I first encountered the writing of French Resistance hero Jacques Lusseyran when I received application materials for an Alexander teacher training school in Philadelphia. Blinded at the age of 7, Lusseyran writes with uncommon insight about the value and qualities of touch, a sense cultivated with special care by Alexander teachers. I recently picked up a collection of articles in which he explains the valuable perspective and experience of blind people. Blindness requires unwavering attention, a skill of which those who see with eyes could make good use.
In order to live without eyes it is necessary to be very attentive, to remain hour after hour in a state of wakefulness, of receptiveness and activity. Indeed, attention is not simply a virtue of intelligence or the result of education, and something one can easily do without. It is a state of being. It is a state without which we shall never be able to perfect ourselves. In its truest sense it is the listening post of the universe.
Being attentive unlocks a sphere of reality that no one suspects. If, for instance, I walked along a path without being attentive, completely immersed in myself, I did not even know whether tress grew along the way, nor how tall they were, or whether they had leaves. When I awakened my attention, however, every tree immediately came to me. This must be taken quite literally. Every single tree projected its form, its weight, its movement–even if it was almost motionless–in my direction. I could indicate its trunk, and the place where its first branches started, even when several feet away. By and by something else became clear to me, and this can never be found in books. The world exerts pressure on us from the distance.
The seeing commit a strange error. They believe that we know the world only through our eyes. For my part, I discovered that the universe consists of pressure, that every object and every living being reveals itself to us at first by a kind of quiet yet unmistakable pressure that indicates its intention and its form.” (The Blind in Society, emphasis mine)
Lusseyran goes on to describe that all of our senses are, in fact, interpretations of universe's touch upon us. “Hearing” does not happen in the ears; the blind realize it is a whole-person experience, whereby they feel sound as it is offered by objects and space around them.
What the blind person experiences in the presence of an object is pressure. When he stands before a wall he has never touched and does not now touch, he feels a physical presence. The wall bears down on him, so to speak. An effluvium emanates from that wall. Conscious perception takes place the moment it meets another effluvium, which originates in him.
Perception, then, would mean entering into an equilibrium of pressure, into a force field. As soon as we pay attention to this phenomenon, the world comes to life in a surprisingly different manner. No single object, no single being remains neutral. The oneness of the world is experienced as a physical event.
The pressure I have spoken of assumes all forms: Absorption, transference, cooperation. Everything enters into an intimate and active relationship with ourselves: the window, the street, the walls of the room, the furniture, the slight movement of the air, living creatures, Finally, even thoughts take on weight and direction.” (Blindness, a New Way of Seeing the World, emphasis mine)
It is not simply the world exerting pressure on us; we too in our thinking exert pressure on the world. Lusseyran asks the question, “Could attention be a kind of touch?” My answer is a wholehearted YES, and I have been contemplating deeply the implications of this recognition. What am I touching with my attention? What is the quality of my touch? How I am going out to meet the world? How available am I to receiving the world's touch?
Gravity is the world's everpresent touch on us, and it's common to think of it as a force which brings us down. People often rail against its apparently unfortunate effects: Stooping, drooping, fatigue. But this force is not our enemy; our response to the pressure or touch of gravity is what determines our experience. A strong force, a heavy pressure — these do not have to weigh us down. In fact, (if we know how) we can organize ourselves better when under greater stress. We can allow ourselves to welcome the touch of gravity, if we recognize that we are designed not just to meet it but to thrive under its influence.
I've been considering other strong forces in my life. How am I organizing myself to receive them? Do I feel weighted or energized by them? The option of finding my sure footing, allowing the force to transmit through me rather than onto me, reveals an “upward thrust” described by F.M. Alexander. If I experience strong forces as fatiguing or burdensome, it is because I have abandoned my own organization, I have adulterated my ability to meet them with my whole capacity.
And now I hope that you will find it easier to accept my paradox, the confession of faith I made in the beginning: Blindness is my greatest happiness! Blindness gives us great happiness. It gives us a great opportunity, both through its disorder and through the order it creates.
The disorder is the prank it plays on us, the slight shift it causes. It forces us to see the world from another standpoint. This is a necessary disorder, because the principal reason for our unhappiness and our errors is that our standpoints are fixed.
As for the order blindness creates, it is the discovery of the constantly present creation. We constantly accuse the conditions of our lives. We call them incidents, accidents, illnesses, duties, infirmities. We wish to force our own conditions on life; this is our real weakness. We forget that God never creates new conditions for us without giving us the strength to meet them. I am grateful that blindness has not allowed me to forget this.” (Blindness, A New Way of Seeing the World, emphasis mine)
And I am grateful to Lusseyran for not allowing me to forget, that I always have within me the strength to meet the present moment, that I can find the blessings of my life by opening to the touch of the world.