Life is like an eye exam

(reprinted by permission from The Magazine of Yoga)

History, repercussions, and desire


I have no idea why I put off my eye exam for so long.

I haven’t read a book in ages. At restaurants I take the menu into the bathroom where there’s better light. My kids have stopped coming to me with splinters and just wait for the school nurse. This is a bummer on weekends.

One day I was proofreading a playbill, squinting, when a full page ad for an optometrist came up. I enlarged the image on my monitor and dialed the number at the bottom of the screen.

Do you know any optometrists? They are lovely.

They give you a comfy chair to sit in and ask you all kinds of questions in an effort to make your life better. They never tell you you’re wrong – how would they know if you were? All the questions are based on how you see things, not how anyone thinks you should see them. Everything should be so simple and ultimately gratifying.

That’s when it hit me: Life is like an eye exam. Trust me, I just had one (an exam, I mean. I’m still working on the life). Every day, every hour we are asked “which one’s clearer? One? Or two?” This is how we go through our days, making strings of choices. Each choice makes the path a little clearer.

Or not. It depends on our choices, obviously.

There is a reason they give you a string of consonants and vowels instead of, say, lines of poetry. Or tax law. We do not attach things to strings of consonants and vowels. We don’t read in consequence or innuendo. We just look at the letters for what they are – blurry or less blurry – until, bing! Things become radiantly clear. At which point we start over.

While life may be like an eye exam, it is not a string of consonants. There’s history and repercussions and desire to consider. Things are complicated in real life! It is not a simple choice between a and b. A and b have an awful lot of baggage. They have attachments. Some of them are scary.

We’d rather not look at them at all, much less see them clearly.

Over the winter I was invited to submit a proposal to a newspaper as a columnist. Having a regular writing gig has been a long time dream and I was, needless to say, out of my mind pleased. Conventional writing wisdom says you have to work your way into being a columnist, taking odd reporting jobs along the way and doing your time. This was a huge opportunity to enter the newspaper world at exactly the point I wanted to end up.

The only problem was, they were looking for a fishing column.

And I don’t fish.

Not only do I not fish, I am incredibly squeamish about things like fish guts. There was no way I was going to become an ace fisherman, or write like one. I agonized for several days, thinking of all the ways I could write a fishing column without ever having to touch a fish. It would be like if the previous columnist had opted to write a column on quilting.

Have you ever noticed you can distill pretty much all your choices down to fear and love?

Look at your motivation and you’ll see. In this case, I was making a fear-based decision. I was afraid that this was the last time an offer like this would come my way. I was afraid I’d miss out on something.

I overcame my fear of not ever being asked to write again with my love of the editor who invited me, and my desire to not get her fired.

I could be wrong because I can’t seem to practice it consistently enough to find out for sure, but I think if all our decisions are love-based instead of fear-based, we make progress faster and find ourselves in less of a blur along the way. Someone please try that and let the rest of us know how it goes.

If this whole scenario had been an eye exam, I would have (pun alert!) seen it clearly. The Optometrist of Life would have said “is this one a good fit?” and when I said “no” the Optometrist of Life (and this is important) would have given me a new set of choices.

Which the Optometrist of Life did

Before long I had a phone call from a theater, asking me to interview as their new director of marketing. I’ve been a long time fan of this theater and love everyone I’ve met who works there. I was a little afraid of how I could make it happen, given the complexity of the rest of my life. I was also nervous about measuring up to their standards. But the thought of working there made me want to skip and sing and hug people, which I think is a good sign.

Once the decision was made, all the pieces fell into place – including finding my optometrist through their playbill. I still find myself wanting to skip at work sometimes, which I couldn’t do all hopped up on Dramamine and wrapped in fishing line.

In my actual-life eye exam, my optometrist told me what glasses to get and said I’d be just fine for a couple years, after which we’d do the whole process again. What was clear yesterday may not work tomorrow. No one wants to stay in the same place for ever. Each time we get to a place of clarity it just gives us a chance to see a little farther and be a little more fearless.

That’s the glory of having so many choices. And so much love with which to make them.