Doctor My Eyes

Spiritual beings are friends of last resort. By ‘last resort’ I mean the situation Jackson Browne described in these lines:

Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

While we’re on the subject, the “Doctor” in DOCTOR MY EYES is just such a hypothetical being. More generally, doctors are, in archetypal terms, demi-gods, the children of spirit and flesh. Asclepius, son of Apollo and a mortal woman, provides the model.

This ‘divine parentage’ provides that spiritual perspective that the person in need seeks. We can scoff at ‘witch doctors’ and the evil spirit model of disease, but the general idea holds true. That idea being: real illness is so complex that it takes a perspective beyond normal to unravel. Beyond that – and this is the idea at the heart of so-called Christian Science – is that all disease is ultimately a manifestation of dysfunction between the spiritual and the material worlds.

Jackson Browne’s song perfectly secularizes this idea, without fully abandoning the poetic meaning of the Doctor. In fact, the song is about the cost of this secularization, the mature abandonment of that naive emotional expectation that gives life meaning, but doesn’t seem to actually hold true:

Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the prize
For having learned how not to cry

This crying, for Rumi, is exactly that which causes, metaphorically speaking, the mother’s milk to flow. For Rumi, this crying was not to any person, but to the Spirit… so to speak. Browne’s song puts this appeal in secular terms, playing on the old meaning of Doctor, whose knowledge is ultimately spiritual in nature. It is ironically addressed to physician in the modern sense, who has renounced the tradition while yet still retaining, on an unconscious level, its mystique.

Accordingly, the eyes of the song are a metaphor for the Eye of the Heart, in terms of which Augustine defined the aim of this life:

Our whole business then, Brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.

Hence, when Browne sings that he “cannot see the sky” he’s not referring to the literal sky. The song isn’t literally about a trip to an eye doctor.

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