Breathing Compassion in the Pitch Dark

Blessed be the longing that brought you here 
and that quickens your soul with wonder. 
~John O’Donohue

Being a visual person has its definite rewards and joys, yet I learned the other night that it also has its set backs.  Most of us in this world “see” through our eyes, being constantly stimulated by beauty and ugliness,  advertising and art, internet and the pages of a book, and it goes on and on.  The images all around us bring richness and meaning to our lives….and can also bring sadness and pain.

I have often wondered in my life what it would be like to simply not be able to see anything but blackness or shadows.  I have a dear friend who has slowly been losing her vision over the past 17 years or so and is almost completely blind now.

When asked a few days ago whether I had any blind friends, I couldn’t think of any because Vicki is so confident in her abilities to navigate the world – and she literally does as she travels by herself all over the world singing, teaching and giving key-note addresses – that I never even considered her as blind.  She would laugh about that! (click on her name to see more!)

Frequently over the years I have experimented with closing my eyes and seeing how it would be to do daily tasks, and orienting myself in a different way.  This necessarily brought to the forefront some of my other senses that get put on hold when busy “seeing” my world.  It was easy to imagine not having sight when I had my own massage therapy business, as so much is communicated through touch, and a persons voice and energy.  But it was another thing to imagine myself navigating without vision in all aspects of my life.

I remember in a college class while a classical piece of music was being played our professor asked us to close our eyes and hear the music in a different way.  Immediately images starting forming as I used all of my senses to really FEEL into the separate pieces of the music.  I also was able to sense it in various parts of my body depending on the quality of sound.

Oh, and then there was the time at the culmination of a ropes course that each of us in our group was taken one by one, blind folded, and asked to climb up a sawed off tree trunk to the top where a round disc (that moved when you stood on it) was placed.  Once you were up there you were asked to determine where that trapeze might be in front of you (and it changed with each person as the leader of the group adjusted back or forwards) and then jump off and catch it….all of course without your vision to guide you.

You were harnessed in case you missed…..but your psyche and your body did not know that!  Catching that trapeze (and I did!) invited my other senses to come on board on a level much deeper than visual assessment might have.  In fact it was an amazing experience as I breathed and sensed my way to that trapeze somewhere out there in the void!  But the fact is that I could take my blindfold off once the experience was over with.

What if you had been born blind and had never seen colors, natures beauty, or the inside of a building or home your were about to go into??  What if there was no visual memory bank to borrow from??   What if you had your full vision and then over time, or all of a sudden, you lost it?  A couple of days ago I placed myself in an environment where I could not see at all and not only that, but I was with 100 other people who were doing the same thing.

The Austin Blind Cafe in their own words is “a mind bending / heart opening experience where the audience will dine, participate in a Q & A with their blind wait staff and enjoy a concert of original music by Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken.(click here to hear some music)..all in the pitch dark! “  That is the very compact version, but as you can see I have much more to say about it here.

Our group of 5 was led into our dining experience by great humored Faith who has been blind since the age of 7.  As we lined up and touched each other on the shoulder I felt like a small child being led into a magical place in the pitch dark….and it turned out to be just that!

Delectable Vietnamese food had to be felt for, smelled and imagined as taste buds lit up with pleasure with each bite with either fork (if you could find it!) or fingers.  A little to my surprise I was immediately comfortable in the pitch black – in conversations with my table mates, listening to the Q & A session with our blind wait staff, embodying the original music played by immensely talented musicians, and culminating at the end of the evening in 100 people singing together from a deep feeling of connection – all without the distraction of visual input.

I had met only one of our group before so the conversations involved a “getting to know you” without eye contact, recognition,  and visual judgement distractions.  There was a sense of cooperation that developed at the table especially when water had to be poured and new food passed.  There was also a sense of stillness at times that gave rise to simply being present to whatever was going on in the room.  But instead of “seeing” what was going on, we were hearing, tasting, feeling and touching it.

The young woman beside me would place her hands around mine as she passed me a new yummy offering….and after a particularly moving a capella solo we found each others hands and squeezed.  One of our table mates was reported missing from his seat at one point.  It was discovered that he had been dancing to the music in the room somewhere.

Jokes were thrown about by the blind wait staff as they fielded questions, but it could not be denied that we learned more about what it was like to be blind by the openly honest answers to our questions…and by our own experience of being deprived of our visual sense.

Some sighted people in the room were obviously in a bit of understandable anxiety at being in pitch black for so long as their voices rose higher making it difficult to hear conversations at our own table.  For some it was an opportunity to let go of “being seen” in a particular way;  to embody music more completely without distractions; to completely focus on smelling, tasting and feeling into the food that was put into our mouths; to feel the rise and fall of breath; and to open to a deeper and more expansive compassion and connection.

At one point during our dining experience Katie, the young woman next to me, stated that her focus in school was International Relations with an emphasis on the Middle East.  In talking with one of my table companions after the experience I simply said, I wonder what would happen if leaders of nations or ideologies in conflict were to have a similar experience. Could much strife be averted in this way?  A friend of mine in the UK told me he thought every child should experience this at least once during the school year to encourage empathy and understanding.

So creators of The Blind Cafe,  I invite you to allow us to assist you to widen this experience globally!  Deep gratitude to The Austin Blind Cafe, and to all visually impaired individuals, for teaching us how to breathe compassion in the pitch dark…..

P.S.  No pictures have been added to this post on purpose!


2 Comments on “Breathing Compassion in the Pitch Dark

  1. This is extraordinarily moving. Thank you.

    Wilbert Aix’s Trance Dance offers an opportunity from the same pre-requisite – being in the dark – this time mainly through wearing a blindfold; 2-3 hours of being in contact with one’s deepest self at all levels (the dark as much as the light!)

    Has helped me to grow in many ways.

    John O

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: