Image source: pathtoyourhealth.com
Taken in isolation, being confused is unpleasant. Seen in a larger perspective, however, it’s very valuable. While I’d rather know where I am and what I’m doing, the times I’ve been willing to live with my confusion are the times I’ve made the greatest strides, and my recent experience with my eyes is a great example.
About 5 years ago, I started seeing double images of traffic lights. Having been nearsighted as a child, and then having had my vision corrected through LASIK surgery, I was afraid my distance vision was going again. The first time I used glasses to correct my vision, all I ended up with was worse vision. So once I got a diagnosis of healthy eyes from an eye-doctor, I tolerated the problems for a year without glasses to see what I could learn.
I discovered a lot of things about how I see and how I look at things. I noticed and played with my historically poor depth perception to see when it was good and when it was bad. I also discovered my tendency to focus in the wrong places with my eyes.
I finally went to a behavioral optometrist, an eye doctor who works with the function of the eyes and not merely a diagnosis and a correction. Among other things, she told me that, when my vision is confused, my brain will shut one of my eyes down so that I can have “normal vision” with the other. In order to get the sleeping eye to wake up, giving me back my depth perception, I would have to tolerate a certain level of double vision rather than make it go away, until my brain can process the double image and correct it.
With all these vision revelations came an even more astounding discovery: I can balance easily on one foot with my eyes open, but not when they are closed. Upon reflection, I’ve conjectured that I have been relying on my vision for balance, instead of my internal balance mechanism. That means that certain muscles in my eyes which could have been helping me see have been instead occupied with balance.
As I begin to reactivate my vestibular system so I can regain my internal sense of orientation, I find that my depth perception returns with a vengeance. I am now looking at the world and fully processing the images that I was only registering superficially before. The reward for my tolerating confusion will be, among other things, that I may find myself drawing again, something I gave up years ago because looking was too exhausting.
I could have written this article about any number of confusing things in my life. That state of not knowing, of disorientation, is valuable because it highlights what we don’t know. Rather than ignoring the call, or rejecting it, I would recommend to my students that they find a way to live in it for a while and see what they find out, whether that be having difficulty reading music, getting lost in a performance, or even not understanding what they are listening to.
And because it’s so unpleasant, I will do my job to be a guide in their sojourn in confusion.