Sunday, January 2, 2011

Being Blind Made A Shaman Of Me

Being blind made a shaman of me; a person who has learned to travel back and forth between two worlds; the physical world and the mystical or spiritual.

The New Horizons’ Small “Zones of Peace” Project as I designed it with the collaboration of my colleague, Sue deVeer, evolved its format because of this ability of mine.

Losing my eyesight and being visually impaired for five years (1998 – 2006) was traumatic.

It was also transformative.

I consciously chose this path of transformation for two reasons.

First, it came naturally to me. And, secondly, it was the only way I could find to survive the ordeal and its associated consequences.

Once my vision was restored (with contact lenses I now have 20/25 in one eye and 20/45 in the other) through the medical miracles of seven eye surgeries, it then took me another five or so years to, again, learn to navigate the “normal” world.

One thing that made my return particularly dramatic was that I lost my eyesight before “9/11” and returned after it. The world I SAW when I returned was, thus, very changed.

Still an extended time of severe vision impairment would, no doubt, present anyone with an experience like that of Rip Van Winkle, asleep for twenty years -- an inordinate challenge.

Recovery from extended blindness is very difficult in many ways.  The movie At First Sight, a true story based on an essay by noted neurologist Oliver Sacks, starring Val Kilmer, poignantly depicts some of the most common struggles.  These challenges are strongly exacerbated as their are almost no professional guides for managing the trauma of having restored eyesight, after extended blindness, as very few people, to date, have recovered from extended such as this. Medical advances in the area of vision restoration after extended blindness are still in their infancy.

In fact, statistics indicate that better than one-third of those who have had their sight restored after a period of extended blindness, walk with their eyes closed and/or elect to sit in the dark.

Why this circumstance is so -- is complex!

And, more than worthy of multiple in depth conversations.

The whole of the subject; blindness and severe vision impairment, is a wide-ranging topic from both physical and psychological perspectives.

My friend, Sarah Blake, who has spent most of her life blind (with several episodes of being able to see) has surveyed the subject matter and delineated much that can be useful to the lay person. Check out Sarah’s web site at: for revealing details on a variety of issues, including family and social concerns, the blind person’s self-perception etc. and more.

Sarah is now an ordained minister, working specifically with the disabled. She has been a crucial support for me as I’ve moved through my own vision recovery process. Her knowledge base and the wisdom she imparted to me as I traveled the rocky path of what is essentially a no-man’s land; transitioning between the unseeing to the seeing, has almost been life saving at times. It was truly a case of “the blind leading the blind.”

In this situation it worked marvelously. This was especially so as Sarah knowledge and skill as a guide is rare. There are almost no agencies or trained counselors anywhere in the world that one can approach with the very desperate plea –

’Help me recover (emotionally and psychologically) from blindness. Help me regain the losses I have accrued and find a place for myself in the normal world.”

Sarah, however, could and did generously guide me at times. Counseling, guidance and support in the area of recovery from extended blindness is a whole new, uncharted territory.

It has not been developed yet as, worldwide, recovery is still a relatively rare and unusual occurrence, still only in its infancy, medically.

What I brought back from my own personal experience, based on how I chose to handle my traumatic loss of sight, is the distinctive capacity to know how to traverse this recovery terrain (particularly as I am also a trained and experienced psychotherapist) as well as a unique slant on peace-building. Likely made more so because of the circumstances of “911.”

A gift was bestowed on me that came to me of abilities I developed through losing and regaining my eyesight. I now have the capacity to travel back and forth with ease between two worlds, the physical and the spiritual. And to, also, be a bridge for others between them

If you visit the New Horizons’ Small Zones of Peace” blog site and follow the line of reasoning presented through it, you will likely see this traveling of mine back and forth between two worlds, reflected in the philosophy underlying what is offered there. The capacity to visualize the peace we humans could create is truly a gift I received from my ordeal.

You will also see on this blog site how this perpetual journeying of mine has brought me to SEE things rather differently in general.

A few of key words to note on both blog sites are:

awe and my reference to snakes or snakey behaviors as challenges to the building of peace.

Both words particularly depict this constant traveling of mine. And, how this resource of mine can best serve. To be continued ...

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