Traveling Blind in the Times of Uncertainty

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Pavel Somov, Ph.D. Psychologist/Author of Reinventing the Meal, Eating the Moment, Present Perfect, Lotus Effect

In my teens (when I was still living in the USSR) I had a neighbor who was blind. He seemed imperturbable, monolithic, settled yet spontaneous and relaxed. I never knew anyone like that until I started reading about Zen masters with their notorious mix of non-threatening confidence and spontaneity. I had a chance to pick his brain a bit. The only thing I remember him saying about "how it is, to be blind" is this: "When you walk, it's very simple: things are either in your way or not. If they are, you walk around."

In traveling blind, this kid was blind to the infinity of the irrelevant distinctions that we constantly make as we describe and narrate everything we encounter. Not having the visual data to burden his mind, he was merely interested in getting from point A to point B. In his pursuit of wellbeing, in his daily journeys from A to B, he did not have to judge what he encountered. Obstacles were neither good nor bad. They were either in the way of his well-being or not. This was the only distinction that he made... and it was entirely enough for the purposes of navigating through life. As a result, his mind seemed much less cluttered than mine, and thus more open.

Curious about what it's like, I several times experimented with having someone lead me around the hustle and bustle of Moscow, while I had my eyes closed. It was both hard and amazing. Once I'd get past the initial anxiety of having entrusted my life to someone else, my mind would begin to open up to new sounds, new smells, new vibrations. All of a sudden the very same streets that I had walked hundreds of times felt new. Blind, I could see what my eyes had previously foreclosed on. Being at the mercy of someone else's pace, I had to surrender my intention to navigate. In retrospect, the experience felt somewhat like a flow inside a river of sensory stimulation, with frequent mini-surprises.

In our quest for certainty and answers the very questions we pose limit what we stand to learn. The mind's patterns connect unrelated dots to piece together a picture of familiarity. Even when traveling with our eyes open, we are still blind to what is. As a result, we re-act rather than act, re-enacting old behaviors in response to entirely new stimuli, lacking in creativity and denying ourselves an opportunity to re-create our minds, and, thus, never seeing the opportunity in a crisis.

So, close your eyes to open your mind! And try the following exercise with someone you trust. Get a blindfold and a twenty foot rope and drive out to a large leveled field somewhere in the country. Get into the middle of the field. Have you partner serve as an "anchor" by holding one end of the rope and positioning him or herself in the middle of the field. Put on a blindfold and, while holding the other end of the rope, allow yourself to wonder around, gradually increasing the radius of your mind. This exercise might help prepare you to navigate through any future times of uncertainty.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D., author of "Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time" (New Harbinger, 2008)
Copyright 2009