what you can’t see

Today I stumbled across the online journal of Mike May, the world record holder for downhill speed skiing for a blind person and a truly fascinating human being. Though the last entry posted was from 2003, I was so captivated by the insights, humor, and affection pervasive in May’s writing that I wound up reading the entire thing.

His entries got me thinking about how humans perhaps overvalue vision as a sense. Think about how we rely on our sight to function everyday.

This morning I stood on the curb wearing headphones waiting to cross the street. I didn’t need to hear anything over the sound of The Weepies singing to know when it was safe to go. I just waited until I saw an opening in the traffic. This seems like it would have worked out well enough, only had I not fiddled with the volume level on my iPod before leaving the curb, I would have been flattened by a car that came barreling around the corner.

Think about how what we see may affect your emotional decision making. The way a person looks is often the first thing that catches our attention – not necessarily what they are saying. Maybe this would change who we elect to spend our time with if we listened more with our hearts and saw less with our eyes. Just a thought.

With sight, we often trust that what we see truly represents the object reflected on our retina. I suspect that having perfect vision can limit our experiences and ability to accurately see things for what they are.

Think about it. If you were blind, what do you think the most helpful thing would be to gain with restored vision? The ability to see your loved ones and family members? Perhaps. But would you love them any differently? Probably not. The ability to see the swells of the ocean? Maybe. But would it take away from the scent of the salt air or feeling of the damp sand under your feet? I don’t know. What was interesting for me to learn was that for May, one of the more practical benefits of being able to see was sorting laundry and catching a ball midair.

It was fascinating to learn that with restored vision, the ability to see actually confused May at times. In the beginning, when in conversation with someone the constant fluttering of their eyelids, or adapting to the changes of motion and colors was sometimes too much for him. Sometimes he preferred closing his eyes so he could listen better to what the person talking to him was saying. Sometimes when skiing it was easier for him to close his eyes than follow the movements of the guide in front of him.

I find this incredibly fascinating. It also made me think about how as a person with all of my senses in tact, I need to learn how to trust my instincts better. I need to put more stock in what I hear and feel. I have always believed that I was a person inherently good at reading people. But I have to admit, even as a person with 20-20 vision, I am at times totally blind at properly reading a situation. (Most of the time this involves relationships and ignoring the red flags that pop up along the route.)

Perhaps the next time I am confused I will employ May’s method of closing my eyes and feeling out the situation using what I can hear, what I can touch, what I can reason. Then I will have to trust what I cannot see and rather what I feel is true. I need to learn to listen more to the voice inside. The one who knows the way out of the darkness – even without a light.

To read Mike May’s online journal visit his company’s web site at http://www.senderogroup.com/index.htm

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