Reflections about Learning and Vision

Carol A. Hand

Last night before I fell asleep, I did what I usually do. Solved a cryptogram puzzle or two. Often the quotes in the puzzle books are silly, but on rare occasions they inspire deeper reflection like the one below.



“Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” (Thomas Carlyle)

I have always loved solving puzzles and studying things around me. I didn’t realize, though, that the way I saw the world was different than the view others had. By the time I was in third grade, I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard unless I leaned forward with my face cradled on my open palms with the outer edges of my eyes pulled taught by my fingers. By narrowing my visual field, I was able to see a little further. I thought that was “normal.”

A Myopic View

Sadly, that automatic adaptation stopped working. I learned after a visit to an ophthalmologist that I had a case of rapidly advancing myopia. Until that visit, I didn’t realize that others could see individual leaves on the tops of trees, or stars in the night sky. The things I could see needed to be close at hand. Instead of looking through a telescope at the sky, I explored the wonder of life in the local pond through my microscope.

Daphnia pulix – Wikimedia –
Photo by Paul Hebert


Microscopic Movie Stars


Myopia has taught me that I need to focus more intensely to see things. I’m reminded of the moral from a Sufi story told by John McKnight. “You will only learn what you already know.” As I listen to the obfuscating main-stream news reports, I wonder what is beneath the surface of the swampy non-issues that fill headlines, and then I let it go. I see it as “what lies dimly at a distance,” and focus on what I can do here and now.

The answer at the moment includes gardening, teaching, and writing among other things. Gardening has fed me during lean winters in the past and will hopefully do so in the future. Gardens have also provided a sanctuary for me and others throughout the years. It’s not something I “know” as an expert, but I do know the value of learning, sometimes through trial and error. Variable, unpredictable weather patterns and conditions make growing healthy plants a never-ending learning endeavor.

I work part-time as an educator. I’ve not been “trained” as a teacher, but from a framework of liberatory praxis, I know that having all of the answers, even if it were possible, would be of little real value to others. Without curiosity, I’m not sure learning is possible. Educators just need to be fully present to help people uncover who they are and what they already know, and encourage them to ignite their curiosity so they can continue learning – always.

And I write. The words that flow through me come from a source I can’t control or reach with my intellectual capacities. All I can say is that sometimes I am compelled to record what I see, hear, think or feel. And sometimes, like today, I feel compelled to share what I write.

Perhaps the answer to breaking the cycle of only learning what we already know is simply to admit what we don’t know. Perhaps we also need to let go of the illusion that we can ever know anything definitively. At some point we have to take the risk to do what we can anyway, even if we don’t know all of the answers. We’re bound to learn something in the process if we try things we’ve never done before, just as I did when I donned my first pair of thick coke-bottle lenses as a child. I already knew that pond-life was fascinating, but I learned that there millions and millions of stars in the night sky. Stars were here before humans and may well be here long after we’re gone.

Milky Way Night Sky – Wikimedia – Photo by Steve Jurvetson, color adjusted by User:Fountains of Bryn Mawr

Our insignificant lives will probably have little effect on how brilliantly the stars shine, although it will undoubtedly affect our ability to see them. But our actions do directly affect the life of all that surrounds us close “at hand.” Hopefully we will not be myopic in the choices we make about how we live with all the other beings who share our one precious planet.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to solve if you are interested. I hope you enjoy the challenge and the message.


40 thoughts on “Reflections about Learning and Vision

  1. I too am myopic. I had little idea of how restricted my view was for a very long time. My world was shrunk to within a few feet. I walked along looking down. I lived in my head. I got glasses, but as an int overted, self-conscious teenager, I wouldn’t wear them outside the classroom. I missed out on so much. When I eventually got contact lenses aged 20, the world opened up. I looked up for the first time and walked about looking around me, no longer afraid to look at people and not recognise them, reading everything in sight and marvelling at nature. They are a wonderful invention.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Chris. I love the stories you shared. 🙂

      I did wear my glasses most of the time as a child, even though my classmates made fun of me. Contacts were an amazing technological advance, but I gave them up in my 40s. Glasses are so much easier in many ways, and the new light-weight plastic lenses with multi-focal lenses make it much easier for me to see. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I couldn’t cope with the multi-focal lenses so I have contacts for everday and reading glasses to wear over them, plus I have distance glasses and reading glasses for when I can’t wear my contacts – It’s an expensive business being short-sighted!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Corrective lenses are incredibly expensive, Chris, and here in the US, they’re among the many things that are not covered by Medicare (medical insurance for those who worked and contributed “enough” to the federal system when they retire or are disabled).

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your views about education and learning. When I first started teaching I was daunted that I didn’t know enough to answer a student’s unforeseen question. However, over the years as I’ve developed my teaching style I love it when I do not know the answer to a student’s question. I simply say “I honestly don’t know and let’s find out together”. Teaching has taught me that learning never ceases and humility and facilitating a student’s development makes for a better rapport with my students. As usual, your insight is beautiful.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your lovely comments, JT, and for sharing the valuable lessons you’ve learned through teaching. Working together to answer questions is liberating – it puts students and teachers on the same level in some ways. Your comments also remind me of something Maya Angelou wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I have come to believe that building relationships through collaborative work is the foundation for unlocking possibilities. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Perhaps those of us with myopia learn early that there is much that goes unseen – until we have the tools to see more clearly. And after that there is always more to observe, learn about and learn from. I remember the miracle of glasses and the way they opened up my world – and realizing that I had no idea of what the world looked like to other people. A formative experience?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Margaret, I love your fascinating and poetic insights about the gifts myopia may bestow. Glasses are a miracle. It’s fascinating to read though other comments to see how many others are myopic, too!

      Your comments also bring to mind one of my favorite characters, Aunt Beast, in Madeleine L’Engle’s work, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Like those native to her planet, Aunt Beast didn’t have eyes and couldn’t see the physical realm. Instead, she could see deep inside of things, to uncover the essence of what things really are. Perhaps those who compensate and later gain sight have learned to do that to some extent, too.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Perhaps they have, learning to respond to non-visual cues as a way to anticipate what may happen. An interesting thought!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I always benefit from the insights in your writing. I thought you put this so beautifully and it is the truth!
    “Educators just need to be fully present to help people uncover who they are and what they already know, and encourage them to ignite their curiosity so they can continue learning – always.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hello Carol. What a wonderful post. I felt like commenting after each of your paragraphs. Like we could talk across the fire. I too had bad eyes. I also had some bad head injuries. My father taught me how to see game in the bush. It was about seeing lines against the grain and colour that didn’t belong. Like you, I thought everyone saw it the same way. The stars in the sky and animals in the bush make me feel good. My Grandson smiles when I say hello, and cries when I say goodbye. It hurts me, but I can teach him. That’s what you do with the people around you. You teach. The stars are a constant comfort. Without them we would surly fall off the earth. Take care. Bob

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bob, your comments are always such a gift. It does feel like we are sitting around a campfire sharing stories and experiences, flames leaping toward the BC sky as the stars glow above. Thank you for bringing the night sky and the poignant love of grandchildren to life with your reflections, dear friend. ❤


    1. Thank you for your lovely, playful comments, Xena. I guess we’ll have to wait for some curious soul who’s willing to give the puzzle a try. I don’t want to spoil the fun of a challenge. 🙂


  6. My dear Carol, thank you for your reflections! Though they’re a bit sad to the end. Let’s change the phrase you’ve guessed out to the statement that each of us must learn to behold the essence of things by doing what he must do here & now. Destiny leads us. We can’t change it, but we must help it! And more we do, more we notice around. I’ve read in some religious texts that we have problems with eyes (me too), when we stubbornly don’t want to notice & to accept changes around us. Partially I share this opinion.
    And I recommend you Bates method: to revive the vision. I’ve been practising it for years. It is very effective.

    Best regards,

    Liked by 2 people

      1. 🙂 I hope these exercises will help you, dear Carol! In the beginning eyes might pain for you’ll have to get used to new way of seeing. With time you’ll notice a great relief! Keep me updated! Have a nice week! 🙂
        Keep in touch,

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Since I am myopic I know that it can be a very pleasant way to see. Nothing has rough edges and the slight blur can be soothing. But no one can afford to be myopic about what is going on in our world today. We need to put on our glasses and get a sharp vision of how we want the world to be seen and keep striving to make that vision become a reality.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Trace. Perhaps the inability to see sharp boundaries between things enables those with myopia to better visualize the connectedness of all life?


  8. Lovely post, Carol, about the nature of seeing and knowing. It seems that spending time in a place of unknowing keeps us open to possibilities. The truth may elude us, but we avoid committing ourselves to untruths and the opportunity to learn persists. The Microscopic Movie Stars is stunningly beautiful. (I too remember seeing leaves for the first time – I couldn’t stop looking at the trees).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Diana, I love your comments. “It seems that spending time in a place of unknowing keeps us open to possibilities.” Your work certainly takes me to places where all the rules have changed and one has to begin learning anew. Thank you for that and for your kind and thought-provoking comments. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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