Why I go blind every morning
What happens when you live the first few minutes of every day without seeing anything around you
Every morning for about 20 minutes, I go completely blind. I cannot see anything except blackness. I fumble and grope about my house, very slowly in case I bump into something, or knock something over or, worse, fall and injure myself.
Most people squint when they first open their eyes in the morning and daylight floods in. My left eye can hardly bear any light so I keep it tightly shut. I keep the right one at a squint, just enough to find the tap and the toothbrush. Thus, while my eyes slowly get used to the surrounding light, my day begins.
Three weeks ago, blundering around eyes half-shut, I had a perverse thought. What if I was really blind? Would I be able to survive in my own house? I squeezed both eyes closed. My world went black.
And so it began, a startling experiment in blind mindfulness every morning.
In my 20 minutes, I have only a few to-dos: brush my teeth; set coffee brewing in a French press; peel a dozen almonds soaked the night before; and make myself a cup of coffee.
Not the labours of Hercules, to be sure. Unless you happen to have no vision. Here are some things I learned about myself and my immediate world — just by being 'blind'.
Your mind cannot afford to drift when you're blind. Every action requires intense, detailed attention. If I was walking from bedroom to kitchen — 12-14 steps — I had to be alert not to walk into the edge of the door, or veer off into the IKEA bookshelf, or slip on the iPhone charger cable on the floor. Eyes closed, you have no way to know if you are not walking in a straight line. My attention became like a laser beam in those 20 minutes.
Toothpaste: I was in my odd-shaped bathroom, toothbrush in hand, nearly empty Sensodyne tube in the other. I realised with mild panic that toothpaste makes no sound when it emerges; I have no way to know when to stop squeezing. The first day I tried this, I was so focused on the paste that I didn't realise the brush had flipped downwards and received the toothpaste on the wrong side. I still don't have a foolproof solution for this that doesn't require touching the paste.
Brewing coffee: My living room is open plan and includes a square, compact and attractive kitchen. Cutting and chopping takes place on a narrow marble counter about six feet wide on the left. A foot or so above it but pushed towards the back is a marble ledge where I keep coffee grinds, sugar, a utensils jar, a compact weighing scale and so on.
Facing the kitchen, I knew the sink would be diagonally to the right, the electric kettle directly ahead and the soaked almonds somewhere between the two.
The kitchen tap has a water filter with a front lever that toggles it between normal water, a fine spray and micro-filtered water. How could I be certain I was filling the kettle with filtered water without being able to see the flow?
By sound, of course. My ears were already on alert since my eyes had stopped passing on data. My fine-honed attention detected the difference between the sound of water flowing versus water spraying, something that I had never noticed when 'sighted'.
Next — peril! I had successfully tipped a tablespoon of coffee grinds into the French press. But now I had to fill it with scalding water. How to know when it had reached the right level? How to replace the lid correctly, blocking the lip to seal the aroma in? Perhaps I could keep a finger on the metal holder; perhaps it would heat up as hot water rose towards it.
It didn't. My first day's coffee was a catastrophe.
Almonds: I poured out the presumably brownish water, rinsed the nuts and spread them on a square tissue. Peeling almonds requires utter concentration. It's easy enough to start at the tip, peel the loose skin down and then peel around the almond sideways. But how do you know you've not left small patches of brown skin unpeeled? My fingers became exquisitely texture-conscious, getting better every day at sensing rough skin from smooth almond. Today, after 22 days, I peeled every almond completely for the first time. I felt like Hercules.
Starting your day blind is a walking, living meditation that clears your head, wakes you up and makes you intensely mindful. Your world changes. My focus improved. I felt grateful for my sight and thanked the universe for every colour, sound and texture.
Oh, and I reduced my carbon footprint. When I opened my eyes, the house was dark. I had just not switched on the lights.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at email@example.com Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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