What do you see when you turn out the light?
My glasses are the last thing I take off at night. With or without the light, there’s very little I can see clearly without them. I can make out the numbers my alarm clock projects onto the ceiling—they’re large enough and glow red—but I cannot read the clock itself. If one of my children should come into my room, I will know who it is by voice before I will by sight.
The summer I was fifteen and learning to drive, I convinced my parents that I needed to see the eye doctor. No one in my immediate family had any trouble seeing at a distance and my mother was genuinely surprised when the doctor wrote out a prescription for glasses. I wasn’t. I had been surreptitiously trying on my friends’ glasses at school for some time. Lifting them on and off my face, I knew even if the prescription was wrong, there was something in the power of those prescriptive lenses that I needed.
I got my driver’s license before my glasses were ready. My eye doctor signed a waiver that my vision was 20/40, the legal limit for driving without corrective lenses. After years of driving into Iowa City from our farm ten miles outside of town for school and related activities, my parents were all too happy to hand over the car keys. And so it was that the first week of junior year, my driver’s license newly minted, I was allowed to drive myself to West High School.
Each morning there was heavy August fog so thick that corrective lenses wouldn’t have done me any favors. I drove timidly, eyes fixed on the edge of a road barely illuminated by my headlights. I finally reached my school with relief. Later, I would confidently make the ten-mile highway drive from the family farm in eleven and a half minutes, listening to country music loud, the only station that came in on the AM radio.
Having survived those first few trips, I drove downtown after school, found parking, and went into the optometry store to try on my new glasses.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I could see individual leaves at the tops of trees, outlined against the sky. I could see strands of hair on people’s heads. In school I could see the teachers’ instructions written on the board, previously just squiggly lines of white on a black field. I recognized people’s faces down the hall and saw wildlife far away. I knew I had been longing to see better; I had no idea the clarity I had been missing.
Over the next few years, my eyesight grew progressively worse. By the time I graduated from college, the vision I had without correction was closer to legally blind than legally able to drive. In the thirty years since I got that first pair of glasses, the steady decline finally slowed and even reversed ever so slightly. Then about three years ago my optometrist started to mutter about bifocals.
I filled the prescription early this spring when the glasses I had were all but worn out. I wish I could write that my transition to progressive lenses was as smooth and life changing as those first glasses. Life changing, maybe, but not because suddenly I can see with new clarity. Progressive lenses have sweet spots, different parts of the lens are designed for the eye to gaze through specific to the wearer’s distance from a given object. I am learning to look, not simply with my eyes, but by moving my whole head, pointing my nose at the spot where I wish to focus. If I slide my eyes to the left or right, my peripheral vision is blurry; and unless I tip my chin all the way into my breastbone, my feet are always fuzzy. When I vacuum, never a favorite activity, the floor at my feet roils like I’m standing on a fun-house mirror.
One day on my mat, I take my glasses off for Balasana, Child’s Pose. A deep forward fold, kneeling and dropping the hips back against the heels and the forehead to the mat, Child’s Pose is a resting place, a generative beginning for yoga practice or a breather in the middle of a challenging practice. The glasses I wear are extremely light and they fit without moving so that I can wear them while I practice or teach, but this day I start with them off and leave them perched on a yoga block next to my mat. It’s terrifying, this practice I usually love; I am surrounded by nothing more than vague shapes. I do okay, though, not falling, until it’s time for a headstand. This pose I cannot manage without clear focus, a place to hold with my eyes as I invert my world.
There’s a reason that each yoga pose has a prescribed gaze or focal point, in Sanskrit a Drishti. For balance poses, whether balancing on the feet, hands or head, the eyes find and hold a softly focused Drishti to assist with balance. In other poses, the Drishti is designed to deepen the pose, adding challenge or guiding the pose to a new level of intensity. Drishti translates as vision or insight, and it is the gaze of learning or understanding, connecting via focused eyes to both the world in which we practice and greater understanding within.
Whether the lights are on or off, I can’t see without my glasses. At some moments, even after a month or more with my new lenses, I wonder if I can see with my glasses. I think about the lessons of Drishti, the importance of focusing the gaze specifically to match a pose, and I begin to see my glasses as offering me that lesson. Seeing is, like so many poses and practices, best done one focus point at a time, in the light and the dark. And if I look carefully at thought or child or the individual leaves on a tree, I will see simply and with acuity.
The Pink Full Moon rises on April 6, also—appropriately for this Easter weekend—called the Egg Moon. In our household, we’re off to see the Wizard—Ballet Des Moines’ production of The Wizard of Oz, in which Nine will dance the part of a child of Emerald City. Wishing you and yours a beautiful spring celebration and solid chocolate bunnies, Rxo