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The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
- Henri Bergson
Can you believe your eyes? As those of us who are bespeckled know, the answer to that question is complicated. If I have my glasses on, I can see long distances & movie screens, read street signs, notice fine detail in the curve of someone’s neck or the slight flare of a nostril. However, when I do not have my glasses on, I am nearly blind in my left eye (and right now, I don’t have my glasses on. I left them in a Starbucks bathroom on a road trip last weekend, and my second pair is...somewhere? So I am squinting at you right now, through the monitor, looking every bit like a suspicious witch peering through a hole in the door.)
One of my unsought, unasked-for Initiations in this life: my soul traded the ability to see out of my left eye with for the ability to see quite a lot with my third eye. I count this fair.
There are many ways to “see.” I was born with poor vision, and started wearing my first pair of glasses at age 3. They were green. I graduated to blue glasses, then tortoiseshell glasses, then red glasses, then wire frames. But by the time I was about 15, my vanity overtook me and I peeled those glasses off. I was tired of being called “4 eyes” and having people say things to me like, “boys don’t make passes at girls with glasses.” So I stuffed them into my bureau and pretended to forget about them.
You know how sometimes your memories take on the hazy glow of nostalgia because of the passage of time? My memories of high school are just plain hazy because, well, I couldn’t see very well without my glasses.
What I can see, however, are peoples’ motivations, true intentions, private hurts, secret shames, hushed desires. These pieces of information float like so many dust motes, glittering about a person. I see them with the inner sight. I have a good sense of time and direction. I perceive emotions, spirits, and past events. I engage my sense of “vision” more than my sense of “sight” in many situations. This helped a lot for the twenty years I abandoned wearing glasses.
But over the years without glasses, my external vision began to improve out of sheer necessity. In my late twenties, I began to seriously research natural techniques for strengthening my eyes. I’ve done exercises, taken herbs, stared into lights, stared into darkness, dropped in drops, washed in washes, and tried everything possible to keep my eyes functioning well. I also meditated, did shamanic journeys, listened to guided visualizations, and attended to my intuitive development during this time. This journey with the inner and outer vision has yielded a few truths (as I perceive them.)
The mind absorbs information readily, assimilates it indiscriminately, and applies it selectively. Example: The typical American sees over 3000 advertisements per day. We are so accustomed to this that our mind speedily filters most of them, sifting through the stream of data sent from our eyes to our brain and marking the ads as immediately-forgettable “spam.” Yet, when we are out of dish soap and our eye flickers past an ad for even a brand of dish soap we don’t use, our mind will pause and give us a reminder to go buy dish soap. We might find ourselves "uncannily" running into someone we know in a stadium of 10,000 people at a concert, where we "just happened to pick them out of the crowd." The upshot? There is a lot more information found in our daily lives than we can actually keep track of, but the eyes take all of it in and allow the mind to filter it according to our needs, wants, and personal relevance. Our mind filters are not objective - they are extremely subjective, programmed by our survival instincts, personality traits, and emotions.
Our emotions inform what we see and how something or someone looks to us. Think of how many times you might drive past the new dentist’s office before you find it. Are you dreading the appointment? Consider how someone appears to you when you are first falling in love with them. They might glow slightly, look soft about the edges. Their slight quirks of appearance are endearing. Now think about how someone looks to you when you are angry with them. Perhaps they look less attractive: that slightly crooked eyebrow that you used to think charming now just looks like a glaring flaw. We cannot really divorce our understanding of WHAT we see from HOW we see it, and how we see something is really linked to how we feel about it. Thus, our perspective of any given personal, situation, or object is comprised of many different layers of biology and emotion.
Perspective, being shaped by emotion as well as evidence, offers us a platform of reality
from which to formulate our thoughts, opinions, and actions. When we feel pleased by our perceptions, we hold the perspective that “All is well.” When we feel badly about things, we tend to hold the perspective that “Something is wrong.” The truth is, rarely is ever “all well” or is anything “wrong.” Usually, life is a balance of well and wrong, but our emotions often dictate how we “see” these things, how we frame then, how we react to them.
Were you ever afraid of the dark as a child? I remember very clearly when my parents would say, “Don’t be afraid of the dark,” I would reply, “I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of what’s IN the dark.”
The darkness of the unknown can be so holy and helpful, but it necessitates a loss of perspective so that we can evolve new visions for ourselves, our lives. Loss of perspective results in fear, sometimes. When we find ourselves paralyzed or dominated by fear, we tend to tighten up, close our minds, and hunker down around our precious, but out-of-date perspectives. Sometimes, like a frightened rabbit or deer, we might bolt out of fear mindlessly, scattering our energy and making ourselves even more vulnerable. However we approach it, loss of perspective and its attendant fear can mean that we have an opportunity to look at life in new and challenging ways. Only by accepting the challenge of looking within, gazing into the darkness, can we then find the courage to navigate the journey effectively.
Thus, as we make our way through the journey of life, we need to engage both our gifts of sight AND our gifts of inner vision. Balancing your sight with your vision, your vision with your sight, yields a more complete picture of the person, event, or path before you. The only way to exercise your vision is to experience life fully, in its naked unfolding glory of adventure. Quite a tall order! Fortunately, if you are invested in shaping your mindset rather than letting it shape you, every life adventure can be framed as “good” in some way, allowing you to build a more nuanced perspective around sad events, and a more realistic and sustainable perspective around happy ones.
Nourishing your sight, alongside your vision, makes the adventure of life bloom in full color and depth. It’s easy enough to provide a little extra food for the two tropical fish that swim around in your face. Here are some of the things I have done to strengthen my sight.
Herbal remedies for eyes
Bilberry: taken internally as tea or tincture to strengthen
Eyebright: used as a tea, tincture, or eyewash to strengthen
Chicory leaves: heated, moistened, and applied to eyes to refresh them
Elder flowers: in tea can be helpful for restoring sight after a blinding shock
Slippery elm: applied in a warm poultice to relieve stressed eyes
Goldenseal: as a tea/wash for stye or infection
White poplar buds warmed in honey and applied to eyes to alleviate strain
Chickweed: internally, as a nutritive tea
Watercress: internally, as a nutritive
Kale: internally, as a nurtritive
Plantain: leaves crushed and applied or the tea applied to alleviate allergy-red eyes
Lutein: taken as directed for relieving computer eyestrain
A student in my Witch’s Garden class at my shop, Norm Halm, came up with a great tincture recipe for supporting eye health. He has graciously agreed to allow me to share it here:
Computer Wellness Tincture, by Norm Halm:
-Oats (Straw + Milky Tops- Nerve tonic)
-Eyebright (Strengthen Eyes)
-Brahmi (Nervine/Enhanced Cognition)
-Kelp (Nereocystis Luetkeana-Radiation Protection)
-Rhodiola Rosea Root (Adaptogenic/Cognition)
Steep equal amounts of these herbs in the 80 Proof alcohol of your choice for a minimum of 4 weeks, strain, and take a dropperful daily as needed.
Perform these twice daily, or as you wish
-Fast flutter of eyelids for 15 seconds -Squeeze closed tightly, then open wide, alternating for several turns -Flicker glances to each side slowly for 15 seconds, then rapidly for 15 seconds -“Follow the bee”: pick a bug, butterfly leaf on the wind, or bit of fluff in the air and follow it with your eyes for as long as you can possibly see it. -Gaze at intricate mandala patterns or labyrinth patterns, following them with your eyes -Gently press the heels of your hands against the eyes (don’t apply too much pressure, but give a gentle reassuring rest of the hand on the eye) and hold them there for 10 seconds, release, flutter eyelids quickly for a few seconds, then repeat.
Further helpful resources:
Ways of Seeing by John Berger, also made into a program in Britain that is found in parts on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnfB-pUm3eI
Take Off Your Glasses and See by Jacob Liberman
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