November 22, 2010

Eye of the Beholder: Lessons Learned in the Dark.

A Review of Boulder Blind Cafe 3.

I meditate with my eyes open. I spend hours a day in front of a computer screen. I’m astounded by fall colors. I imagine vision must be our most over-taxed sense, especially in the 21st century. Even so, I’m an unapologetic sensualist of the first rank—I revel in tastes, smells, and touches. So I was intrigued about what might happen to these other, perhaps unfairly underappreciated senses if I spent an evening having dinner and a concert, in the pitch dark.

This month, I went to Boulder Blind Cafe 3, a production of Brian Rocheleau’s One Eye Glass Broken Productions and local coffee shop, The Unseen Bean. The flyers promised it would be “a mind bending/heart opening experience,” with a delicious dinner, beautiful music and poetry, and proceeds benefiting the Boulder Guide Dog Puppy Raisers Club. And not the smallest peep of light would be allowed. Not even from cell phones. I was giddy with anticipation.

Do you get dressed up for a Blind Café? I mused on the use of lipstick and contacts the day of the event, and noted how much sharper my mind felt when my vision was acute. Would my thoughts thunk around my head, like sleepwalkers, or would the exhilaration of my other senses warp my mind in creative, unusual, psychedelic, ways?

It was already dark when I struggled to park my car near the church, and I squinted, annoyed at being blinded by the headlights behind me. If even this slight visual impairment ruffles and discombobulates me, I’m in for it, I thought.

As we congregated in the brightly lit church basement before the “show,” the dense hubbub of participants and volunteers buzzed with excitement and nerves. I settled into a quiet calm on the pew beneath my table number, my vision turning inward. I was eager to be quiet and mindful.

When our number was called, my eight tablemates and I filed into the hall, led by a blind volunteer. We centipeded through a twisting corridor designed to block out all light and bumbled our way to our table.

It truly was black as pitch: the room looked exactly the same, eyes open or closed. I was astounded not so much by this, though, as I was by the noise. For me, the dark was an invitation to introspection, discovery, calm, and even solitude; for many of the others, though, it was obviously a difficult endeavor, for the nervous laughter escalated and ricocheted from the walls. It seemed that, with one sense deprived, my fellow congregants felt impelled to flood the others in compensation. So much for my meditative calm.

Grasping for a sense of normalcy, my tablemates attempted smalltalk. The obligatory, “Where are you from, what do you do’s” seemed hollow and forced in the dark, and I appreciated in a new way how heavily I rely on eye contact to assess someone’s charm—and transmit my own. I joked with my neighbor that he should stop being invisible—it was so rude.

The evening progressed through dinner, music, and chocolate. Sometimes my eyes remained open, and sometimes they closed. Every action was an invitation, a challenge, to be as fully aware as possible: passing the casserole around the table, pouring water into cups, nudging your neighbor with his fallen napkin—everything was careful, intimate, and precious. Though the experience was certainly shared with all my tablemates and the rest of the room, I was astounded by how the dark heightened my awareness of my own subjectivity. There was a mysterious, heart-melted quality to the dark that was strange and comforting.

I scribbled notes on my program, hoping they’d be legible afterwards.

In the dark, everyone becomes a lover.

In the dark, you’re safe to open your heart.

The intimacy is truly solitude.

When we’re not distracted by what’s beautiful, we can more purely, nakedly, experience the feeling of loveliness, itself. Eye of the beholder, indeed.

After the show, we emerged into the familiar, lit world. I was a bit reluctant to trade my soft musings for an objective reality that loomed harshly; yet I was also curious what reconnecting with the others might be like.

In the light, the ladies who had been nervous and shrill calmed just a bit. The mischievous husbands (who’d swapped seats and startled their wives) looked a bit tired, and older than their invisible masks had made them seem.

My companion and I stepped out into the chilly, autumn night. It took us awhile to find our voices, I think, and our language seemed stultified yet emotionally precise. I attempted to explain how astounded I was to see our propensity to hallucinate, to experience with such intensity just how tyrannically our subjectivity controls and sometimes contorts our experience of the world. For me, the evening had been heart-opening and pleasurable, if a caution to reign in my own imaginings. My companion had had a completely different experience, and seemed relieved to be back in a world that could be objectively verified.

Of course, such differences are to be expected. While I was surprised and a bit jolted to learn how differently we experienced the evening, it only reinforced the lessons I’d learned about the solitude of our own inner worlds. I think when these inner worlds happen to agree, we often mistakenly label this happy coincidence “intimacy.” In fact, a mindful recognition of our differing perspectives (however they might superficially agree) is a necessary requisite for communication and, hopefully, a trust that might lead to the vulnerability from which all strength proceeds.

I’m profoundly grateful to Rosh and his team for putting on this event. These musings are only a portion of what I took from the event, which included a newfound compassion and admiration for visually impaired people. They’re gearing up for another Boulder Blind Café for Valentine’s Day, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone and everyone, whether single, dating, or married for eons.

It’ll make you see things in a new light.

For more information on Brian Rocheleau and his band, check out the website—and stay tuned for upcoming Blind Cafes.

A taste of the One Eye Glass Broken Band:


Read 8 Comments and Reply

Read 8 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Angela Raines  |  Contribution: 2,400