penetrating the stubborn layers of our own certainties.
To what degree can we be sure of anything, especially if we have only our own experience to go on? Or maybe, we can indeed rely on our felt sense even as we stay cognizant that it may not be all there is to know. Can we stay open to inquire further or be further informed by new inputs, even as we have our own baseline experience? This reminds me of that rather perplexing but stunningly accurate aphorism by the Chinese Master Ummon who said: “Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise”. It is well to remember that we ARE the filters through which we perceive every aspect of our worlds, our beliefs, and the stories we tell about the way things are.
More than cataracts were taken away during this miraculous uneventful event, I also let go some edges of certainty about the ways things are. My perception has softened at the very point where everything is suddenly clearer and sharper than ever before. A paradoxical insight.
I thank you for reading and maybe pondering this post as it relates to all the certainties you hold as truths.
Love to you all,
- ‘Transcendent function’ is a Jungian frame of reference which pertains to the alchemy that occurs when two opposite attitudes, positions, or perceptions form a third view that is bigger than either of the two component parts but includes them both. It is not a merging, nor a compromise, but the formation of a third element that is inclusive. Like a marriage which takes two separate entities and forms a third which includes both but the ‘we’ is bigger than either. In the psychic field, it is a state of transformative grace that occurs if you are willing to sit in the tension of what appears to be two opposite and apparently irreconcilable positions.
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