Happy New Year! Or in the words of my friend Jonathan, “Welcome to twenty-twenty: The Year of Perfect Vision.” Wow. Now there’s a worthy resolution.
I hid myself away from the many humans for a couple of hours on December 31 to write away the last of the year. I try to do this annually- a summary of what stood out, what was gained, lost, learned. An inventory of sorts, of the preceding twelve months, that I might wrap up the past and truly start anew. In short, 2019 was not a banner year. Not at all. Perfect vision sounds like perfect timing and I’m all in.
Much like Apple’s “There’s an app for that!” slogan, as I thought more and more about the sublime ideal of clear perception, the yoga spoke up: “There’s a teaching for that!” Since I know that perfect vision will take a good bit more than a short-term pithy resolution, let’s review this lesson from the sages of old.
The bottom line is this: we suffer because we lack clear perception. Our internal landscape colors everything we see, causing us to hyper-focus into one little corner of reality to the exclusion of all else. Or we allow our minds to spin us into realities that don’t exist at all. Or we get wrapped around an axle about things that we won’t remember in a month or a year– or three hours. We regularly misidentify with momentary insecurities, anger, disappointment. And in these moments, it’s like we’ve never done practice before ever and it’s at precisely those times when it is good to remember we are where we are because we aren’t seeing clearly. We actively create our own suffering when we are stuck in the perception of the small self.
So, what are the obstacles to clear seeing, and how might identifying where you are stuck help you to clear your vision? Take a look at the list comprised centuries ago- with some examples to get you started- and see what might apply to your current situation.
Obstacles to clear perception
1- Something is too far away. What is that off in the distance? A horse? A bear? A rock? You can’t tell because it’s too far away. So it is with the soul. When it’s far from your experience, you can’t see it, can’t understand it, can’t remember that that eternal connection is your true identity. So whether in the material or in the spiritual, sometimes you need to close the gap of space between you and the other to see clearly.
2- Something is too close. The older and more farsighted I become, the easier this is to understand. The opposite of #1 above, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. We’re too close for clarity. We need to step back in order to take in the full picture of what’s happening. A little extra space and time can do wonders for clear seeing.
3- Problem with the instruments of observation. There are habits and practices we engage in that either dull or sharpen our minds and senses. Which are you choosing? How does that affect your perception of what is?
4- The observed is too subtle. If you’ve studied yoga for very long, you’ve probably heard reference to the teaching that everything moves from the gross to the subtle. Most of us don’t start out with deep meditation practices. We start with asana to clear the blocks that inhibit the flow of energy of the body. We move to pranayama to begin to shape that energy. And over time, we learn the practices of meditation and begin to notice what was once unobservable in ourselves and our world. The more subtle a thing is, the closer we are to Truth, the home of clear seeing. But that kind of subtlety isn’t readily accessible (see #3). Work is required.
5 -There is too intense a wall between the observer and the observed. Maybe the best example of this is resistance, the thickest wall of them all. How many times do we cling to the past or to our world view even when it doesn’t serve us? We don’t see because we don’t want to see. We don’t change because we fear the unknown. When we are stuck in that old way of being, we cannot see clearly. No way, no how.
6- There is the presence of something too strong. Sometimes we don’t see clearly because there is a temporarily immovable force in the way. States such as anxiety, depression, illness and grief can overpower and color everything. In those moments we perhaps need the practice the most. We must accept that the only thing to do is to take a deep breath and stay in discomfort, knowing that a storm is moving through. When that storm passes, our ability to see what is, as it is, will return.
7- Things appear too similar. Unless you have a well-trained or very discerning eye, you probably can’t tell the difference between an original piece of art and a very good knock-off. Likewise, in moments of question, have you ever asked, “is this divine intuition or my ego?” unsure of which force is guiding you? Training, refinement, experience and discernment are required to tell a fake from the real deal. Are you seeing what truly is, or does it just look like something else you’ve seen before?
As I made this list, I identified my stuck point as I wrote. And while nothing has or is going to change on the outside, understanding what is in the way has so much power. Are you seeing clearly or seeing through the lens of the past, the ego, the old way? Might identifying what is keeping you from discerning what is real and true help you? Perhaps perfect vision isn’t realistic, but corrected, improved vision is absolutely attainable.
For those of you in practice, the Gayatri mantra is a good one to instill within the energy of dis-identification with our stuff— that which inhibits the light. This work also brings to mind an old favorite from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:
Asato ma sadgamaya/ Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya/ Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya/ Om shanti shanti shantih: From the unreal to the real/ From the darkness to the light/ From death to immortality/ Peace, peace, peace.
Wishing us all a year of perfect vision. Or at least a bit more clear seeing than ever before.