Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tools for the Journey #33 - New Eyes


Perhaps it's logical to think of eyes when we encounter someone who has lost the physical use of theirs. Since I first met Erik Weihenmayer in 2008 I've spent a lot of time thinking about eyes, and more importantly about what constitutes seeing and vision. Before I met Erik I never made a distinction between sight and vision; now I do.

If you ask me what is the most significant lesson I've learned from Erik I'd have to say it's the concept of having 'new eyes.' As a sighted person I undoubtedly take seeing for granted and had long made the mistake of thinking of sight and vision as synonymous. The time I've spent with Erik and as I've studied his books and heard him speak (publicly) I now am more clear in my understanding of what constitutes seeing and true vision.

Where I've been blind in my life, Erik has shown me how to have vision and new eyes both looking back at my past and also looking forward towards the future. He's shown me if I look with my eyes I'll see what's there, but if I look instead with my heart perhaps I'll see what's possible out beyond the edges of what's visible. However, if I'm truly going to 'see' in this fashion I need to use new eyes.

When I think about Erik and his vision I think about dragonflies. Why dragonflies? I suppose the easiest way to answer this is by sharing some of how the world sees dragonflies.

The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and adaptation. Change in perspective and also metamorphosis of self over time as one develops a deeper understanding of life.

The Japanese word for dragonfly is 'tombo' (sounds like toe-m-bow). In ancient Japan the samurai used the symbol of the dragonfly on garments and ornaments to represent power, agility and victory and as a reminder to never give up. The dragonfly held a special significance to the samurai because their seemingly tireless movement reflected the samurai's desire to give tireless service to his feudal Lord. In Native American culture dragonflies are symbolic of transformation, speed, light and purity.

Dragonflies are characterized by their large multifaceted or “compound” eyes. Each compound eye is comprised of a collection of as many as 30,000 hexagonal lenses called ommatidia. Together, these thousands of ommatidia gather information which produces a mosaic of “pictures” within the brain of the dragonfly. With this mosaic the dragonfly has a vast and textured vision of the world which empowers them to move through their environment more purposefully. The fact a dragonfly can 'see' 360 degrees at all times symbolizes the potential uninhibited vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond limitations. 

The iridescent, reflective properties of a dragonfly’s wings and body symbolize (for me) how who we are gets ‘reflected’ out into the world. Iridescence is the ability of colors to change based on the reflection and refraction of light. As we journey we have a choice about how we reflect and refract the light (or darkness) we encounter. How we perceive this light depends on which set of eyes we're using.

Dragonflies can fly in all directions - up and down, backwards and forwards, and can also hover. This flexibility and adaptability means they can move through their surroundings with fluidity and are better able to deal with the challenges they encounter.  

Like the dragonfly, Erik is flexible and adapts to his surroundings using the mosaic of information he gathers with his version of compound eyes. Just as the dragonfly, he is a land and (through kayaking) a water creature. Both physically and metaphorically he seeks high altitudes and great depths. He's shown me by example how the willingness to have new eyes can transform challenges into catalysts for real change in my own life. The use of these new eyes has given me perspective and helped me to keep moving even during times when the desire to lay down and quit has been overwhelming.Chin up, cheer up, wake up, lighten up, persevere and reach have been resounding messages.

My new eyes have helped me to see adversity as wind for my sails rather than an anchor to weigh me down. Most importantly is the constant reminder that I always have a choice on how I see adversity.

Erik challenges me to cross the abyss which separates me from myself and does this with humor and candor and with the kindness of a true brother and compassionate friend. These words from him ring true in my head and my heart:

"Success is not just the crowning moment, the spiking of the ball in the end zone or the raising of the flag on the summit. It is the whole process of reaching for a goal and, sometimes, it begins with failure."

It's the whole process! All of it. It's the fumbling as well as the touchdown and even when I'm the very last person to cross the finish-line the important thing is I started and that I kept going; I persevered when it would have been far easier to give up. It's pressing on in the face of fear. It's the use of these new eyes when everyone else can't see what I see and trusting myself regardless of the naysayers. It's the act of REACHING not so much what it is that I reach.

On top of mountains weather can change fast. On rivers the currents can flip you over and thrash you against the rocks. In life things happen which can knock all the wind out of us in an instant. Resisting these things doesn't do any good, but using new eyes to help respond to this adversity absolutely makes a difference in how iridescent we become and thus the difference we can make in our own life and the lives of others.

The new eyes I envision for myself are dragonfly-eyes; compound eyes which provide me with a mosaic of vision. Going forward I want vision more than I want to see because I know my old eyes can play tricks on me. My old eyes are more prone to see illusions whereas my new eyes are more apt to see the 'truth' of the see what's possible. I want to be responsive, adaptable and willing to change. Most of all I want to be more creative, courageous and bold in the use of these new eyes.

Recap: New Year, New Eyes, walk on and ROCK ON! Vision - pass it on!

Blessings on the journey!

PS - For more information about Erik and his work you can visit his website:

Time Magazine wrote this about Erik:

"There is no way to put what Erik has done in perspective because no one has ever done anything like it. It is a unique achievement, one that in the truest sense pushes the limits of what man is capable of."

  "What's within you is stronger than what's in your way." - Erik Weihenmayer


  1. I posted a comment yesterday....not sure what happened, so if a repeat, forgive me. What Erik has is a great perspective and subsequently makes good choices based on that....He sets the bar high, no doubt. And what a gift to us all! Thanks Cheryl for sharing.

  2. Very inspiring, thank you Cheryl.