• Box breathing is one of the mindfulness tools that I learnt when I lost my sight, writes Yvonne Aoll.  (E+)Source: E+
The months during which my left eye remained blind, while filled with unspeakable worries, also served as a crash course in mindfulness.
By
Yvonne Aoll

23 Jul 2021 - 9:15 AM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2021 - 9:15 AM

Last June, I went blind in my left eye from a laser eye surgery gone wrong.

It would take a speedy instinctive quest for a second opinion, three more months, an older, more experienced surgeon and another agonising correction surgery for my left eye’s vision to be restored.

Thanks to the top-notch ophthalmology surgeon I visited, I can see much more clearly now with both eyes, with no need for spectacles or contacts.

However, the months during which my left eye remained blind, while filled with unspeakable worries, also served as a crash course in mindfulness.  

In the initial weeks of dealing with the acute trauma of losing my sight, I would often be terrified of opening my left eye upon waking up, though eventually, I would. I’d open my eye and see nothing. Just an opaque, cloudy, film-like corneal haze that caused my blindness, and that I often wished I could just lift, slide down, or wipe off. Often, I’d feel myself on the brink of panic attacks. 

I’d open my eye and see nothing. Just an opaque, cloudy, film-like corneal haze that caused my blindness, and that I often wished I could just lift, slide down, or wipe off.

Box breathing is one of the mindfulness tools that I learnt when I lost my sight; it’s probably what made the biggest difference for me during this distressing time. Endorsed by the US Navy SEALs, this five-minute, grounding, stress-reducing technique, also called four-square breathing, is what pulled me from going over the edge on several occasions. 

Loving kindness meditation additionally helped me to foster compassion for myself and other beings when I was blind. By reciting specific mantras, this mindfulness technique was useful in helping me to focus on others as I made well-wishes for them, therefore preventing me from wallowing in potential loss and pain.

Most importantly, cultivating gratitude is something that would prove invaluable in that daunting period of blackness. Every night before turning in, I’d list five things I was grateful for that day. No matter how minute or inconsequential the items would seem, I would list them down. Medicine. Mangoes. Heat. Pen. Right eye. It would appear to be such a simple, perhaps pointless activity, but it carries a lot of depth. When such a devastating event happens to you, it can seem like the ground beneath your feet is giving way, and there’s nothing good left in the world anymore. But there is, there always is, even if for that day, the greatest thing you could be grateful for, is a pen. That’s something.

Every night before turning in, I’d list five things I was grateful for that day. No matter how minute or inconsequential the items would seem, I would list them down.

Losing vision in my left eye felt as though there was a partial blackout, like the lights in that eye were unceremoniously turned off and would later be turned back on in three months. I desperately wanted the lights back. When the lights were out, I bargained a lot with myself, with the universe, with God, as one naturally does in the most helpless of circumstances. I told myself if I could just see again with both eyes, I would write more, read more, travel more, but mostly, the biggest bargain I made with myself was — if I were to get better, if the science and miracle of getting my sight back would come through for me, I would be mindful of what I consumed. Now that I realised just how much of my body I had taken for granted, I would try to always eat clean and honour my body. I haven’t touched a soda since. 

It’s also through mindfulness, that I’m reminded daily, that everything could change in a day. On the drive home on the day I went blind, I remember thinking and telling a friend, “Yesterday was just another Wednesday, last Thursday was just another weekday, nothing exciting or significant or world-changing happened. There was no graduation, or promotion, or big launch, or lottery win, or relocation.” And yet at the time, I would do anything, pay anything, to go back to those ordinary, dull, nothing days, because at least then, I could still see with both eyes.

Now I remind myself that on the days when nothing seems to be happening, I should cherish those days. Because maybe the ‘nothing days’ are the golden days. 

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