I’m in my second day without wearing glasses, because I want to cure my myopia.
If that sounds bizarre, let me explain.
The miracle ‘cure’
I’ve always been both hopeful and skeptical about the prospect of ‘miraculous’ cures for physical illnesses and ailments.
I use the term ‘miraculous’ loosely to refer to cures that do not match our normal expectations for how health and illness work.
So, for example, I can quite honestly say in one sense that I ‘cured’ my autoimmune disease. My honesty makes me put ‘cured’ in quotation marks because I don’t have sufficient evidence to prove that what happened to me amounts to a ‘miraculous’ recovery from that disease.
In practical terms, I no longer have symptoms of that illness, and I have a subjectively meaningful narrative for how those symptoms came to an end as a result of my own actions.
My rheumatologists were quite happy to give me a provisional diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis based on my symptoms and a genetic marker. The only caveat is that if my symptoms stopped, then obviously they would withdraw the diagnosis.
A skeptical contention would be that if I hadn’t done anything to change my outlook on the illness and seek some kind of psychological cure to the physical problem, the symptoms would have disappeared anyway.
It’s impossible to prove in my case, and it’s hard to imagine an appropriately rigorous medical trial to test the theory (hard but not impossible).
So for me it remains a choice. I had to choose to face my illness as a reflection of a deeper psychological or spiritual issue. In so doing, I observed a pattern to the symptoms that matched changes to my mental and emotional state. When I became aware of these changes and adapted them, the symptoms ceased.
A short-sighted approach
So what about eyesight?
I’ve been short-sighted for a long time. I had my eyes tested in about year 5 at school, but I may have suffered from short-sightedness before that.
Wearing glasses has always bothered me. I don’t like being so dependent on a fragile external tool to interact with my environment. So when my glasses frame broke two days ago I decided to take the opportunity to investigate the problems with my vision.
Meditation on illness
Both auto-immune disease and short-sightedness relate to extraordinarily complex biological systems.
An auto-immune disease is a good candidate for examination because it consists in essence of the body attacking itself without an obvious external cause.
But it turns out that myopia is also somewhat mysterious, with both hereditary and environmental factors at play.
Myopia is a form of refractive error due to the shape of the eye. I have trouble seeing long distances clearly because my eye is longer than it ought to be.
I don’t know about you, but my response to being told “your body’s immune system is attacking your joints” and “your eyeball is too long to focus the light properly”, is a profound and indomitable sense of challenge.
The spiritual approach
For want of a better word, let’s call this a ‘spiritual’ approach to illness. The idea is that our experience of life is not simply the random outcome of external processes. Rather, our experience of reality is mysterious and meaningful.
What this means is that something like suffering an auto-immune disease or having bad vision is not an accident or a random outcome. It has deeper significance. It relates to your life and your own person as if you were a character in a story.
Whether we continue to suffer from the illness, or find reprieve, I think it makes sense to try to see the personal meaning in it.
For me this process of looking for meaning begins with observing how I feel about the illness, the symptoms, and their impact on my life.
It turns out that despite not giving much thought to my short-sightedness for many years, I do carry strong feelings about it.
Going for two days without my glasses has made me realise how much fear and powerlessness I feel when I can’t clearly see what is going on around me.
Driving without my glasses is safe enough – I can see every object in my vicinity – but more than a hundred or so metres away and objects become blurred. People are easy to see but impossible to recognise. They become fuzzy humanoid shapes, obvious but unreadable.
The inability to see what’s coming right to the farthest horizon or the very end of the road is fear-inducing. I can see things but I don’t know what they are.
Then there’s the powerlessness. I can’t look down the aisle of a supermarket and read the signs for the food categories anymore. I have to walk towards things to make out exactly what they are. And as for people – they might as well be dressed in shrouds and wearing masks until they come within about five metres of me.
It’s a profoundly alienating experience.
So there you go. This short-sightedness does have a great deal of meaning for me, a meaning I’ve ignored and neglected by wearing glasses all the time.
I don’t want to wear glasses anymore, and that means I have to start confronting and facing these fears and insecurities.
So what am I saying?
Does that mean if I confront my fears and anxieties my eyes will magically change and I’ll be able to see without glasses?
Well, what I discovered when I tried to heal my auto-immune disease was that I had to accept the truth about the disease first. The truth was that my disease was just a reflection of my own psychological and spiritual state.
I know how challenging that sounds, because I resisted accepting it for a long time. I didn’t like the idea that progress would depend on choosing to believe something. If the evidence could convince me, I was ready to believe it. But to just believe, without evidence? That sounded pathetic and weak.
Yet there was evidence. Not evidence that could convince me this was the truth, but evidence that I could make no progress, do nothing more, until I had accepted this basic premise.
To put it bluntly, if my disease really was just some random or genetically determined biological quirk, then I was ******.
If my symptoms weren’t a reflection of my deeper psychological and spiritual state, then there was nothing I could do about it. But if they were a reflection, then nothing was set in stone.
In the end that was the choice: the choice to try to give up or try to find answers.
And if there’s one thing I know from my studies and reading in philosophy and mysticism, it’s that our claims to absolute knowledge of external reality are as much a choice as any.
We choose to believe the world is real, not because we have seen convincing evidence that it is real, but because we have seen evidence that to choose otherwise gives us nothing in return.
If I choose to believe the world is a figment of my imagination, there is nothing anyone can say or do to prove me wrong. But there is plenty that can be said and done to prove that a real world is a much better thing to believe in than a deluded imaginary one.