I came across a great article called, Awakening Sight, in the digital magazine Parabola recently. It tells a story of a photographer who lost one of his eyes and how he relearned to see.

What’s interesting about his and many other stories about how we perceive the world is the realization that our eyes are just one sensory input that is available to us to see the world. And as much as we covet our vision, in its mundane form, it provides us with a quite limited range of functionality. For the human mind to generate the most accurate picture of our environment, it must synthesize information from all of our senses. It is the discipline of awareness that allows an integrated picture to emerge.

As a deep sea diver in the army, I practiced this sort of awareness on a daily basis. Working underwater presents a myriad of challenges that require awareness and focus. Often there is so little light, that you literally need to shut down your eyes. If I allowed my brain to devote 2/3 of its processing power towards visual inputs (a generally accepted estimate), it will make patterns and images where there are none, further complicating my perception.

Instead, I would work in my mind. Using touch, spatial awareness, hearing, and even a little sixth sense to make a mental model in my mind, I was able to accomplish quite elaborate tasks, no thanks to my eyes.

A great example of this sort of sensory hacking involved a submarine salvage mission. The submarine sunk during a nor’easter, canted over on her side. We had to enter the sub through an escape hatch, navigate through the bulkheads separating compartments, down four or five levels to the engine rooms in order to place hydraulic pumps to extract the water. This water was black with mud, silt, and oil, leaving zero visibility. The contents of the sub had all been displaced, to add to the challenge. Prior to a dive, we would study old blue prints of the sub. We would have to commit as much to memory as possible, so that we had a mental map to reference once inside the sub. Not only did we have to navigate by touch, spatial awareness, and a mental model, but because the sub was on her side, we had to make one final mental model maneuver, to think of the walls of the sub as the floor.

No longer a deep sea diver, I still practice this type of awareness in my everyday life. Each morning I meditate. I shut my eyes, quiet my mind, relax my body, and listen to my breath. There is no greater practice that I’ve found to train my mind and harness my awareness.

My mind sees. My eyes do not.