The London Loaf: Slow Sight

Beauty is in the eye…

A friend of mine warned me recently of the dangers of spending all day staring at a computer screen; apparently the muscles of the eye involved in switching between distance and close-up vision become weak and lazy after a long period of inactivity.

He suggested I do exercises every now and again – looking out of the window at something far away, and then back into the office around me. Ha, I do plenty of this anyway, I thought. But how much of my distant gazing was actually zoning out rather than focusing in, I wondered?

So I tried it, and I discovered something so painfully obvious, that it made me write this article. The world is 3-dimensional. It is infinitely deep. And the eye is the speediest tool we have – one moment I’m at the end of my nose, the next I’m a mile away on a rooftop. And in between, the space – for the first time giving this attention to my focus I am aware of the space between as an area in itself – magical and full of potential.

I am revelling in my sense of sight. Seeing us fun and surprising. How did I forget about this?

One possibility is the mind’s view that “I’ve seen it before so I don’t need to look.” Oh, a tree. Big deal. Grey sky. Yawn. Wish it was blue. Wish I was looking out over a vineyard in Sicily….Which is one reason why travelling appears so enlightening to us. Suddenly all our senses are forced to wake up and it feels good. But walking down Balham High Road this evening it didn’t seem like I had seen it all before. Have you ever had that startling experience of walking into your living room and seeing an object that’s been there for years, as if for the first time?

Another explanation might be the dominance of screens in our culture, work and entertainment. Watching sports is more often done on the TV where the work of picking out what to watch is done for us. But is some of the joy taken out of it too? Is there another game in simply allowing the eye to roam around and chase whatever takes its fancy?

I realise that on a deeper level the backdrop (or rather frontdrop as my eyes tend to look forward) of my life appears more often to me like a picture than a sculpture – moving, yes, but not so shapely as it turns out to be. Even a film is flat; 3D provides an illusion of depth but we know this to be false; we are intelligent animals. Somewhere inside us a disappointing bargain is being struck: the age of convenience denies us our sensual workout, and the reward is a comfortable blindness.

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