She announced, out of nowhere, that she could see auras.
I was sitting with this girl at the Orange Julius in Ann Arbor late one afternoon in 1973. It was a sunny day in early April, the end of winter semester. Outside the last of the blackened snow was melting.
“Around some people,” she said, “I see this shimmering.”
I was an undergraduate. She and I were finishing a course in metaphysical poetry together. After class that day she said she wanted to try this place on University. Would I come with her? All semester we had felt like Platonic pals. I said sure, thinking if the opportunity presented itself, just for the fun of it I might quote some Andrew Marvell to her: “Had we but world enough and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime.” I wondered now if she saw my aura. Maybe she had been watching it all along.
“It tastes like an orange creamsicle,” I said. I picked up my cup, admiring the smiling Julius devil logo, gave my drink another stir with the straw, and took a sip.
“There’s egg in it,” she said. “That’s what makes it creamy.”
I told her friends of mine who took LSD said they saw auras.
“Friends,” she said with a smile.
“No hallucinations. Just auras. They were kind of disappointed.”
“This is different,” she said. “I see energy fields surrounding people. Everyone has an aura. But not everyone can see them.” She was looking at me, but also around me, beyond me, like over my shoulder. I thought she must be taking me in.
“That guy over there,” she said, “his aura is spazzing right now.” I turned to look. A little guy with big ears and matted black hair, bent over a notebook, scribbling with a pencil. She said she saw flares of energy around him, a lot of red and dense orange. “Orange is a sign of power, associated with passion and sexual energy.”
“Him?” I said. I took another drink. And then another. “What about mine?” I gestured in the direction of what I imagined to be my aura. “Whatta you see?”
I thought of auras years later when I started seeing them. Up early one morning, walking downstairs in the dark, I sensed this shimmering in my field of vision. Then, sitting in the living room, drinking a cup of coffee, all around my bare feet I’d propped on the ottoman I noticed what looked suspiciously like an aura. Can you see your own aura? Around your feet? I didn’t think so. A little later I ate a dish of yogurt and saw its aura. When I took the garbage cans down to the road, all around them was a definite shimmering aura. The mailbox had an aura. I wanted to wake up my wife, see if she was shimmering. Maybe she would glow in the dark.
This went on for a week or so.
“It’s not auras you’re seeing,” she said when I told her about it. “I think there’s something wrong with your eyes.”
“Auras are a thing,” I said. “I knew this girl in college.”
“You saw an aura around your feet? Around the mailbox? Really. You should call Dave.”
Dave the opthamologist who lives behind us. I started to say there was more under heaven and earth, Horatio, but thought better of it. “What about your cousin’s wife, the one in Switzerland with healing hands?”
She rolled her eyes, said I should just call Dave.
That afternoon in Dave’s office, I scored low on the alphabet test. It was frustrating. I know my letters. With my right eye, I was like: Could be a B, could be an F, might be a D. The tech didn’t say anything. Final grades would be held until the end of the appointment. Next I got the cover test, the ocular motility test, some refraction and retinoscope work, the pressure test, the slit lamp test, and a full-blown retinal scan. And lots of drops. When I finally saw Dave, I told him that in the lower left quadrant of my field of vision, like 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock, it was shimmery and shadowy. Worse now than when I came in–because of the drops. And if I turned my head, there was a band, a dark line, cutting across from 11 o’clock to 2 o’clock.
He said it looked like I had a torn and detached retina. Along with some schisis. That was a new word. Schisis. Not a word I ever wanted to know. And it sounded like he was using it in the plural.
I left his office wearing temporary sunglasses and made a shimmery drive down Telegraph Road to the Comerica Building, where a retina surgeon examined me, confirmed Dave’s diagnosis, and scheduled surgery for me at 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
I’ve heard of people who get hit on the head, then gifts follow. Perfect pitch. Mental telepathy. The ability to see the future. Remembering a prior life. A sudden affinity for prime numbers. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for His Hat Oliver Sacks writes about deficits and enhancements. Was I enhanced? Was aura reading in my future?
Back home I did a little research on retinas and auras. I found a page of aura reading tips. “Close your eyes, align your breath, and ask the colors to show themselves to you.” This from a website called Gaia, dedicated to expanding consciousness. I tried that out, stumbling just a little on the “align your breath” part. I guessed it meant sit up straight. “Gently rub your hands together, this activates energy between the two hands and turns on the Aka.” Aka, an ancient Egyptian term for “energy field.” (So, that’s “energy field” aka “Aka.”) The colors, if I saw them, would invite me to feel loved and cherished or drain me of my energy.
I looked at my wife, across from me at the dinner table that night. We were finishing off some leftovers.
“Nothing to eat or drink after midnight,” she said.
“We have to be there at 5:30 a.m.”
I felt loved and cherished. Also slightly chastened. Like I had brought auras and retina trouble upon myself.
“So we should leave the house at, maybe, a little after 5:00.”
My eyes were still dilated. She was shimmering just a little. I rubbed my hands together to get her Aka activated. No colors. Just a slight blur. But wait, was I supposed to rub my hands together or ask her to rub her hands together? Whose Aka was I supposed to turn on?
At 6:00 a.m. the next morning in pre-op, they started an IV and administered a low-dose anesthetic. When they rolled me into the OR a little later, I was awake. The surgeon had to drain the vitreous humor from my right eye. He had to get his laser and instruments inside my eye to patch things up. He worked; I felt free to ask questions.
“We doin’ okay?” he asked.
To his assistant, he said, “That’s a schisis right there. And another one there.”
“How long’s this take?” I asked. Usually before a surgery you get to lay eyes on the doctor. By the time he checked in I was already partially anesthetized, my face totally covered. I would have liked to look him over, check out his aura.
He said I was doing fine. Just fine.
“How soon will I be able to read? Can I still work in the kitchen? Go for a short walk on the treadmill?”
“Why don’t we talk about that in the office tomorrow.”
“See the tissue here?” he said to his assistant.
“My head feels frozen. Forehead, face, numb.”
“We did that while you were asleep.”
“I was asleep?”
“Long enough to administer the local.”
Local. I pictured a bigass needle stuck in my eye. “Good idea,” I said.
There’s a four-minute video, by a woman named Cynthia, that explains how to practice seeing auras. You start with your hand, holding it out in front of you like you’re admiring your nails. You don’t really look at your fingers. You look at the spaces between them, the interstitial spaces. If you don’t see anything, Cynthia says to massage the middle of your forehead. That’s a chakra zone. Behind that space is the pineal gland, your “third eye.”
According to the Stanford Philosophy Archives, Descartes thought that your soul was located in that part of your brain, that the pineal gland was full of “animal spirits,” and that these spirits were “a very fine wind, or rather a very lively and pure flame” that filled the sails of your soul. At the end of the nineteenth century, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky referred to this “third eye” as the eye of Shiva and “the organ of spiritual vision.”
I had my aura read in Italy a few years ago. My wife and I met a couple guys one night in a bookstore. One of them lectured on music at the university up in San Marino. The other guy, I don’t know what he did for hire. He said he read auras. When he looked at me, he seemed visibly startled. He said I looked very stressed, emotionally unsettled. Disturbato is what he said. Maybe emotionally disturbed doesn’t mean in Italian what it does in English.
I was actually having a low-level temper tantrum at the moment. It probably didn’t take a third eye to notice. I remember thinking, Dude, you could keep that to yourself. I told him it must be kind of a burden seeing things in other people. What do you do with such knowledge (if that’s what it is)? What I also thought was, Shouldn’t you ask someone’s permission before you read their aura? Then again, maybe reading is reading. You can’t not read a word that you know. If you can read an aura, how can you not read it?
Your post-op posture after retina surgery is simple: Head down. Try to sit still. All afternoon my whole head still felt frozen, numbed. No pain. Over the next 2-3 days, my right eye was all ashimmer, all aura, no sight. If I closed my good eye this is what I saw: A gray lunar surface with a few craters here and there. Flowering bushes slightly agitated by a breeze, at twilight. A topographical map of the American Southwest; rivers and tributaries, hills and mountains, a section of which clearly looked like Texas.
“When I close my good eye,” I told my wife, “I can see my pulse.”
“Just hold still.”
“A blood vessel in my eye is going boing, boing, boing.”
“Please don’t move your eyes.”
One afternoon, I saw two bubbles, a big one and a little one, attached to each other, like they were kissing.
On the sixth day I take a few steps, keeping my good eye closed. My right eye is now like a glass of water that’s half full. The surface tension wobbles with each step. Seated I can see almost clearly in the top half of my field of vision; below the surface it’s murky, opaque. I’m part land, part aquatic creature. It feels a little bit like progress.
I decide I can do without the third eye and the burden of seeing with it. I don’t even want two and a half eyes.
Just give me two, or as close to that as I can get.