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  • 1. Autumn 2008

    I am fifty-seven and my life was feeling very good. Ten days ago I thought I was living a pretty perfect life. That afternoon I played table games with my grandsons and realized I could not follow the dice with my eyes and have now been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a dystrophy of both retinas, which may lead to blindness. I understand so much about my life now: clumsiness, poor balance and a propensity for running into things as well as people complaining that I do not see them on the streets when they greet me.

    The diagnosis threw me into a crisis: my days are an emotional roller coaster – moments of panic and then, surprisingly long periods of deep calm. Where the calm comes from, I do not know. Perhaps it is the result of my sticking my nose into the Buddha’s teachings for so many years. Or perhaps it is heaven-sent grace. I can almost see my mind grinding and sense that the most intense psychotherapy imaginable is happening all by itself within me right now.

    I now often experience panic attacks. They put my entire Buddhist learning to the test. I walk on the edge of life with a thousand wise words from countless masters in my mind. Will my beliefs sustain me? I breathe. I put my hands on my belly and I let the fear slowly flow out of me into the cold autumn air in the room. I remember how during the first twenty years of my life I suffered from recurrent night terrors. I would awaken in the dead of night, scared to death that the devil, Virgin Mary or Death itself were going to appear before me. Each represented the same ultimate horror: craziness and death. Now, I ponder how strange that my poor eyesight probably showed me less than most people see while I feared the possibility I might see what they could not.

    In the morning when I awaken, I open and close my eyes. I see worms of bluish - white light racing in circles. Often during the day my eyes itch.

    I hold a cup of tea in my hands sitting in the autumn morning cold, the hot liquid warming my hands; I close my eyes to feel more deeply the joy. So it is when I get in between the bed sheets at night so that I may more fully appreciate their coolness and smoothness, and so it is, too, when the hot water of the shower hits me.

    Lately I have thought about that which we call ‘destiny’ in a new way. I never have asked, "Why me?” As a psychotherapist I hear many stories. I do know that life hurts.

    Why not me?

    Does destiny come to us from outside or inside?

    My illness is genetic. You would say that it comes from what we call “the inside”. It seems, though, that this fate befalls me from “the outside”. Can we divide the inside from the outside? Where is the borderline?

    People encourage me, “When you lose sight you can gain insight!” Others tell me that there must be something that I do not want to SEE! Finally I notice that most other people don’t want to talk about my eyes long. They are relieved when we change to other topics. To my surprise I discover that I am relieved also.

    When I came to Mexico, fell in love with the man who would become my husband and left Germany behind; it was the death of a life which I had led so far. I mourned my lost life. After a few months I took up some brushes and color pots and painted a picture. I had never planned that, but just followed an impulse. This was the beginning of a completely new life: I became a painter!

    Now I am losing what I most need to be a painter. The writer John Hull says that blindness destroys the person you are and you have to reassemble that person anew. I assembled myself in a new way in Mexico. Why shouldn’t I be able to accomplish that again?

    I wake up in the morning and brush my teeth. The day unfolds. It seems that in no time I am brushing my teeth again to get back in bed, the days of my precious life running away between my fingers….

    So many things, which
    I have tried or let pass by –
    Now the storms of fall...

    2. Summer 2010

    My friend Helga runs a language school in town. One day she called me and asked if I wanted to meet one of her Spanish students, a blind zen nun.

    An hour later I sat with Shunan, the blind zen nun, in the cafeteria of the school. She was dressed in a white linen suit, a slender woman, head shaven, in her late forties, I guessed. She sat there in front of her computer. She asked me my name, my telephone and typed everything immediately into the computer, which did not have a screen. Of course: what does a blind person need a screen for? But I couldn´t take my poor eyes off a woman communicating with a computer without a screen! She did not see that, of course. The computer talked to her. But I could not understand a thing, because it talked so very fast, it sounded like Speedy Gonzalez and even faster. She laughed, when I mentioned that. " I cannot see," she explained," but I can hear very fast!"

    Shunan had been born in California and gotten bad with Glaucoma when she was a young girl. She had passed the School For The Blind and as a young woman decided to become a zen nun. So she went to Japan and lived for 12 years in a zen monastery. That is where she lost her last eyesight when she was in her mid - thirties. Recently she had felt, the zen monastery was too strict, too many rules, she wanted to be free and so she had left and returned to America. First thing she had wanted to do is travel Mexico! "Every friend warned me," she laughs," They said: they will kill you in Mexico or at least steal everything you carry. But now I have travelled 6 weeks by bus through the whole country and I have just met the sweetest and most helpful people!"

    She inspired a deep respect in me for her dignity, calmness and intelligence. We went out in the streets afterwards and I saw her find her way just with her white cane swinging here and there. My God: with all the potholes everywhere! But she did it. She did look frail then, though, and I got scared for myself in my own future.

    The following day we had a cappuchino in a cafe. She taught me how to use the white cane, I did not learn much, I was happy I still could see some. Her eyes were hurting that day. The pressure would still rise and hurt often, she said and she shed tears out of so intense pain. "Going blind", she said," you have to give up your pride, because you have to ask people to help you all the time, not your dignity, but your pride you need to let go of. Some days I do not have the energy to go out into the world, but mostly I do. Now I want to find a way to be useful to others, to do some voluntary work"

    " Stay here, do therapy with me, teach us better meditation!" I offered.

    But she wanted to travel on. Somebody had offered her a place in San Miguel Allende. She gave me an extra cane she had and Buddhist blessings as a good - bye - gift. My favorite blessing says:

    May your fear transform into love, understanding and compassion.

    May it!

    3. Summer 2012

    I am 61 years old. People never tell me that I look younger. I am slowly going blind and I suffer from some other aches and pains, which appear when the body gets tired. Mostly I forget my age. I paint and write; I do therapy, see friends, dance, meditate, and bake cakes. My friend Marcey, who died with 98 years on her back always told me: Age does not exist. She also confided that since more than 20 years she had not looked at herself in the mirror anymore. I knew her for 30 years and the most glowing and beautiful I ever saw her was on her eightieth birthday.

    These mornings birdsong wakes me up. It awakens me to my body. I feel the blood flowing, it seems to me, and the nerves shivering. I feel every cell vibrating. I put my hands on my belly, which could be flatter, but my hands love the softness they touch.

    I feel young inside this decade – old body. For moments during these mornings I exactly remember how my body felt when I was 12 and 9 years old.

    This Mexican blackbird I hear causes me the same emotion as when one sang during my childhood back in Germany. The summer I smell, stirs the same excitement. I want to get up and brush my teeth and sip my morning coffee, begin the day.

    And I do.
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