The following interview with Amla Mehta was conducted by Corey Hudson for Hearts of Strangers blog.
What has been one of the most challenging things that you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing?
“That’s a really great question. There are so many to choose from, but the biggest challenge that I’ve faced is the actual, physical part of losing my vision, because I was born with a genetic disorder called gyrate atrophy. Only two hundred people are diagnosed in the world. Because it’s genetic, my parents didn’t know that they had the carrier gene, and as offspring, my parents’ children—of course, my sister and I—both of us as the offspring had a 25% chance of getting the genetic disorder gyrate atrophy, and I happened to get it; my sister does not have it, but we still do not know, in our extended family tree, who had it beforehand in the bloodline.
“So, getting back to the point, it’s really challenging, gradually losing my vision, because I had my driver’s license at age sixteen and I had to lose my driver’s license at age eighteen. And then in my twenties, I had to have cataract surgery. One of the highlight moments of the challenge is that I woke up seeing blobs, and I thought it was happening then, and that was age twenty-five in my right eye, and I was working corporate and living a full and fabulous life and waking up and not being able to see tree branches… . So anyway, there are plenty of examples, but I’m slowly losing my vision, and when you have the comparison of what you could see and then it’s slowly going into tunnel vision, which is basically a sphere or circle if I’m looking at somebody’s face, that’s pretty much all I see. I don’t see any of the shoulders or anything above that, and it’s kind of like the compass—north, east, south, west—so it’s a sphere and it’s a circle. So, that’s my biggest challenge.”
What are some of the obstacles that you have faced with losing your sight? You mentioned that having had full sight at one point in your life and slowly watching it go has been challenging, but what are some of the obstacles that you face in your daily life?
“Well, I break a person’s life into categories. You have the physical, you have the mental, you have the emotional, and you have the spiritual. To put it mildly, I broke down in each category, and physically, not only my vision—it was a part of it. It had nothing to do with vision, so to speak, but I fell and I fractured my ankle in three places, and that was physically super challenging. So physically—I call it ‘dying’ in air quotes—I ‘died’ that way.
“Mentally, it led into depression, and then emotionally, I fell in love for the first time, and that was two years of releasing that person from me, so to speak—and by the way, I don’t think you ever get over anything; you get through something. So I got through this man, not over this man. So anyway, that was the emotional part.
“Spiritually, because of the depressions, I had nowhere else to turn but to spirit, and that’s what got me through. But those were all huge obstacles, and there was a gap of maybe ten years of that, of one after the other: the physical and the mental and the emotional and the spiritual, and it’s ironic because I call it like Humpty Dumpty, putting it back together again. When I got back together again, so to speak, it was the opposite: my spiritual healed, my emotions healed, my mental body healed, and my physical body was the last to heal because I carried all of this heavy, emotional weight within my body. So it’s just an interesting spectrum of how this all healed, fell apart, and came back together.”
Tell me what the lowest point in all of those components breaking down looked like for you.
“Okay, there’s only one way to explain it: I’m a heart girl. I was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day, 1990, so it’s been a while. I was sixteen years old. Up until age thirty, I was open, an open book lady, and my heart would just shine, and I didn’t understand other people’s intentions. All I knew was my intention was I wanted—I really had that mindset—to save the world. Let’s save the world, let’s help the world. So I was this open book, but what was happening was that I didn’t realize that people have other intentions. I don’t want to call it negative, but they have just different intentions, and I was all about the love, and people had this whole mindset of how I should be, or could be.
“I was very vulnerable in the sense that I listened to everybody else and their ideas, and I wasn’t listening to me because I’m the heart girl, and maybe they are right, maybe they are right. So it was confusing to me. The openness in me just let everybody in.
“I got hurt so many times: friendships, example. I don’t drive. I haven’t driven since—oh gosh, like 1996—so almost twenty years. So the point is, I live in a rural area. I depend on rides. An example is: I was at yoga. I’ve practiced yoga for over three years, and this lady who was a friend said, ‘I want to give you a ride,’ and it was the first time I’d asked her to give me a ride. I actually texted her so that she had the opportunity to say no, you know? It’s easy in a text to say no, and I don’t mind that. I’m open to that. I’ve already been rejected a bazillion times. It’s not a big deal. What’s another no? It’s not a big deal.
“So then anyway, she said yes. It was an evening class. We go to do the yoga thing in the yoga building and it’s dark, and so she’s rushing me down the stairs, and I’m freaked out because I don’t see. I didn’t have my cane on me—I named her Sophia—and I didn’t have her with me, trying to lead me down these steps and I was freaked out. Now mind you, I live two miles down the road, and in the car, she said two things. She said, ‘I can give you a ride.’ Now mind you, I asked her for the first time, but leading back to her, she said, ‘I can give you a ride, but I am going out of my way for you.’
“And I got all quiet, and then—two miles, how hard, I mean it’s like three minutes, so I got home. I didn’t say anything in the car because that’s who I am; that’s just the way I am. I got very protective. I could feel my heart—ah, what’s the word?—charge. It was an electrical charge. Gosh, I remember it like it was yesterday, and I had my pity party in my room and that was it.
“But that’s just one example. I’ve had zillions of examples—especially with the rides: ‘Oh, I’ll give you a ride,’ then they don’t follow through, and then they feel obligated, and my frame is: say no. Just say no. If you don’t want to, then don’t. But don’t lie to me. If you’re gonna follow through, do it all the way. I think that’s fair. I think that’s respectful. I’m not asking for much. I don’t ask for rides all the time at all. It’s just, sometimes I need it, and what’s that phrase? ‘If you don’t ask, you’re never gonna receive.’ So, I ask, and it’s kind of like the revolving door, or a door itself: somebody’s gonna say yes to you and open the door, and somebody’s gonna close the door and say no to you. That’s life for you. And that’s one of my lessons, definitely, through this.
“But anyway, the challenge is that I was ‘open lady,’ and then I became ‘boulder lady,’ because all these people after thirty—age thirty, that is—hurt me, so I became ‘stone lady,’ couldn’t move my body, I was stiff as a board, and that was probably a precursor to all these depressions in my thirties, because I didn’t want to feel anymore, because too many people hurt me, and that’s my little defense mechanism. That’s how I’m gonna get through: to not feel anymore. Well, how’d that work for you?”
Yeah. How did that work for you?
“It didn’t go well. I went into one depression after the other. I shouldn’t say ‘one depression after the other,’ but it was like maybe two-year gaps. My first one, I think, was at age thirty, thirty-two, thirty-four—thirty-four was two years—and then thirty-eight, and I’m forty-two. It just got worse and worse, and like I was saying before is that I died physically. I fractured my ankle fifteen years ago—sorry, eight years ago—and I was heavier then. I was twenty-eight pounds heavier. It was literally God saying, ‘I’m gonna shut you down completely.’ So to me it’s like unplugging the entire computer in order for you to reboot your whole self again. Looking back, that’s what it feels like.
“So I shut down. That was only the physical part—that heaviness, the boulders that I was carrying on my shoulders, I mean, hunched over and just miserable. I remember the day I broke my ankle, I was scuffing my feet to work. I couldn’t even lift up my feet to walk to work, which is like five minutes away from home. Those were all signs.
“I ended up fracturing my ankle by falling off a stepstool, and all of my weight went on my left side. My whole body, my whole leg, had an electrical charge when I fell; it went all the way through my hip, so I thought it was my leg, a femoral fracture, and even before—it shot that straight up. And then—it sounds a little gross—but my foot was the other way, too. I didn’t want to look. In a way, there you go: I have no peripheral vision, right? It was so great not to even look at what that looked like. I think I would’ve freaked out more. I don’t know if I could’ve gotten through it. And I told myself, mechanically, ‘This doesn’t feel good. Don’t look down.’ And that saved me, because I think I would’ve screamed bloody murder when that happened. I hope no one ever has to go through that physical pain ever in their life, ever, ever, ever.”
Did you recognize that you were in a state of depression in those moments?
“No. That’s what’s so funny. Here’s the thing: it’s like any kind of pain, right? There’s not a dump, like a waterfall of pain. It’s slowly happening, but if you choose—and it was a choice for me, because I wanted to be numb and this boulder lady. I didn’t want to feel. So it’s interesting that all these signs were out there. I wasn’t listening. I just kept putting on the weight and emotional eating and all this stuff, and it took me fracturing my ankle to be like, ‘Hello, lady, there are some issues here.’
“That was the beginning of healing—healing in the sense of only the beginning stages, but by the same token, God—in my mindset—God, divine creator, gives you what you can handle, and I know for a fact that if I didn’t go through fracturing my ankle, I wouldn’t have been going—I couldn’t have gotten through the love of my life. So it’s all divine synchronicity, in my opinion. For sure. There’s no doubt in my mind, looking back at how this all happened, and even talking about it to you right now, how did this happen? It’s mind-boggling, looking back at what has happened, what has transpired.”
How did you begin the healing process? What sort of tools did you incorporate?
“Excellent question. So after my fracture, we’ll just go straight from there, I went through physical therapy for three months. That started me walking. So I used to walk five miles a day. You couldn’t have paid me to do any kind of physical anything before that time. I was thirty-four when I fractured my ankle. I would just walk, walk around town, walk everywhere, and that was about for five years, I think, I would just walk. But it wasn’t doing as much as I wanted to do. When you’re ready, you’re ready to move on to a more vigorous or challenging exercise for your day.
“What really helped me get through all those years was walking and being in nature, hugging a tree—I love trees—and I’m just in awe of and fascinated by the branches and what story they have to say, where they came from, and I’m constantly checking out trees outdoors. And even the other day, Saturday—I was having a tough day—and I went out. It was cold, but I went out anyway, and just putting my foot against the root of the tree—both feet, because the yoga helps me now, too—but, just one at a time, my right foot, and I felt the charge of that tree just go right through me: through my feet, straight up, shooting like a fountain out of the crown of my head, just like pshhh! and exploding.
“It’s amazing what trees can do for you, because they give you stability. You put your back against a tree and you feel like you can do anything. You’re powerful. You’re tall. You’re standing like the tree. It comes from the ground, but it shoots up all these branches out there, and your arms are spread out just like the tree branches are spread out. That’s like saying, ‘Hi!’ to the world to me. So nature was great, and meditation. Meditation came in—I went to a ten-day silent retreat. It’s called vipassana. It completely changed my life on many levels, and that’s actually what helped me get through as well.
“After the walking thing, for five years, and those were in between the meditation and nature, walking through five years of that, then I began yoga at age thirty-nine, and it’s amazing. I feel so grounded, and so steady and stable. I have that ‘I am’ attitude—attitude of gratitude—I am whole. I’m a whole soul. And that’s it. You’ve got you; that’s all that matters. Yoga, every day, I go to a center. I’m there four or five times a week. I’m so grateful for the fact that God has given me legs and arms and hands to actually use in such a profound way. Yoga is not, to me, just moving your body; it’s a mind-body-spirit thing. You’re connecting to your heart and the internal essence that you are, and it’s the most beautiful experience because you see your breath: inhale, exhale, and that’s life. Without breath, you’re nothing. It’s a wonderful way to alleviate the gunkiness and junkiness of life.”
Has progressively losing your sight enhanced other senses?
“Yeah. I don’t think of it that way because I see what I see, but definitely. For example, my cane’s name again—she’s Sophia—and it’s not named after Sofía Vergara or Sophia Loren or any of those people—actually I just love it. It’s a beautiful name. And little did I know, ‘phia’ means ‘philosophy’ and ‘so’ means ‘to know’ so ‘Sophia’ means ‘knowledge;’ she’s my GPS. She’s my compass.
“So, anyway, getting to your question, she helps me. Using Sophia my cane, your memory is so much sharper because you have no vision to rely on, so if somebody says something once, I remember it: a phone number, you know. It can be a blessing and a curse because I mean really, do you want to remember something from twenty years ago? Let it go. It was twenty years ago. But in another way, it’s great because with this technological world and everybody being so reliant and so dependent on smart phones and no one remembers any numbers, it’s a great asset for me that I can actually pinpoint a lot—and I’m really good at directions, too.
“Very good, and actually with cane training, I only had cane training three years ago, but this is very much related—I’m blind for an hour, and you learn how to cross streets, all sorts of things, and because I still have central vision, so that’s a huge—from seeing anything to seeing nothing, just for an hour, that was tough at the beginning. But it was gradual, it took me time. My cane trainer and I laugh about this—said I was a slow learner because I have vision, because I can take off the blindfold and I’m not relying on Sophia as much as people who are completely blind, but now I take her everywhere.
“Before I was kind of acting like a teenager: Oh, I’ll pick and choose when I want to expose Sophia. That was another tough challenge for me, too, because I bawled like a baby when he came for the first meeting. Because I don’t have peripheral vision and he put things into perspective. He did a little test. He said, ‘Oh wow, your periphery is really shot.’ He said that and I’m like, ‘What?’ Oh my goodness, see my heart just charged. I will never—I can’t forget that. It’s still, ‘Oh my God, my vision is that bad?’ It puts things into perspective, to be quite honest, and I think that the cane—I shouldn’t call her the cane; it’s Sophia—she really empowers me. I feel empowered. I can do anything in the world.
“I was at a little market just about a month ago, and pitch-dark, and I said, ‘You know what? I have Sophia.’ I have to lead it like I’m completely blind. I was scared, but that’s the definition of courage for me: you move through something despite the fear. You just go through it, and I can say, ‘Just go through.’ Is it easy? Heck no. But it’s also called your intention, your will, to say, ‘You know what? I am going to get through this. In some way, shape, or form, I will get through this.’
“And you’re never alone, because I know that divineness has only helped me—the almighty man, God, woman, whatever, creator—has really helped me every step of the way. I didn’t think God was even there half the time, like, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ It’s nothing external. It’s you learning to love yourself through those challenges. That’s what challenges are for: they’re for you to not only gain mental strength and physical, emotional, spiritual, everything in one. It’s just to learn how to roll with the punches.”
It seems like having to use Sophia and knowing that your vision is getting progressively worse over time, it’s almost—the way I visualize it is it’s almost like that’s what faith is: continuing to move forward and navigate through obstacles and what is before you, even though you can’t necessarily see what the next step is or how you’re going to get there, or what’s in your way, but yet continuing to move forward and navigating through those obstacles, fears, and challenges.
“Absolutely. Yeah. It’s important to really believe—and that’s a beautiful word, too—believing in you. Right? You can’t rely on somebody else to believe in you. You believe in you, and that’s such a beautiful gift. And for me, you only find that belief and faith within you by those tough, crappy struggles and challenges. It’s the only way.
“When you’re in the dark, there’s a saying out there, right? ‘When you’re in the dark, that’s the only time you’re looking for the light.’ When it’s a sunny day, are we ever going to be like, ‘Well, why isn’t it raining?’ You’re embracing the sunny day, right? But you question when it’s a rainy day, when it’s snowing, when it’s challenging: ‘Well, why?’ It is what it is. This is a day; it’ll be another day tomorrow.
“And that’s what life is, too: crappy things happen. I was depressed for two years. I didn’t think I’d get through. I didn’t think I could ever let go of this person. The depression happened because I fell in love with a man—oh my God, my heart was shattered. But the funny thing is, the healing part of it is having your heart break open. I mean, that’s what it is. You can get to that point where you feel like, ‘Okay, this thing happened. I was shattered. But it only allows me to love even more.’
“And when you’re allowing love for you internally, of course externally there’s more love that’s coming to you. It’s like the sun choosing where to shine: the sun shines on everything and everyone. There’s no choice. It is. It’s a universal … whatever, I don’t know what the word is, but it’s a universal being, you know?
“When you shine, you shine on everybody, and you’re not gonna pick and choose. That’s called ego. Ego picks and chooses. Ego wants to be right. Ego wants to be the master and in the driver’s seat. Well, good luck with that. Right? Seriously. Good luck with that, because guess what? I also learned through gradually losing my vision that I have no control. Trust me. It drives me—irks me—crazy. Just the littlest things: when I can’t find my reading glasses. Now, I should be thanking myself, shouldn’t I? Saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m going blind, I can actually see the computer. That’s a gift.’ But no, of course, I’m human. I’m like, ‘Darn it, where the heck are my glasses? I need glasses to find glasses.’ It’s ridiculous, you know? That’s human nature for you, though. I’m human, you’re human. We all have our moments.
“Being on the path of spiritual awakening is not about being perfect at all. It’s about admitting that you’re human and you make mistakes. You’re gonna fall, but you’re also gonna transform and transmute that into trying, into this openness, juiciness of unconditional love, undeniable love for you and others.”
What are some of the most important things that you’ve learned throughout these experiences over the years?
“To be who you are. Always remember that regardless of what happens ‘to you’—there’s actually a saying. Somebody said this: nothing happens to you; it happens for you. I love that. It’s so simple that anybody could understand it, and it’s true. What’s an example? Kinda like if you’re in a movie theatre and you’re watching a movie—that’s how I see my life now. That’s where the healing is. I’m just looking at it from a distance: hmm, that’s interesting: there’s Amla on the screen, and Amla’s watching Amla.
“If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life’s a choice. You have a choice, and I choose love over bitterness with people, despite the way I’ve been treated, despite the ignorance, despite the yuckiness of people’s egos and wanting to downsize you and thinking that they’re better than you, and being the disabled lady, I’m ‘weaker than them’—all these false assumptions or perceptions—it’s all an illusion anyway. Good luck with that. Have fun with that. Have fun thinking that way about me, because I know me—that’s what matters. To heck with anybody else.
“Everybody’s gonna have an opinion. Everybody. But if you focus on your road, your road map—you’re born and you have a road map, and you have a destination, you have an idea—now if I want to go to California, how many ways are there to get to California? Right? But if you wanna take a plane versus walking versus driving it or taking a bike ride over there—there are so many choices, but if you don’t have any kind of clue, then you’re lost. You need to have some kind of focus, and that takes time. It takes time. But once you feel comfortable: all right, this is the decision I’m gonna make, I’m gonna take a plane to California—well, which airline? And this—that comes all naturally, but you need to find a transportation method. You have to pick one. You can’t just be like, ‘Oh, I’ll get there.’ You will, but you have to choose.”
You have to make some decisions.
“Yes! That’s part of it—making beautiful decisions, not for anybody else, not for your family, not for your dog, not for your cat, but for you, listening to you. That’s another key component of learning the life lessons that I learned. Listen to you. Don’t listen to anybody else. Your heart leads the way. The brain messes you up sometimes. The heart knows what to do. Listen.”
How do you tune in to your heart when your brain wants to lead?
“That’s a really good question. Meditation for me, focusing on my breath: inhale, exhale. Even in my yoga classes, the last thing you want to do is hold your breath. I literally pretend the challenging poses—I pretend I’m breathing through a straw, like I literally make those noises. It’s counterproductive to hold your breath when you’re trying to release, right? So that really helps me get through and connect to my heart. That’s the purest form of life. As my guru says—he’s the teacher at the ten-day silent retreat vipassana—I remember I would hold my breath a lot, and that’s not meditating.
“A lot of people do that too, because they’re so mechanical: Am I doing it right? Am I doing it right? You’re breathing. You’re meditating. You don’t need to be a yogi in the mountains or go against a tree or be out there, exposed. You’re breathing. You’re meditating.
“Meditation for me is—and this has been said by many teachers out there—the floating clouds. They’re just thoughts; thoughts are floating clouds. Just let it pass by. Another one’s gonna come. But the more you concentrate on your breath, the less focused you are on those thoughts, a.k.a. clouds, floating by, because you’re doing something.
“At first, you are gonna be mechanical, you are gonna be like (inhales) and exaggerate it, but then, you know, it’s just like aging—actually, it’s one of my writing pieces. All of this—struggles, your life path—is just like aging. You don’t notice your first gray hair, right? But then, over time, there’s a clump of them. That’s life. Those hair follicles, unfortunately, are dying. We’re all dying. Am I thinking about dying right now, talking to you? No! I’m living. That’s the thing, you know? Don’t let fear lead the way: let love lead the way. And how do you let love lead the way? Go back to your heart. And how do you connect to heart? Meditation, meditation, meditation. Nature is an amazing method to transmute, transform, transmute in a heartbeat. It’s like fire. That’s all you have to do. I hug trees all the time. It’s amazing.”
Do you have any fears? I mean, I would, if I’m putting myself in your shoes for a moment, and I can sense that knowing, ultimately, that eventually one day I’m probably not going to be able to see anything—how do you sort of stay in the moment and remain grateful for what you can see without getting stuck in, “I’m losing it; I’m losing something that I had?”
“It’s again that—I’m gonna go back to the dying thing—it’s like thinking about dying a lot. No one’s thinking about that. I’m not thinking about this every day. Does it affect me? Yeah, but I have so much optimism that God gives to me. I was always glass-half-full lady and always thinking—I was always happy-go-lucky, shiny, smiley lady all the way as a kid. I just was. I think that it is like dying. I don’t think about it all the time, but if it comes—see, when you’re losing something, you lose your keys, it’s not as negative or I don’t even know what word, but like it’s not as bad as losing my vision, but you lose your keys, you lose your phone, you lose a loved one—you will get through.
“The funny thing is—okay, here’s the best way to say it: I think it was … what’s the word? I forgot, but if you think of Einstein, energy can be transferred. It can never be broken, right? Let’s say I can be cured. So many people are like, ‘Oh, you can go to India and find this doctor who can help you,’ or whatever. Let’s say I cure my eyes, right? But that’s karma. That’s what I came in here—for me, that’s a belief system. Every single one of us is born with things that don’t work, nonfunctional—whether it’s your brain, whether it’s your physical, whether it’s something—we all have some kind of ‘flaw,’ right? So the point is that, if you’re born with it, there’s nothing you can do. Like, if I fix my eyes, it’s probably gonna transmute into something else. Energy can be transferred; it can never be broken.
“This is my time to say, ‘Hallelujah,’ in a way. Okay, I’m losing my vision, but what else am I gaining? I’m gaining internal wisdom; I’m gaining unconditional love for myself; abundance; faith in that everything has its own timing; and this too shall pass, and it will die. We all are gonna die. The cells in my eyes are dying. Somewhere else in your body something’s dying. We don’t think about it, right? You just start living.
“If this happens, it’s not the end of the world either, because look at all I’ve learned. If I did not go through this gradual losing my vision, do you think I would take life as ‘seriously’ as I do? I would probably be dilly-dallying in life and being like, ‘Okay, la la la.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, but I have, according to doctors, maybe ten more years, and it’s not complete blindness. It’s light adaptation and dark adaptation. But most of it? Yeah, most of my vision is gone. But by the same token, I have my brain, and I can speak, and I can talk, and I can listen to music, and that is golden for me. That’s amazing.
“And here’s another gift, another blessing: because I have been able to see, and I am still seeing right now, when I do go blind—if I go blind—I will be able to close my eyes and still imagine a sunset. I will still be able to imagine I’m in Hawaii—I went to Hawaii two years ago. I can still imagine being by the ocean. Am I really missing anything?
“Think about when you go to sleep. It’s an illusion. You close your eyes; you’re dreaming something. That’s another gift. Oh wow, right? You’re sleeping. Most people sleep for eight hours, and you don’t use your eyes then. So I only need my eyes for sixteen hours out of twenty-four hours, right? That’s how I see it. It is scary, too. I wanna be able to see the stove to cook, of course, but it’s just like asking—another example—it’s just like asking a kindergartner to learn algebra. They’re not there yet. They will get there, in time, and life’s about adapting accordingly.
“I have an editor with my writing, and he’s like, ‘You should be used to ignorance. You go through this all the time.’ And I said this to him: ‘Honey, we live in New England. It snows here. How many people freak out at that first blizzard? Are we used to snow? Do we know what snow is? Yes. Why is it still hard when that snowfall hits?’”
We’re always surprised by it.
“Exactly, right? So we adapt accordingly. I’m not 100% over or through this blindness because I’m not even there yet. How can I even say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m good to go’? I don’t know what it is to be blind, like completely. I mean, yeah, I go to the restroom—I’m a very straight shooter—I go to the restroom and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, imagine trying to find the bathroom stall. Holy cannoli.’ I still think those things. Oh my God, it’s hard. It is hard. It is. There’s no doubt about it. But by the same token, there are a lot of rich, rich, inviting, luscious gifts that go along with those struggles. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
Sounds like what helps you is focusing on what you’re gaining as opposed to what you’re losing, and also recognizing that you haven’t lost it yet. You’re still on the path and you’re acquiring skills and abilities that are going to become more and more useful to you as your journey continues. That’s huge. And to also accept where you are, you know? You could continue to deny it and fight it, and your life would be a struggle, but it seems like you’re embracing it, and I think that’s…
“That’s the word. That’s a beautiful word. Embracing it, you know? Life can be so magical when you embrace the good with the bad, so to speak, the happy days with the bleh days. It doesn’t matter: you’re alive. It’s a gift. There are no words.
“I wouldn’t be speaking about my journey without going blind. I mean, this path came to me. I’m writing because of this. Actually, writing started when I was in college, at twenty-something years old, but I love writing and expressing the beauty and the gifts and the colorful, rich life that I have, and without the deep knowing and the wisdom, I’d probably have a basic, basic understanding, and I don’t want that.
“There is a freedom, interestingly enough—by losing my vision, I notice it when there’s a crowd. It actually gets me dizzy. I close my eyes. I’m so much at my own pace, I’m like, ‘This is nice.’ It’s all how you look at it, right? I could just get all crazy and funky: ‘It’s all these people’s fault. There are too many people.’ You can’t control your environment. You are where you are. But if you just step back and say, ‘All right, this is really bothering me. Okay, what am I gonna do with it?’ Now I just chill out and close my eyes and I’m good to go. It’s like a mini-meditation. Mini-vacation, mini-meditation.”
What advice would you offer to somebody who’s reading this, who can relate in some way to your experiences? Or perhaps, even to yourself when you were sixteen or so.
“Don’t be afraid of yourself. Don’t be afraid to shine out. All of you. I remember being sixteen and—I was stubborn then, too—I had a mindset of my own. I didn’t care what people thought of me then, in the sense of I was never into cliques or anything like that, and that’s fine, but I just marched to my own drum. I always did, and as a teenager, you’re still trying to find yourself.
“The most important thing is to look in the mirror and say, ‘You’re doing your best, and I love you.’ I mean, that’s a great tool that I use all the time. I look in the mirror and I say, to this day, every morning pretty much and at night, ‘I’m proud of you, Amla.’ No one else is gonna do that for you. Start early. Being proud from the heart, not being proud from the ego thing: ‘Yeah, oh, I got it covered.’ No. And teenagers like to do that, too: I know it all; I got it. I got it.
“Allow yourself to fall. Allow yourself, honor yourself, with those falls, because without those falls, you wouldn’t be a stronger person. A baby doesn’t learn how to walk without falling. It’s simple. They don’t, and we need to fall in life, and it’s okay if you choose—it’s a choice again—if you wanna choose not to grow and expand and just be where you are, that’s your life.
“But then, my advice is, don’t complain about it, either. Because you do have a choice to step out of that rut and circle instead of complaining and being the same circle. We all do that. You have your pity party moments and then you move from them. That’s the point of a pity party moment, to feel it and be like, ‘Screw this. This sucks. I hate this. This is so challenging. I don’t understand why I have to go through this.’ Have your pity party. I say, have it. One hundred percent.
“My pity party includes screaming. I can’t go anywhere, right? I would love to go for a drive, to have that steering wheel in my hands—I still dream about it—but I go into the car and I just start screaming. I scream and I scream and how much am I screaming? Not really much. After five minutes, my voice is gone. It’s healthy. You’re letting it out. Sometimes you just don’t even have to think it through; you just need to let the voice do its thing. It’s a great tool. Wonderful tool, because you’re not hurting anybody. And take it from me—I can’t get places, so I deal with the limited space that I have physically, and that is it.
“Perfect example: I was upset the other day, and I had my pity moment: I hate not driving. It could be a lot worse, Amla. The only thing I really cannot do is drive. I will get there, but I’m not there yet. And that is enough, too.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or something that someone’s ever said to you that really resonates with you that you’d like to share?
“Well, I wrote two songs two—four—oh my gosh, it’s been five years. Anyway, it doesn’t even matter. There are two parts to it; this is the reprise: “Standing in my power / dancing to the rhythm of my stride / standing in my power / as a warrior woman, I’ve got nothing to hide.” And then the other part of it, and I think we can all relate to this one, is: ‘I felt disrespected, deeply tested, denied. I was lost, so I stepped back to get on track, ’cause when we fall, we fall. It’s thy choice to build a wall or to bounce back again.’”
What do those lyrics mean to you?
“It gives me chills even saying it. Despite what I’ve been through, I chose love, and that’s how I bounce back to even a deeper love and a deeper selfless love for me. When I embody that, I can shine out with the world. It only works that way.”
If your light is not burning, how can you shine for others?
“Absolutely. And life is not easy. I didn’t get here overnight. That’s another thing I wrote, and that I stress and emphasize so much: it’s never an overnight thing. But the key that we talked about throughout this interview—the key ingredient to get through something is faith. That’s it. Without faith, you can’t even move one step, because it’s an intention to move my finger; it’s an intention to move my foot to walk, right? So yeah. Faith in you and believing, again, that you matter and no one else can dull your spirit. No one. Not even you.
“That’s interesting, too. Not you. You think when you’re going through a rut of life, that everybody else is the problem, or ‘Oh my gosh, ugh, I’m never going to get through this.’ Those words even, change it around: ‘This is happening; however, let me go out into nature and embrace the birds chirping on a spring day, embrace the trees, embrace a walk.’ It could be five minutes. Those are great tools to allow you to get through those challenging experiences.
“And if you don’t, even can’t, go outside—let’s say you’re at work. No one’s gonna deny you—let’s say you’re in corporate. Go into the bathroom—I used to do this all the time at corporate—I would just go into the stall and just breathe for three minutes. Mechanically, it helps you ground, so you’re not all over the place when you have to make decisions and you have a deadline and you’re a boss or whatever you have. It’s a beautiful tool because—it’s interesting, I’ve found so much freedom having limited space, a limited access to travel, because freedom is within you. The shackles are off, babe. The shackles are off.”
How has it felt to share these feelings, thoughts, and experiences with me?
“I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but—and I say this in all my speeches, too—every time I speak or write about my journey, it is a healing, it’s an acceptance, it’s an openness to share my experiences not only with you but with people who want to learn, who are accepting and open ears to me. That’s what this means to me. It’s very healing and very uplifting to share with you, because I can feel it within my voice from talking to you of the empowerment, the wholeness, the completion of how I feel within my heart—this is all heart-related. It’s amazing.”
Do you think it’s possible that by sharing your story, your experiences, your journey with others, you could potentially inspire and bring someone else some hope or some courage to continue to move forward?
“Absolutely. Absolutely, because if I can—I see this all the time—if I can do it as a blind lady, if you’re so-called normal—you’re not normal. Who’s normal, anyway?—but the point is that anyone can do it. Anybody. It’s that word again: faith. Believing you can, not that you can’t. Even if you say, ‘I will,’ it gives you that momentum. It’s like when you’re in kindergarten, that book: ‘I think I can, I think I can.’ You always can go back to that story, that train trying to go up that mountain. I think I can. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t,’ you won’t, then. If you keep on saying, ‘I can’t,’ and ‘Ugh, it’s too hard,’ you’re not getting anywhere.
“And programming your mind, saying, ‘What gets me through this again?’ I don’t know if I mentioned it during the interview, but everything is impermanent, so this moment will pass. It’s a yucky moment, but I have another moment coming up, and another one after that, and another one after that, and that helps you get through the yuckiness of life.”