Not Being Able to See
Lisa M. Lipsett Ed. D.

"Vision… is not the simple thing it is imagined to be. It has to do with desire and possessiveness more than mechanical navigation, and it entangles us in a skein of changing relations with objects and people. In particular, vision helps us to know what we are like: we watch versions of ourselves in people and objects, and by attending to them we adjust our sense of what we are. Because we cannot see what we do not understand or use or identify with, we see very little of the world- only the small pieces that are useful and harmless. Each act of vision mingles seeing with not seeing, so that vision can become less a way of gathering information than avoiding it." (Elkins, 1996: 201)

(Hu)man(kind) has lapsed into a fixed and "narrowed" mode of "single vision" by means of the physical eye alone, which sees reality as a multitude of isolated individuals in a dehumanized world.
(Evernden, 1993: 32

I experience a new way of seeing while painting. I try not to distance myself from the view or feel the need to tame or place it behind fences and moats. For when the wild pattern that connects calls me, I want to be sensitive enough to be able to hear it and strong enough not succumb to the eyes that say, "but there’s nothing there!".

Training ourselves to see beyond the surface gets us past the judging, naming gatekeeper that, for me at least, lives in my eyes. We open to the experience of the other senses, allowing their knowing to permeate our being.

I was born very far-sighted (8.5 diopters). The muscles controlling the lenses of my eyes are too weak to focus my view so without corrective lenses I exist in a blurry world. My parents first wondered about my vision when my eyes began to regularly cross; that was the first signal that something was not right. Early on I went for eye training that helped me to learn to not cross my eyes. That made me look normal but I still could not see clearly. Ironically, when I cross my eyes I can read, write and function quite well. In fact I went through most of high school looking good by wearing glasses only during class time. At 16, I went on a two week Spring break holiday to Florida with a friend and never wore my glasses once.

I believe I learned something about sight during my early years that I have rediscovered only recently through painting. Not being able to see the intricacies of fine detail opens me to the larger pattern. It also opens me to movement within the pattern as I embrace the vibration between the intricacies. I am not a pinpoint detail person. I am a pattern seer, an over-viewer. I need the overview before I can take in the fine details. I need a place to hang them. I need to know their relationships to each other.

In the last year I’ve rediscovered the power of "blurry time". I will now spend full days without my contacts in. I especially enjoy doing this in the summer. I wear a loose sarong so that I can feel the breeze on my body and I create with garden life. Or I frolic in the water. I sometimes start my days by going for a blurry run where I can see the shadows and light of the trees as their leaves move in the breeze. I see trees in their wholeness when I’m in my blurry state. I also hear my breath and free run in my sensory experience more fully. I feel smoother, more integrated, less outward looking for cues and more inward focused as a result. The boundaries between self and other become more transparent. It’s as though I stop looking for things to look at and instead focus on feeling my way through interactions.

I don’t seem to get as easily tied in knots about the details of an activity when I’m in "blurry time". I seem to be able to more easily lose my self in the process. If I explain to family and friends what I am doing and how it’s not personal that I’m not looking them in the eyes (I can’t see their eyes clearly), then I feel my interaction with them also becomes flowing and smooth. They know that I’m not watching them, they feel the freedom of invisibility somehow and I also feel less preoccupied by their presence. I can’t see them so they aren’t really there in a judgmental kind of way. We are both freer to do as we please and be who we are.
Strange how my far-sightedness is seen as a medical problem that needs to be corrected. Wearing glasses as a young girl made me feel ugly and self-conscious. I wasn’t able to do gymnastics with the same gusto as my sisters because I couldn’t really see enough to be safe. I felt awkward and a bit ashamed of the big eyes emerging from behind the rims. In order to see what everybody else was seeing I had to wear corrective lenses. What I saw without them was not right. What would have happened to me if I was born before the dawn of written text and corrective lenses? I guess I’d have lived happily in "blurry time" not realizing that what I saw was any different from what everyone else was seeing.

I’ve experienced a deep resonate kind of seeing during "blurry time". It’s a sensing, a harmonizing that makes my pupils, my retinas, my contacts obsolete, superfluous, really unnecessary. In fact they can get in the way.

It’s interesting about seeing things. To need to see things to know what they are, as opposed to hearing them or smelling them is very powerful for us. The power of our eyes to decide what the world is, can make it worse for us because we don’t trust our bodies, our hearts. The eyes seem to be so tied to the intellect. Visual acuity can actually cause me to doubt what my night vision, my "blurry time", my night sensing is really telling me.

The two sometimes compete for center stage, for the title of truth bearer. They out shout each other, jostle with their elbows, trip, spit and pummel. They duke it out, defend their turf and say, "look again, you’ve got it all wrong". Like a bickering couple whose words are not reaching each other, whose languages are different and denote radically opposing ways of encoding the world, they astonish each other with the void that exists between them. Cornered, each in their separate place they do the dance of particle and wave. Usually he says, "I see the truth of the matter. It’s clear. I’m observing from a distance, I’m objective, I know what’s real. While I have sympathy for your impressions, as heartfelt as they are, ultimately I know the truth because I am separate. I can see the simplicity. I’m not confused, clouded by my feelings and sense abilities. Everything is simple and clear. Get a grip, get a hold of yourself, you move all over the place, you’re so up and down. Why try and muddy the picture by making things more complex than they really are? Be rational!"

She says, "I feel the complexity of things, I sense it in my body. My head races, my gut aches, my palms sweat in response to all that you’ve just said. I hear you in my cells. I don’t want to pin things down, divide them up, compartmentalize, I don’t have a position.

Instead I move, I cycle like a wave, like a breeze across a wheat field. I undulate, I float, I dive down to the dark depths and pop back up again just as quickly. I inhale life into my body, I feel the breath in my cells, I take it all in, I always have. My knowing comes from the past, the present and the future. The first beings to climb out of the primordial muck onto land are me, just as the eagle who soars above is also me. It’s all me hearing you tell me its all so simple".

Like night and day they are joined at the hip. Like siamese twins they must learn to co-operate with each other. She feels she has a solution. "You just can’t have it your way all the time. I can no longer stand to be defined relative to you. That privileges your viewpoint. The way it stands now, together we are a two-sided coin, you are heads and I’m not heads. I become defined by your absence as though there is you and then everything else that is not you. Instead I want to be joined to you and be "tails" simultaneously. I don’t want to be the unseen to your seen, the invisible to your visible, the unconscious to your conscious, or the irrational to your rational. I am the implicate to your explicate, the wave to your particle, the whole to your part, the space to your place, and the feminine to your masculine. We complement each other in a dance of harmonious union, with you within me and me within you simultaneously".


Elkins, J. (1996) The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing, New York: Simon and Schuster

Evernden, N. (1993) The Natural Alien: Humankind and the Environment, (2nd. Edition) Toronto: University of Toronto Press