Have you heard the story about the man who glanced at a coiled rope, assumed a snake lay in front of him and jumped back in terror?
Have you heard the tale of a monk who lived for many decades in a cave and painted on the walls? For years, he worked to create a picture of a floor-to-ceiling tiger with bold stripes and wiry whiskers. As the monk put finishing touches on the wild cat’s intense eye, he stood back to admire his fine art. As if the bloodthirsty carnivore might eat him, the man screamed and bolted from the cave.
It seems human beings tend to glimpse things a certain way and react as if their thoughts are true with what Einstein called “a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.”
So Marcel Proust was no doubt right when he said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
My journey of having new eyes began with my first pair of glasses in third grade. I picked out a blue and silver frame, pointy where the earpieces met the glass.
My eye doctor said I must also wear a patch on my right eye until my left eye strengthened. He told me, “Your left eye is lazy. It rolls in, doesn’t want to work, so it rests near your nose. We need to cover the right one to force effort in the left.”
With joy, I slipped on my fun glasses and cool tan canvas patch because, until I wore them, the kids on the playground had taunted me.
When I tried to stare straight at them, they’d say, “Hey, cross-eyed, are you looking at me?” They’d zig-zag their eyeballs and sing-song, “cross-eyed, cross-eyed.”
I believed them: Lazy eyes are wrong. I am wrong. Weird little Susan. I’d gaze at the ground. My gut would tighten. I’d choke up and feel small.
They teased me and I saw a scary tiger. They taunted me and I believed I was not worthy of playing with them. It’s hard to make friends when we perceive people as potential snakes. Now they mocked me: “four-eyes,” or with the patch, “three eyes.”
But I interpreted having four eyes as a chance to see well, to have my eyes line up the way they were supposed to. I deemed my new face fashionable.
And because I believed the childish jeers were compliments, their comments didn’t bother me.
Funny how perception works, how beliefs craft our reality. As the Talmud says, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
I saw things happy.
For nearly 60 years, I’ve needed correction, truly and symbolically. These days when I slip on my progressives, I peek into what they might teach me: “Where can I see life more clearly? How might I hone my worldview? Can I focus more skillfully?”
I now understand Paul Simon’s lyrics: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” I get the metaphor: How we look at our lives matters; to envision a better picture, it’s important to pay attention to our perspective.
Do we regard pain, setback, annoyances, frustration, envy, and concerns as snakes and tigers, or can we transform our optical delusions?
Recently someone stole my bifocal sunglasses from my dashboard. Maybe they liked the shiny case. I know they won’t like what they can’t see through my prescription.
As I chuckle at the blurriness the thieves will experience, I recall a question one of my spiritual friends suggested for tough times: When we begin to tighten in emotional pain, when we start to wither in woes, when we feel stuck, we can ask, “What am I not seeing?”
Today when I feel blind, blinded or blindsided, I try to remember to put on new lenses, to change the view and to sharpen my sight.
Susan Lebel Young, MSEd, MSC, retired psychotherapist. Her new book is “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers.”
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