Episode 1 : Visible and Invisible
It may be useful to refer to the introduction accessible in full in the main menu in the header marked ‘Introduction’ before embarking on the first episode of chapter 1.
What can we learn from sensory deprivation, in other words from those who cannot see, hear, speak, move, communicate, etc. about accessing other ways of being? How can we become aware and avoid the tyranny of visual processing and the consequent ownership of everything we see?
Without realizing, we blindly pin everything down into permanence in the realities we create in our minds and hear only what we choose to hear? What we can see, hear, smell and taste, become commodities which we want desperately to possess then fossilize so that they become our new reality. It is only natural that we fear their loss because our grip is so tight.
For urban dwellers in the developed world, the allure of visual and auditory signals means we are always facing outwards, pulled out of our True Nature. In modern life, the monopolizing visual/auditory sense can generate synthetic conditions in which we ‘see’ only all that is ‘visible’ but it is also important that we ‘are seen’ and can interpret everything to suit us and our whims. The non-visual senses – deep listening/hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling – on the other hand, process concrete data that needs no interpretation as it is ‘invisible.’ But because we cannot see it with our physical eyes, it has little validity by comparison.
Our True Nature as privileged evolving humans is rooted equally in both the visible and the invisible. It is never limitable to man-made concepts like space and time, to merely seeing and being seen. I believe our responsibility in the visible world is to live with unconditional love and compassion so we can convey the lessons of humanity to others. We can and must revive our divine energy, our True Nature, in these days of shocking social deterioration and urban isolation, so that we can be models for others who are drowning in their ignorance and misguided views, those entirely dominated by their synthetic views of the world around them.
In simple terms, for most of us, our senses are out of balance. But by closing down the visual sense and ‘going inside,’ which is often known by the term ‘meditation,’ we can make contact with our higher self and the vast magical land of the invisible.
The ‘I’ (the self-serving ego) and the physical eye operate in a similar way. As mentioned, the visual sense is the most dominant in our consumerist acquisitive societies. So, diversity and pluralism overwhelm us with choices, alternatives, get-out clauses, and so on. If we cannot see something, there is a possibility that we consider it not to exist or at the very least to have no validity. We need proof either with the naked eye or in writing to make things valid because our trust in others and in our perceptions of reality is so weak.
It is no wonder then that we cling desperately to the ‘self’ as proof that our flesh and blood actually exist. But in that clinging, there is a possibility that we may have lost all contact with our true self; that our divine flame is either guttering or extinguished altogether.
In respect of the above, the visually impaired are fascinating. If we take away visual data from human existence altogether, then how do we make sense of the visible-exclusive world?
I have had the privilege of working with visually impaired children and adults as a Music Therapist. They have taught me so much about concrete communication which has contributed to my own spiritual insights and helped me to step beyond the straitjacket of duality – ‘me and you,’ ‘me and it’ – which most of us wear.
Before writing about my professional experience, I would like to bring attention to a film, which movingly depicts how a person deprived of sight as an adult, makes sense of his new world. The title is ‘Scent of a Woman’ 1992, based on an Italian film released in 1974 as Profumo di donna, (director Dino Risi, leading role Vittorio Gassman, based on the story Il Buio e il Miele by Giovanni Arpino).
A U.S. military, Colonel Slade, injured in an accident, has lost his sight entirely. He adapts badly to his disability drinking heavily and lashing out at everyone around him in an obnoxious way. One day he sees no reason to go on living so he employs a young student paying his way at a local university, to accompany him to New York to take his final pleasures before shooting himself. Of course, the student is not privy to the colonel’s secret intention.
Booking into the best hotel, he lavishes them both during their stay. In the hotel, there is a dance floor where a small band plays Latin American music in the afternoon and guests dance in a formal Latin style. As they ‘watch,’ the colonel senses the fragrance of a woman sitting nearby them and somehow knows that she is alone. Despite his minder’s protestations, he goes to ask her to join them for a drink and then to his helper’s incredulity, he invites her to dance the tango with him. The Colonel knows the steps intimately and the floor clears to watch the spectacle. His fragrant partner is nervous at first but she soon relaxes and they stride out together confidently.
This scene has incredible nobility for me because of my experience with visual impairment. Apparently, all the blind colonel needs to achieve the impossible is the fragrance of a woman, his healthy body fully receptive to the vibrations of music and movement and his kinesthetic memories of dancing the Tango. All of these are concrete data. He does not ‘see’ anything so cannot interpret, distort or generate fear or doubt.
Is it possible to reconstruct a visually accessed environment in terms of sound and movement? I know first-hand that this is what the visually impaired do to make sense of their world.
A young female client blind from birth had never seen anything or anyone; she did not experience even faint patterns of light or shadow. She used sound and sensations exclusively to construct her environment, making mountains out of piano chords and adding snowy summits with her agile voice. She could create a journey in a ship by jumping high to make wave patterns and the rocking of the vessel, using her fingers and voice as the people on board.
Actually, she was happiest without words, entirely nourished by the vibrations of sound and sensing them in her body. There was never any intellectual assessment or interpretation, only spontaneous integration with the stimuli. In other words, she had the ability to become the invisible.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, spiritual teacher and visionary, said,
The description is not the described; I can describe the mountain, but the description is not the mountain, and if you get caught up in the description as most people are, then you will never see the mountain.
Of course, my young client had never seen a mountain and never would be able to do so, so instead, she could sense it made of sound and smells combined with her own bodily movements in space.
This complete absence of images and narrative which consume the mind of most sighted people can teach us just how attached we become to words and images and the meaning we calculate from them. Being receptive to only the sound of a word can liberate us so that we are able to get a glimpse of our True Nature or Spirit beyond mere symbols. This is possible in the invisible world which we experience as a matter of course in daily life – sound, smells, tastes, physical sensations – but choose not to find valid.
Unlike my client, Colonel Slade has seen many mountains and has lived their descriptions but is now dependent on mere memories of mountains. Will he be content with this vagueness when he has made mountains so visually permanent in his life? Will his awareness of mountains gradually dissolve if it cannot be refreshed? Will his sense of loss, of the living reality that everything is impermanent, finally hit home and bring him to a spiritual awakening or will it be utterly unbearable? Perhaps he will now be overwhelmed by the description of himself as ‘a blind helpless and pitiable being’ and fail to see that he is not the described. It seems that his decision to kill himself in some way represents the final irreversible permanence.
Although occasionally troubled by the verbal communications of her carers and therapists, which she was often unable to interpret, my young client was completely happy and reasonably well-adjusted in her normal home and school life. But she became aggressive if she was not allowed to move her body through the air or blocked in any way from feeling the vibrations of sound because this was the only way she could be certain that she existed. So, in terms of her inner spiritual life, she was not beleaguered by dialogue from either her demons or her false angels, not attached to concepts or theories and not hampered by either the acquisitive ‘I’ or ‘eye.’ Whatever she needed to affirm her identity came from sounds and smells, touches and tastes. In other words, words were not symbols which developed an intellectual reality of their own to her and caused her to live in an abstract world of the mind.
The visible. The invisible. A famous blind and deaf phenomenon Helen Keller, who eventually learned to live in the visible and audible world said,
‘The best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt in the heart.’
This spiritual view of life comes from her grueling heart-breaking training as a child to enable her to be able to live in the world of the sighted and the hearing. Her adaptation is testimony to our ability to overcome anything if the divine flame in the heart is strong and we do not allow our senses to become imbalanced.
As the world is designed for the sighted and the hearing it is impossible for the majority of the unsighted or hearing impaired to make sense of it. They experience existence much more directly, more concretely, often from the higher self and this is an inspiration for spiritual aspirations as it was and continues to be for me.
Many of us have learned to access the higher self through meditation or prayer, which invariably entails closing the physical eyes and opening the spiritual eyes to focus our listening and sensing. But how we struggle with distractions in the form of words – notions, speculations, justifications, judgments, criticisms, ad infinitum – and of flashing images and conditioning.
We naturally want to escape from this relentless barrage of concepts, so we look for a path leading away, taking us out of ourselves. It is ironic that all we need is already located inside us if only we can quell the noise of our minds and just ‘exist’ in silence and stillness. The blind cannot escape and have no desire to usually. They are content to finger the complex textures of an item on and on or jump continuously to experiment with their balance or to simply mingle with and surrender to concrete energies.
In spiritual practice, we aspire to go beyond words and other habitual interpretations of reality. We can learn to sink down into the firm yielding of now and here, of the great still silence where we too, like the visually impaired, can detect vibrations and use other tools accessible to humans such as clairvoyance, perfect pitch, telepathy, that we once utilized.
Colonel Slade’s tango with a beautiful fragrant woman almost pushes him over the edge, sending him to lock himself in his room and prepare his gun. Then he feels the love of his young accomplice expressed in angry invective about his cowardliness and self-pity and he suddenly knows that he can play a useful role in his young life.
In the end, the Colonel can settle for concrete stimuli and is able to locate the wisdom of his higher self behind his irascible intolerance. He still believes in questions and their answers learned from memory as he somnambulates around the visual world, at least for a while longer.
The questions the congenitally blind may pose are usually mere sound-play empty of meaning: hearing their own voices, imitating other voices, projecting the sounds their being can create to chart their environment. They are not desperate jabs at understanding existence, of ‘seeing’ through or behind impressions, of ‘understanding’ and interpreting everything as those of the sighted, because they know there are actually no questions, so there are no answers.
They have not separated away from existence because they cannot see to measure and compare, to judge and sort, to speculate or criticize. We sighted need to change so we can accept everything and mingle with it, surrender to it and so step beyond duality to reconnect with our divine origins. The blind and the deaf are embedded in their existence; they cannot easily move around in their visible environment as easily as we do in the virtual worlds we invent.
It is difficult for those who have always been able to see the world to imagine the world of the congenital blind. They are like ghosts using their body forms as an instrument to detect their environment. They become concrete in the same way that what they perceive best is concrete. They do not take what is visible and transient deep inside them and make it invisible in order to learn lessons and connect with the invisible world. They are invisible already.
They are usually calm and steady because everything is already lost in their world; they can hold on to little and describe nothing. Voices come and go, textures and temperatures are continually changing beyond their control. There is no light or shade. There are no models to imitate except vocally and rhythmically, and they are often excellent mimics because of their exclusive audio focus.
We tend to pity them, their deprivation of the treasures of the visual, but their insight into life is extraordinary and their link with the divine I believe functions strongly. We have so much to learn from them, just as I did.
In fact, my blind client knew my inner thoughts. She had clairvoyance without a doubt and she could predict my future. As a music therapist, I was one of the few people she wanted to be with all the time because I could make soundscapes for her and she could use instruments and her voice and body to converse with them.
Our environment can provide concrete data such as resonance, smell, texture and temperature, taste and kinesthetic stimulation, none of which are open to the same kind of interpretation as visual data perceived only by the physical eyes. This data is invisible, the dimension and substance of our spiritual origin.
The shaman in indigenous tribes living in traditional life enters into a trance to connect with the world of spirits to access the wisdom of the elder ancestors. He or she can no longer ’see’ in the physical sense. Soothsayers and seers have traditionally been visually impaired. We are told by Buddhist Masters that during our time in human life we are living in a dream world in which everything is impermanent and created by our minds.
The blind colonel on the dance floor moving his own body and his unknown partner’s through space to the majestic rhythms of the Tango inspired by the fragrance she is wearing is a moving feat to the sighted. There is no hesitation, no speculation, just beautiful bodies moving trustingly through space, responding to resonances and scents. This is surely an unconditional act.
At first, he intends this performance to be his swan song – resonance, rhythms, fragrance, bodily accompaniment- all that he needs to shift to the invisible world. But soon he realizes that he can adapt and at the same time can find peace with his True Nature.
Images courtesy of megapixyl.com and Linden Thorp