Letters from Berkeley: Improved vision

BY COLLEEN CHEN

I finally sent in my post-graduate employment survey, checking the box for “unemployed — not seeking.” It’s not exactly accurate, but that’s where I fall into the labels, and it’s enough to make me question myself. What am I doing? I’ve asked myself at times. I’m so stupid for not creating a safety net job, I tell myself. But as the end of law school draws near, and I look toward implementing my plans for self-employment, my answer is increasingly clear: I’m improving my vision.

Before I started law school, I remember wondering if I’d be blind by the time I was through. I had been nearsighted ever since I was nine, and my eyesight had gotten steadily worse up until that year. I linked the prospective deterioration to the amount of highly focused material I would have to read, so the prospects for coming out with healthy vision did not look good to me.

It was either because of the amount I didn’t read, or because I started picking up on every de-stressing technique I could lay my hands on, but my eyesight remained stable even as I started out on my law school path. However, I noticed that my vision fluctuated a great deal—it was better in the morning, when I just got up, and when I’d gotten a lot of sleep. It was worse in places like libraries, shopping centers, and Target. I wondered if people had bad eyesight back in the days when no one wore glasses. It was pretty apparent to me that my vision problems were, to a great extent, psychological.

So in the last month, I finally got myself to vision improvement classes. In my first session, when I had to walk around in a strange room with my contact lens off, I went into the same trauma as I experienced as a nine-year-old, when I first became overwhelmed by the world and by my dad’s academic expectations. I nearly started crying, and my vision instructor held my hand.

We talked about nearsightedness as being “fear of the future,” a phenomenon occurring when someone is overwhelmed by too much information, too much of the big picture, and needs to not see it to feel safe. It also occurs with people who like to hide—somehow subconsciously believing that if they can’t see, they can’t be seen.

Farsightedness, on the other hand, is a “fear of the present,” in which people feel like they don’t have enough time and cannot handle all the details of everything around them.

I guess it’s appropriate that I start improving my physical eyesight at a time when I’m finally ready to have my “vision” in other senses expand—my ability to see an ideal and to begin to manifest it. That time would be, of course, when my graduation is in sight—when I finally end my escapist life as a student and no longer fear the future, as I’m pretty much in the thick of it.

It’s pretty clear to me that law school has given me a lot of good training and tools for execution of ideas. A focus that polarizes answers into opposing camps — within lines of legality and outside of them — and a linear way of thinking provide a context for action, movement, and change. But, even in ultra-liberal Berkeley, law school seems to be an extension of the societal emphasis on focus and specialization. Goals are emphasized more than big pictures.

“Keep your eye moving,” I recall my vision instructor telling me. “Don’t stare — don’t focus on any point for too long. And, see the world in motion.” The lesson was about constant movement in order to remain aware of the big picture while picking up the small details on the way. Along with movement, I was told that the key to better vision is keeping the eyes relaxed and free of stress.

Those lessons, in both a physical and a psychological sense, seem like they’d be better learned away from the urges to focus more, to specialize, and to make the perfect job choice to send one careening down a one-way path to legal stardom. Still, I’ve been happy to find that a legal “career” of some sort is not only compatible with better vision, but it actually will be the way I manifest it.

Overall, I find that I prefer the idea of stepping into the future that I fear, instead of staying in the fear of the future. So, I look forward to graduation, and more vision improvement.

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