The Dark. If you are reading this post, likely you would never want to lose your vision. “The eyes are the window into the soul” you should agree with me. It might be depressing just by imagining a life without eyes. We are naturally frightened by the idea of leaving the comfort zone, and we have no right to blame mother nature for this inborn anxiety that kept us alive throughout the darkest old days. There will be, however, a lot of surprising experiences if we push a bit harder the boundary of our little box of comfort.
It was a life-changing experience for me at Dialogue in the Dark in Tokyo. It is the first time in my life I stayed in an absolutely dark environment, used a walking stick to navigate, worked and ate in the dark. You might disagree with me, but the experience was enlightening. Let me share with you that unfamiliar space and how I find meanings in the dark.
Part 1: A lonely spot
In my mind, after the experience, vision-impaired people are such lonely spots in the infinite universe. But, please don’t let the adjective drown you into negativity. People are often overshadowed by the lost & unfamiliar, and I was no exception. Now that I understood, that the blind are equal, they are equally strong and confident. In their way.
So, why call them lonely spots, then you might ask. How about you trying to imagine a world without the existence of light?
Then, let me share mine.
I was in an open space of minimalist design with 6 other co-workers preparing to step into one of the most exotic environments in my life while here and there papers were stick on the wall warning the “dark shock”. Each of us was given a walking stick (the one vision-impaired people use) and learned how to navigate with it. Of course, we were not attending the dark experience for fun. Our instructor (Setoseto-san) is vision-impaired.
We had a brief warmup session and explanation from Setoseto-san before heading inside a tunnel-like walkway. Layers of dark curtain dimmed the light until we stood in front of the last black curtain, leading us to the absolute dark.
I held my stick firmly and listened to final instructions from Setoseto-san. More stressful than I had expected — my heartbeat rose. Since the theme of the experience was “Dialogue in the Dark,” we were encouraged to use verbal communication as much as possible, to convey even the simplest information like name and location.
Even though we were moving in a group, there was a huge change in my feeling, from the moment I stepped through the endmost curtain.
I am a lonely spot!
The meaning we get from the light world through the eyes is so powerful that all of a sudden, I was craved of light. Just a moment. I was curious about what uncomfortable feeling would come next.
I felt lonely, not because I was alone, but because I could not see others’ faces. How on the world would I able to live without seeing people around me? To me, it was like a bright world of white where others are invisible but their voices. Oh gosh... that’s lonely, isn’t it? in the world where we communicate only verbally.
The first moment of the dark stroke me hard; I opened my eyes as wide as possible, putting all my power to identify things around. I did not believe I would lose to the dark. I did not believe I would give up my vision. But. I quit. Actually. No matter how close I was to my friends, I could not see them. I was slightly shocked, for 5 minutes. Never before did I feel I am so close, but so far to the real. Unbalanced. Isolated. Until then, I understood how much my life has been relying on the eyes.
Setoseto-san started losing his vision since the age of 10 due to his health issue. Until then I still questioned myself how can a human bears the loneliness after a decade of living in the light—a long-enough period for him to put so much trust in his vision, then lose it without any self-control. I wish I would have had more time with him, to ask more about his experiences of life without light. Because I believe the world where he lives— the world without light, is so unique and different. And, I wanted to ask how the life of a lonely spot is like.
* I hope you don’t find Part 1 sad and depressing. Hurt is unavoidable, but how a person accepts and turns it with a positive mindset is beautiful.
Part 2: The power of sounds
Many of you might be familiar with a well-known research result that 55% of the first impression is made up of what we see (visual), 38% by what we hear (vocal) and 7% by what the words sound (verbal). I strongly believe that the proportion of the three Vs (visual-vocal-verbal) should remain consistent even after the first impression. Information is coming from everywhere, and we sense is with all 5 senses. However, it is undeniable that our vision is very powerful (if not the most powerful). For the first time in my life, in that dark, I was able to focus my whole body on the sound. Sounds of Setoseto-san, sounds of my co-workers, sounds from their hands moving, their head curiously looking around, even from the way they breathe. I don’t know from when I felt like I could hear the air.
As a dedicated instructor, Setoseto-san was leading us from one activity to another, from easy to difficult tasks, smoothly like an expert who had done this job as many times as he might not even remember. We went through three collaborative activities: a ball-passing warmup and two jigsaw puzzles before enjoying our lunch, all in the dark. Simple tasks turned challenging. There were fewer clues since I could make no eye contact. There were, however, more verbal communications that even the simplest movements were conveyed. “It’s Liam. The piece I am holding is a square, with a hole at the center.” I added, “That’s all for me. Next,...” Each of us took turns describing the little pieces of information that he/ she was holding and the conversation stayed lively as it was for the first time in the unknown. For the first time in two months working aside with them, I found beautifully unique tones in my friends’ voices. Using all power, I shifted my concentration to ears, searching in the ongoing interactive pool of sounds a similar tone, but there was no trace. To put into words, the feeling seems to me like:
We, for a long time, have been living in a world where visual power dominates. It brings us to see gorgeous mountains, to discover mysterious oceans, to meet amazing people, but it also brings in the inequality, the pains.
In an instant, a chorus of voices filled the darkroom and in my blood an instantaneous feeling of an equality mingling within the chaotic of differences. For such a long time, the gorgeous chaotic world of sounds was blocked away by the vision that it remains primitive and fresh. It is an equal world. It is where no matter you are black or white, young or old, men or women, there was no prejudice, no contradiction. If society somehow switched to this direction, then maybe humans would suffer less. A world where your unique voice doesn’t matter but it falls into the same category called “sound.”