Dialogues in the Dark

Helen Keller15%20wiki - Dialogues in the Dark
Helen Keller circa 1907.

A friend and I visited an interactive exhibit this past week entitled “Dialogue in the Dark.” It was an “illuminating” experience for us to enter into the world of the blind. Though the experience was fun for me, I can only imagine what it would be like to lose my sight permanently. I’m trying not to pity the blind, for our blind guide reminded us that what the disabled need is our offer of help (the decision is theirs whether to accept that help) and not our pity.

The interactive exhibit began with a few existentially oriented quotes that were pleasantly surprising for me to discover. The first by Martin Buber. the existential theologian, put everything in context: “Encounter is the only possible way of learning.” This quote took on concrete, tactile meaning for me when I had to discover and encounter everything I came across in the dark with all my other senses minus my vision. Our guide, well at home in his darkened world, kept on reminding us to let go of our desire to “see” with our eyes. He taught us over and over again that the sooner we can let go of our desire to return to the familiarity of seeing with our eyes, the more we will discover the amazing acuity present in our other senses. It quickly became an exercise in mindful walking as I felt the texture and sensation of gravel, grass, and carpet anew. I also amazed myself with my keen sense of hearing. How quickly I was able to identify sounds that were previously lingering in the background. It reminded me of the different realms of awareness that are always available to us. It’s just a matter of attunement—what we choose to pay attention to.

Finally, a whole new world of smells entered into my awareness. Having to rely on my nose helped me to appreciate the olfactory array that dogs enjoy during their walks (when we stop yanking on their chains). Knowing this admonishes me to learn from my furry friends about how to slow down and “smell the roses” for there is a parallel universe out there waiting to be discovered if I can slow down and change channels!

All of these experiences described above have obvious parallels to therapy. I will briefly share some of the lessons I learned here. First of all, my dialogue with the dark reminded me to “see beyond the obvious.” It reinforces for me the lesson told by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye. What is rightly seen is seen with the heart.” This is same idea Stevie Wonder expressed in a second quote displayed at the exhibit: “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes does not mean he lacks vision.”

Second, it taught me that true seeing (and listening) requires letting go. Letting go of what we know so that we can enter into the realm of “un-knowing” (the openness Ernesto Spinelli describes), to discover things anew. Finally, I learned that I need to slow down if I am to enter into that parallel universe, that different realm of consciousness that is so vital if I am to dwell in the Ontological Way of Being.

I learned that being in darkness draws people together. This is better expressed in the third quote, by Helen Keller, which I encountered in the exhibit: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” I entered the exhibit with a set of strangers. Naturally, we kept our distance and were respectfully in our own spaces while waiting in the light of the waiting area. However, once the lights were turned off, the distance evaporated. We were forced to communicate with each other in order to help each other negotiate the numerous “blind alleys.” And without the aid of our eyes, I had to “see” and feel with my hands, and this naturally led to more physical encounters than I planned for. In the world of light, our physical encounters might be interpreted as groping. However, in the dark, they became necessary probes. I didn’t have enough experience of walking in the dark to fully appreciate Helen Keller’s quote, although my one hour (it felt like ten minutes) entry into the world of the blind gave me a “glimpse” of what she meant. Nevertheless, it helped me to appreciate the importance of friendships and guides in the midst of darkness for I cannot imagine how I could possibly negotiate the world of darkness without the constant reassuring voice of our guide. His constant reassurance to seek his voice and pay attention to the vital directions he gave helped me to understand with greater depth the verse in Psalm 23 of how the shepherd’s rod comforts the lost sheep.

I could not help but think that during my one hour of dialoguing with the dark that it was indeed the blind leading the blind. Except, our blind guide was at home in the darkness, and the reassuring guidance he provided felt incredibly nurturing. Even though I could not see, I knew I’d be all right because of the confidence of his voice, and the reassuring commands and touches he never ceased providing. It reminds me to do the same for my clients in their hour(s) of darkness.

— Mark Yang

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