There is a Jewish blessing that comes from the morning liturgy that is often translated as, “Blessed are You Adonai, ruler of the Universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.” This translation is mostly accurate, but one keyword is often misunderstood and mistranslated. That Hebrew word is “pokei’ach” [po-kay-ach], which is a word that specifically refers to the opening and closing not of one’s eyes, but one’s eyelids.
I hate to break it to you, but closing your eyes is actually impossible. Your eyes never open or close, only your eyelids do. Only your eyelids hold the ability to shield you from your surrounding light. This has very big implications both physically and spiritually, especially for someone like me who is mostly — but not completely — blind.
At the age of 5, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, which causes me to gradually lose my peripheral vision and have night blindness. By age 15, I was legally blind. If my journey has taught me anything, it’s that openness is the key to true joy.
Just like the blessing suggests, you and I are “blind” to quite a few things in our lives on a spiritual and emotional level. From personal experience, it is my belief that we are often making a conscious choice to be blind to things in our lives that we don’t want to deal with. This is why I like to view eyelids as curtains.
What do curtains do? They blind us from things that we know are just behind them, like the blackout curtains that keep the morning light out of your bedroom. You know that the morning is waiting for you behind those curtains, but you choose to hide in your comfy, cozy covers for just a bit longer. But here’s the thing: Does keeping those blackout curtains shut for “just a bit longer” truly solve your sleepiness? Or, is the extra two hours spent watching Netflix in bed until 1:00 a.m. causing you to hit the snooze button? What are you truly blind to here?
I too enjoy hitting the snooze button and a good late-night Netflix session, but neither of those are what I was choosing to be blind to in my own life. Funny enough, my blind spot was actually my blindness itself. I was closing my eyelids to the truth of who I am.
While I’ve long known I wanted music to be a part of my life, I never wanted to be the blind musician, the blind songleader, the blind spiritual leader. I wanted to be “normal.” But, I am the blind musician, the blind songleader, and the blind spiritual leader and thankfully, I have come to love myself deeply for my physical blindness.
How did I do that? By blindfolding others.
About three years ago, I started something called Singing in the Dark, a spiritual experience that helps people immerse themselves into the world of the unsighted through music, prayer, and meditation. It wasn’t until I began gathering people together with blindfolds on, singing our hearts out, that I realized I was hiding from my true self and that you may be, too.
Singing in the Dark is much more than a sensory musical experience. It is an opportunity to look deeply into your deepest challenges and uncover the blessings and lessons within them.
When you arrive at Singing in the Dark (pre-pandemic), you immediately place your blindfold on outside and are guided by a volunteer to your seat. As soon as you enter the room, you are surrounded by music and are already without your sight. You have no idea where you are in the room, who you are next to, or even how close you are to the musicians. All you know is what you feel: a deep sense of connection between yourself and the group.
Singing in the Dark is built upon inclusion. Anyone over the age of 13 is welcome to join. Even though the experience is rooted in Jewish tradition, prayer, song, and Kabbalistic teachings, this is an experience for people of all races, religions, gender identities, abilities, and backgrounds. The songs, meditations, and teachings are simply tools that we use to help people connect more deeply with their inner-self, and what I like to call your “inner-vision.”
Something magical happens when a group of 100 souls are in a room blindfolded. It’s as if you are in your own quiet space of reflection, surrounded and held by a community of people who are actively accepting themselves and you for who we truly are. Not the person you’d like to be, used to be, or try to be, but the person you are on the deepest level.
While blindfolded, there are no text messages to look at, no people to watch or stare at, no emails to respond to. The distractions are erased, and all that’s left is you, your feelings, and the people around you. You can’t run away from your feelings. Instead, you learn that all that you have been running from may not be as scary as it seems. You may even find that it’s quite beautiful.
The pandemic has, in many ways, forced us into a time of deep emotional and spiritual reflection. We’ve lost loved ones, been separated from family and friends, and have spent more time alone than ever before.
For nine months, I decided to hold off leading Singing in the Dark virtually. I was concerned that the virtual experience would hinder all that was sacred about our in-person gatherings. But, I began to realize that the core message of Singing in the Dark was too important not to share. Partnered now with Wilshire Boulevard Temple in L.A., we have created a virtual experience that is of course different, but potentially even more impactful. Instead of gathering in the same room with blindfolds on, participants create a comfortable space in their home to lie down away from their screens. This allows them to keep their eyelids closed and focus on the music, meditation, and prompts for personal reflection. After the eyelids-closed portion of the experience is completed, everyone gathers on Zoom for the final song, allowing us to connect on a more personal level.
The Kabbalists teach us that one of the most powerful things we can do is to choose. And if Singing in the Dark has taught me anything, it’s that there is deep healing within choosing to open your eyelids and look deeply into the eyes of your blind spots. When you sit with your challenges and love them without any agenda to fix, alter, or change them, you may find that you actually love who you are. It’s how I’ve come to love myself deeply, not in spite of my blindness, but because of it.