Use Your Own Eyes
by William B. MacCracken, M. D. Use Your Own Eyes was first published in 1937.
"Each Faculty acquires fitness for its function by performing its function; and if its function is performed for it by a substitutedagency, none of the required adjustment of nature takes place; but the nature becomes deformed to fit the artificial arrangements instead of the natural arrangements."
Dr. Herman Snellen, a celebrated Dutch ophthahnologist, who died in 1908, offered a standard test for visual acuity by designating the size of letters that are to be read at different distances from the card.
Because the common average of those being tested, young as well as old, have so much poorer vision than a great many have, Dr. Snellen was obliged to set a standard low enough to accommodate those with the poorer vision.
But the Snellen Card had been used only as a test to diagnose and designate the degree of visual acuity.
It was Dr. Bates who discovered and demonstrated the value of Dr. Snellen's test card as perhaps the most helpful among the different practices he described for the correction of abnormal function in the mechanism of vision.
Naturally the principles involved in the method have to be adjusted to meet the specific conduct of each mentality. The different types of abnormal functioning may be caused by different types of reactions in the central control of the mechanism.
Having considered the contents of the previous text, suppose we allow the imagination to be dominated by the idea that we are going to imitate the conduct of the normal eye. We therefore will stop trying to see. We will be goes erned by the realization that our endeavor is to carry out a simple proceeding. We look at a letter on the Snellen card, or at some other letter, or figure, or object. Not seeing it, we close the eyes softly for a moment, then look the same way again. Properly, easily carried out, the "strain" is eliminated by the conscious expectation that the rays of light, not being interfered with by the acquired bad habit, contact the retina in a normal reception, and the image is perceived.
More than many times I have watched patients succeed during the first hour, in reading two, three and even four lines on the Snellen card, that at first they could not de, cipher.
There are details in this practice, and perhaps the most important is the factor designated as central fixation, which is the same in optics as in any other mental procedure.
Seeing consists of paying attention. Normally we see an object because the visual center pays attention to it. Confining the attention to a tiny spot is easier. It gets a sharper image, and it moves instantly to another. One imitates by likewise regarding a tiny spot, and then closing the eyes. A racing horse blinks, closes his eyes for a flash-otherwise he would "stare". To get advantage from this practice, one must do it with these ideas in mind. Remember that when we read a page o£ letters, we must have seen every spot on every letter of every word on the page-how else could we know what we have read? We must realize that we had to see every little spot.
Suppose one does not see at ten feet the line expected to be seen at fifty feet. A practice which generally helps very much to relieve the strain is to sit so close to the card that those letters appear very clear. Beginning with the first character on the fifty foot line, one pays attention to one small spot for just a moment. While the eyes are then closed for a moment, one keeps the mind intent by thinking of the letter. This procedure is repeated, on the same letter, say ten or even fifteen times. One after another, each letter on four or five lines is considered in the same way. Carefully reasoned out as explained, and consistently carried out, during a period of say thirty minutes or more, the habitual mental urge is automatically minimized, and many times so much diminished, even perhaps permanently in a degree, that one can go further, and perhaps still further from the letters, until reading them clearly six, or eight, and even ten feet away. Those who have experienced this improvement in thirty or forty minutes, have a new conviction, which becomes an expectation, and they are well started on the trail.
There is another type, of which Johnnie, age fourteen, is an example, that cannot figure out central fixation. Johnnie came to my office alone. Weeks after he had regained normal vision, in six lessons, I learned that a patient of mine bad convinced his mother he need not put on glasses for life. She had a mind independent enough to make a decision, and she phoned me, and deliberately sent him alone, that she might watch the experiment without bossing it.
Before school dosed, Johnnie had good normal vision. When he returned to school, six weeks before I saw him, it was quite poor. From the teacher, he bounced to the nurse. She knew only what she was told, and that spelled glasses pronto. "Come back in a week." That week made his vision more strained, of course. When he came to me, he could not read the fifty foot line at ten feet.
I explained that his eyes were just as good actually as last Spring. That the only trouble was his trying harder and harder to see, making things worse and worse, as he admitted. I explained deliberately that I did not want him to see those letters; I wanted him only to look at them the right way. Looking, he did not see, because he was staring.
He was told to close his eyes softly for a moment and keep thinking of a particular letter, which I told him was an 0. Each time he looked and failed to see, he was to close his eyes and think of an 0 and then look again. He was to keep his mind intent, but his only concern was to practice the right way.
Of course he just stared hard at first. Adults do not "stare" as he did; but they have the same habitual urge in their minds, although like Johnnie, they think not.
The next effort is to distract, side-track the mind from the urge which is the obstruction. I told Johnnie some little stories. There was a cat climbed into a barrel. Three women saw it go in. They were sure it did not come out. But when they looked in the barrel, the cat wasn't there! Johnnie wanted to know where the cat went. I had to answer that they did not know.
There was a two hundred pound woman who fell out of a two story window and landed on a man's derby hat. The man argued that she ought to pay for the hat; she argued that he had no business to be there. By that time, Johnnie had forgotten about his eyes. Softly I slid him back to the letter. Presently Johnnie looked at me with a thrill, and told me that he had seen all the letters on the line at once. He did not know that he saw each letter separately, one after the other. He looked back at the line, and it was gone again. By reminding him that he had seen those letters on the card with his own eyes, I was gradually able to help him see dearly two more lines of letters.
There is a practice which will be more successful if one has realized the factors involved in what has preceded. Sitting close to a black letter 0, one blinks at this softly, confining the attention to one small spot on the white surface inside the 0. While blinking, one makes believe that the white space inside of the O is whiter than the white outside of the 0. Then closing the eyes for a short period, one watches expectantly to see if some after image appears while the eyes are closed. When this practice is carried out properly, and the mind is dominated by the idea, sooner or later the effect is an after image, when the eyes are closed, of a very black O; and when the eyes are open, the area inside the 0 actually seems to be whiter than the white outside of the O. This involves the mechanism of vision, which is being dominated by the idea, and cooperates with the intent of the mind.
Sometimes I have patients who are quite confused mentally by the simplicity of such practices as I have described. They have been so fully impressed by the current misinformation, that, almost unconsciously, their minds refuse to accept the proposition that their mechanism of vision, which they never heard of before, is not a helpless, sort of foreign part of them, and can be persuaded to act in a normal way.
Some types are willing to believe, and when led carefully, soon have evidence, like Johnnie in thirty minutes, which enables them to gradually forget what they have thought was the plain "truth and nothing but the truth".
Others are combative. Surely, they vaguely wonder, there must be some mysterious ritual, some ceremonious interference from the outside to combat and overcome the rebellious conduct of a pair of eyes which look at simple things and do not see them.
Almost always there is a new mental attitude aroused when they read the story in the first part of my book. It is hardly reasonable to expect them to accept such a new truth simply because Dr. Bates said so. I have opened with the series of practices as above because I have found that commonly it makes a better impression, and secures a prompter response if I present some such unique and unaccustomed procedure. In my own work I have found that Dr. Bates was right in considering a practice with the Snellen test card the most effective technique to secure a recovery to normal vision, and to maintain an increasing improvement.
He directed that a patient should continue a daily, or a frequent use of it, by what he called flashing the card. Plate ing the large letter card at a distance of ten feet or even much more, on a level with the eye, and holding the duplicate in small letters at two feet or less from the eye, the patient is to look from the small to the large letters and back again. That is actual accommodating; and it affords a fine test be. cause one ascertains the success of the effort by being able to note the degree of clearness of the letters under observation. One practicing any technique becomes more and more proficient, and gradually the practice becomes automatic and unconscious.
Dr. Bates proved, by the records, that the placing of a Snellen card in a school room, attracting the attention of the scholars, showed an improvement in vision among the scholars, and even a correction of abnormal vision. This was done in the public schools of New York City, and of other cities. The card was removed from the schools of New York City, by some influence, after it had proved its value during eight consecutive years. It was placed at the request of the Board of Education, after their personal investigation under the direction of Dr. Bates.
It would not be expedient to continue describing other practices which may be of value in the use of the Snellen card. I have even had patients discover some original technique which seemed of special value to them. My endeavor is to have the patient learn the reasons, and carry on. because they "know how".
There is a strange, new public habit which is remarkable as a freak. I am referring to the fad which is being indulged in by those who are wearing colored lenses to protect their eyes from the same sunlight in which they have always lived. Most of them would resent any assumption that their eyes are not normal. Some years ago this passing fashion got to be quite popular. We saw some lenses embellished to show how expensive they were. In two or three years that "new one" wore out. But a few are in evidence off and on, even yet.
The eye specialists condemned the practice, protesting that is deprived the eyes of the sunlight, and led to eyestrain, because objects were not seen as clearly and as easily as without the unnatural light rays.
The eye began, we are told, as a piece of specialized tissue which was responsive to light. Always under the care of the sun, the eye has evolved into a mechanism which is so wonderful that its secrets are still beyond the knowledge of the human race. The sun is to the eye what air is to the lung. The sun, which is such a life-giving necessity to every other part of the human body, is above all an absolute necessity to the eye.
Civilized humans are becoming conscious again of a knowledge which seems to have been lost soon after the days of the Greeks and the Romans. They knew the value of the rays of the sun. Special exposure to the sunlight was a constant custom with them.
Perhaps, to Finsen, more than to anyone else, is due the beginning of the new knowledge of the value of the sun in so many conditions of impaired organic function and specific disease. It was Dr. Bates who directed attention to its very fine value in the care of the eye, and as a help in relieving conditions of eyestrain and dysfunctions.
We know that the men who live out in the open, on the land and on the sea, commonly look into the sun freely. It is natural for them, because it is a natural thing to do in a natural habit of life. Sailors and plainsmen and mountain. rs, Indians and Africans and Eskimos have not yet been informed that the sun is an enemy of their eyes. The little Indian papoose, riding backward on mama's back, generally finds the sun shining right in its eyes when it opens them to see its new world. In the years, I have met over a dozen, right among the common people like myself, who astonished me (that is, the first few) by looking at the sun with the same ease and directness and comfort as they looked at the ground. Those who do that are not freaks. Those who cannot do it. have simply learned-or should we say inheritedbad habits.
One can use the sun on the eyes by simply allowing the rays to strike directly on the softly closed eyelids, for a few minutes at first, and gradually for as much as an hour or longer at a time. This may be done more than once a day. It will soon be found that after a period of exposure with the lids closed, the lids may be opened for an instant, and the eyes allowed to look for a good flash, first into the sky toward the sun, and later on even right into the strong sun. The streak of color seen immediately after the lids are closed is never unpleasant, and the after-effect is an increasing feeling of relaxation, and an improvement in the power of vision.
I early learned (1924), from directions of Dr. Bates, to know the great value of sunning the eyes. Beginning with the softer sun, in the forenoon or late afternoon, and gradually using the noon sun. One must not bend the neck, but assume some relaxed and comfortable position. It may be better to move the head leisurely from side to side. Some prefer to cover the head. Thus the skin gets the rays more kindly than with a motionless exposure. I have, when I bad the opportunity, lain on the grass or the sand, and allowed the direct rays of the sun to fall on my full face; and several times slept that way for some part of an hour. The effect has always been gratifying.
It is worth while, as a demonstration, to test the effect of the sunlight, as an immediate result. Having found the letters that can be seen ten feet from the. Suellen card, or any set of letters, in a well-lighted room, take the card out into the noon sunlight, and test again. One will almost surely find that either the letters will be just as clear at some feet farther from the eyes, or better still, one can see clearly much smaller letters at the same distance from the card.
There is a more specialized use of sunlight recommended by Dr. Bates. It is to concentrate the rays directly on the eyeball. Until well accustomed, that should be done through the closed eyelids. It is better to have a friend hold the glass, but many have learned to use it with their own hand.
Use a small magnifying glass, one or two inches in diameter. Learn on the back of the hand the exact distance, some inches, at which the refracted rays show a bright spot about a quarter of an inch in diameter. If held still, the heat would be severe. But by continuing to move it back and forth slowly, no discomfort is produced. After fully acquainted with its use on the skin of the hand, it can be carefully tried on the closed eyelid. There the back and forth movement must be very carefully continued, on one eye for not more than a half a minute, then on the other eye the same way.
Such practice may be continued for ten minutes, and may be repeated more than once in a day. If these directions are carefully read, and exactly carried out, there will be no unpleasant results. If a glare is felt on and off, perhaps it means that the lens has slipped out from under the lower lid.
Just return it. The practice should not be done at all unless under the necessary conditions here explained.
I have treated many eyes that way. Before using the treatment on others, I practiced it fully on my own eyes It has always been helpful. Later, when thoroughly familiar the glass can be used on the eye with the lid held open. Closed or open, the lens of the eye being treated must be held down under the lower lid. That is done unconsciously, with a little practice, by keeping one eye open while watch ing the other eye in a mirror, thus insuring that the lens is shielded, hidden under the lower lid.
When done exactly as directed, the shadows of the tiny blood-filled vessels in the walls of the eyeball cast the daintiest interesting shadows back on the retina. The terminating fibrils of the smallest last branches are the smallest lines perceived by the conscious mind.
While I use this practice constantly, when the sun is available through my office window, I repeat that it is not a necessary proceeding, and should not be undertaken unless in competent hands under favorable conditions.
Constantly in my office I use with patients two powerful electric lights. I have a three hundred watt and a one thousand watt light, both with clear glass. The three hun dred watt is placed in a reflector, lined with white or alum inum paint. The one thousand watt light has no reflector to intensify it. Almost always the improvement of vision is so apparent to the patient, in a few minutes, that I generally ` use it at the first lesson. Most of my patients are so im. pressed by its effects, that they volunteer to buy an outfit, generally the three hundred watt, and use it at home. I rarely approve of the one thousand watt light for home use, because the three hundred watt is sufficient.
The benefit, I believe, is accomplished by the great stimulation the strong light produces in the mechanism of vision. This is demonstrated, sometimes in a few minutes, by the patients seeing letters not deciphered at the same distance before, and the greater clearness of the images.
The books explain that we interpret color in our conscious minds according to the wave length of the light producing it. Looking at the light, at a distance of two or three feet, the patient at first sees simply the golden glow of the filament. The directions are to blink softly at the light, and confine the attention to one designated spot on the filament. After blinking from ten to twenty times, softly, they are to close the eyes. While the eyes are closed, for the same length of time as spent blinking at the light, they are to keep the mind occupied with the memory of what they saw when blinking at the filament.
This alternate routine is continued, generally for fifteen or twenty minutes. In the course of a few minutes the visual center begins to register pictures not seen at first. With the eyes open, colors begin to appear, one or two, coming and going, separately or simultaneously. Blue or pink or green or crimson. Solid or in pattern. There may be more of a picture seen when the eyes are closed, or more when the eyes are open. In later practices, often several colors are seen, and the image of the filament, with the eyes open or when closed, will assume different shapes, and change colors frequently.
fu the very complicated, and often disputed theories offered for the conduct of the color sense, we are told incidentally that the functioning of the color sense is more or less dependent upon the illumination. My interest here . in the well proven fact that even as the color sense is accentuated and remarkably improved, the function of general vision is also improved in a most gratifying way.
When I explain to patients that swinging the body gently in a half-circle, with the eyes closed, is generally a very effective way to relax, they almost always are surprised at the idea that such a practice will help the eyes to see better.Some find it a great help, and always begin any period of practice with ten or fifteen minutes of swinging.
The first requirement of any successful technique is that the attention be completely occupied with the thought of what is being done. The very act of swinging, when it is correctly performed, involves that specific objective attitude of mind. The tension in the eyes and the mind is relieved because a condition of relaxation is produced in all the muscles of the body.
Standing with the heels well apart, and the toes turned out, and the eyes closed softly, the body is rotated with an easy rhythm in semi-circles from right to left and back from left to right. It must be a soft, even roll, with the idea in mind that all the muscles are as soft as cloth. The position of the feet insures an easy and perfect balance of the body, and the curve in the swing shifts the weight easily from one foot to the other, so that no effort is required to maintain balance. The head and neck work in perfect unison with the body, so that the head may swing only a few inches in each direction, or may swing so far to each side that the face will point fully to the right and then fully to the left, and the body will time its motion to meet the movements of the head.
When the head goes to the right, if the muscles are to remain relaxed, the left heel must be allowed to leave the floor, because the left line from floor to neck will be longer; and when the head turns to the left, the right heel leaves the floor, to match the position of the head. It is a further help to allow the arms to swing around while hanging limply at the sides. There must be a soft feeling in the muscles of the neck, and the head must roll as if limp on the body. The eyes are to take an intimate part in the movement by rolling softly to the outer limits of the orbit in each direction. This free roll of the eyes is easier to acquire if they are kept open at first, until a consciousness is established, and the sensation registered and remembered, so one will know that the eyes are in action and are relaxed.
To secure the full effects of this practice, the whole body must be dominated and co-ordinated by an attitude of mind. This can be accomplished by giving undivided attention to the conduct of all the muscles, including the muscles of the eyes. But it must be an objective attitude. A concern about correctness induces a tension instead of a soft relaxation. A violinist, or an organist, or any expert performer, is not any more concerned with observation of the muscles than the runner or the gymnast. The whole body of those experts is dominated and stimulated and educated by the enthusiasm of the mind. If one is walking leisurely toward a point, and suddenly remembers that the car is due at the corner, there comes to the conscious mind no thought of the feet, but the muscles all change their conduct, and instantly the limbs are propelling the body in a run.
I once saw a picture of an operator showing a cripple with a paralyzed limb how he was to try to move the limb. He demonstrated with his own limb. He was communicating a conception to the mind of the cripple. The perfect unison with which two partners in a waltz move in rhythm, is controlled by the thoughts of each. All very simple. But I have found that most of those who begin to practice a swing for relaxation, are obstructed by their bewilderment of mind, which causes a stiffness of their muscles. I found this reaction in myself and conceived the idea of humming softly, as one dances to music. The melody which suited me best was a few bars o£ the "Merry Widow Waltz" tune. Gratinally, I learned to soften the timbre of my voice until it was almost imperceptible, and I found that this relaxed the vocal cords, so that with a few minutes of practice, L was frequently able to carry a note an octave higher that I could reach when I began.
Swinging with the eyes closed, slowly and in perfect balance, for fifteen or twenty minutes, will develop a feeling of softness, and is found by some to be their best method of relaxing the eyes. It is possible to add to the swinging the very helpful addition of shifting. Facing a corner of the room, with small objects or pictures along each side, blinking the eyes slowly, and looking always straight ahead, the eyes will shift in passing from one object to another. There must be a fixed idea that the mind is not paying attention to the objects as they pass the eyes, but that the eyes are looking softly into the distance. Another method, when there is a long distance outlook from a window, is to look softly at the scenery while swinging and blinking, and let the eyes shift constantly from the different points in view.
There is a method of swaying the head, while seated t comfortably, and blinking the eyes softly. One may hold the first finger of the right hand six inches in front of the face and six inches to the right of the eye. Close the left eye and blink the right eye, and rock the head back and forth, look. ing always straight ahead. After one or two minutes, close the eye and hold the head still. Repeat, alternating, until an after-image appears, of the finger and the hand swinging back and forth in the opposite direction to the rocking of the head. Practice the same way with the left hand and the left eye, the right eye closed. Continue for fifteen or twenty minutes. This sometimes gives a better result if one is facing a window, or sits facing a good light in the evening. Strong contrasts are more impressive on the eyes. A method that has a similar effect, is to look softly ahead, blinking the eyes and holding the head still, while the elbows rest on the body, and the hands, closed except the first finger straight up, are rocked back and forth in front of the face, so that they cross each other and return.
In that procedure, the fingers are shifting across the line of vision, and the effect is to relax the eyes by the passive change of central fixation. The eyes in that procedure are shifting with the moving fingers. One can use any small object the same way, a pen handle or a ring, by passing it across the line of vision rhythmically, while the eyes blink softly and look directly ahead. A helpful practice is to sway the head back and forth across the partitions of a window, especially the small panes of a leaded window, while blinking the eyes. A good test of the success of any of these practices is the appearance of the after-image when the eyes are closed after a few minutes with them open.
It is helpful to remember that swinging or swaying, when the eyes are open, is another way of shifting, that is, moving the central fixation from one spot to another, with an added value in the relaxing effect of the soft swaying movement. There are different techniques which can be practiced, to secure these two effects. One can devise individual efforts. A piece of chain, or rope, or cord, or ribbon, hanging at a given distance, less or more, in front of the eyes, with a background of light, or a background selecteda Snellen Test Card, a picture, a window frame, a white sheet or a black cloth, likewise placed at any given distance back of the hanging cord or what not, or back of a tall thin object placed on a table half way between.
One can place three Snellen Test Cards, three, six and nine feet in front of the eyes, or use home-made cards, say twelve by sixteen inches, and paint on black letters of similar sizes. They should be suspended on upright strips or hung on strings stretched across the room, and placed so that they almost overlap. Stand, or sit, so that when the head is swayed with slow rhythm back and forth, the eyes softly blinking, the cards will seem to overlap and to show the clear between them, according to the direction the head moves in. Pick the same letter on each of the cards, and watch for it, and ignore the other letters. That will facilitate the apparent movements of the letters in the direction op posits to the way the head is moving. Close the eyes in periods, but continue to sway, and watch for the letters to appear as after-images. Practice with either eye closed, or with both open. Practice while sitting, and using a pen or pencil with a book for a background, holding it still while the head moves, or moving it while the head is still. What. ever the details of these practices involving swinging or swaying, the effort is to have the object under observation move back and forth across the line of vision so that it is alternately seen and not seen, as it goes in a direction toward the right and then back toward the left and out of sight. If, with the eyes closed, an after-image is not produced, there is some fault in the technique.
This is a practice in which the bands are used to softly cover the eyes. The cheek bones rest on the heels of the hands, and the fingers cross above the eyes, with the eyes resting softly on the palms.The hands shutout all light. It is difficult to carry out this practice with a satisfactory result unless the elbows rest on a table in such a manner that all the muscles of the body are relaxed. The further effect is that such a deliberate and unusual gesture impresses the mind. To complete the procedure it is necessary to engage the mind continuously in some specific line of thought and not let it wander as it usually does.
Even with all the light shut out, there will be the ap. pearance of lights and colors and fragments, which seem to be seen by the eyes. These are illusions. They are produced in the visual center of the brain itself. To put it more simply, it is just imagination, since there is no light admitted to the eyes. Sometimes these appearances are persistent. Occasionally they are quite vivid. In other cases they are not pronounced and they may fade promptly. When there is no least stimulation of the optic nerve by light rays, the visual center of the brain should show no reaction, and there should be a perfect blackness.
When there is no tension in the mind, the field will be black. One can command the mind by keeping it attentive to the field that appears, and expecting the blackness to come, which is proof that the mind is in a normal condition of relaxation. If one has an urge to eliminate the fragments in the field, the effect is to prevent relaxation. But there must be a firm, earnest confidence, and a specific desire which keeps the mind intent.
The more habitual tension there is in the mechanism of vision, the more intense will be the illusions which persist. ' When there is some unusual disturbance of the mind or body at the moment, there is even more difficulty in securing the required relaxation. It is true, however, that some persons, even with extreme abnormal conditions of vision, secure a most satisfactory relaxation quite easily. That is because they occupy the mind so completely with the practice they are carrying out, that all other thoughts are thus prevented from intruding and distracting. Want of success is always caused by the fixed habits of the mind. Consciously or unconsciously the patient is allowing an intrusion of thoughts to distract the attention. This distraction is a direct laterference. If the mind is earnest enough in purpose, it will become conscious of the interference and brush it aside.
One sees a perfect black only when the mind is completely at rest. The more at rest the mind is, the deeper the black. When one sees an area of black in the field, it is likely to increase. With proper technique one may improve the blackness until the field is completely black. There may be floating spots of pure black. There may be dull gray areas. There may appear different colors instead of black-just the fancy of mind. If one continues to see red, or yellow, or other colors sharply marked, it is better to be satisfied with these colors as they come, instead of combating that picture, and to keep the mind occupied watching the different colors. A good plan is to imagine in the field a small patch of white, such as a piece of white paper. If such a white patch is seen, when secured intentionally, the background- of the field will probably show quite black. Proceeding further, one may imagine in the white spot a black letter, for instance an 0. When one can imagine a black letter in a white spot already imagined, the letter will be blacker than the background on which one imagines the white spot.
When there is special difficulty in clearing the field which is seen when the eyes are covered, some other practice will probably be helpful in attaining the degree of relaxation necessary in order to see a black field. For instance, one may use the memory of a black object to assist. Blink softly at some familiar black object placed where the color is most pronounced, then close the eyes and watch for the image to appear. By looking at the object for some minutes with the eyes closed, alternately, sooner or later the object will ap. pear clearly when the eyes are closed. This is called an after. image. The successful outcome may take quite a while, or it may develop promptly; the result depends upon the exactness with which the mind carries on the process. When the object is seen, black and clear, with the eyes closed, one may proceed to palm as directed above, and the field will prob. ably appear black.
There are two factors operating such a practice. There is the impression of black on the mind, and the relaxation which has been secured by the game one has played with the black spot. It will hasten the success if one uses what is called central fixation, and imagines one spot on the black object to be blacker than the rest of the surface, ignoring with the mind the remainder of the object. One can practice changing the spot on the object to another area, or even changing the contemplation from one black object to another black object. To change is sometimes a relief from monotony; but the longer one practices with the same spot, or the same object, without losing an alert interest, the more vivid the reaction, that is, the more perfect the after-image. This is true of any practice in this method. To continue the technique longer, if it is properly carried out, will develop a progressive increase in the degree of the result.
This technique, or practice, called palming, is one of the clearest and most impressive illustrations of the mechanism and the value of this method for relieving the abnormal condition commonly called eyestrain. One must realize that palming consists essentially of an attitude of mind, and that the details of that procedure are simply expedients which facilitate the shutting out of distractions from the mind.
it becomes more than a negative procedure as soon as .as calls upon the mind to imagine, or make believe, the various conceptions which can be used in the practice. It is a very- simple idea to impress upon the mind that one wants to see a small white patch. In the technique of psychologists, it is a common practice to persuade a patient to develop in a muscle a sensation of soft languor, and then to have a feeling that the arm is so heavy it cannot be lifted. It is just as easy to have the same mind order the vision center to picture a patch of white, and then to make believe that there is a black 0 on the white spot. A designer of dresses, n architect, an artist, a leader in any field, is seeing things in his mind just as literally, as a common habit.
A patient whose eyes were almost useless because of three different types of defects in vision, was distressed by the prospect of inability to retain his position. The develop. ing cataracts were the culminating interference with his vision. He had been told there could be no relief until they were what is called "ripe" enough to be removed, and his lenses replaced by glass lenses. Having been instructed how to palm, he practiced it intensively for many hours with little interruption. His earnestness and persistence so influenced the condition of his mind that his sight became a very good normal in twenty-four hours, and continued normal. This case, reported by Dr. Bates, was unusual, but I can report many cases of improvement that are equivalent. The commonest difficulty is the want of a vivid conception of the simple mechanism of the process involved, and the next in order, perhaps, is a lack of the fine determination that constrained that man to keep on demanding success, hour after hour, until his courage and patience were rewarded.
The practice of palming was designed by Dr. Bates as an expedient which is simple and easily carried out, and has a direct effect on the vision center in the brain. He believed it to be, perhaps, the most effective of all the techniques he suggested. I have found that even children can understand what is necessary to do, and they often have fine success in seeing a very black field when their eyes are closed. Dr. Bates even suggested that the measure and the degree of the blackness which is imagined when the eyes are closed may be used as a test of the degree of relaxation secured.
When a sufficient degree of relaxation has been secured, it will be found that the eyesight has been improved accordingly. There may be flashes o£ clear vision which are replaced by the same old want of sight, or there may be a progressive improvement in the conduct of the eyes. I have personally experienced some fine thrills when lines of letters have appeared with a vivid clearness that was startling. Others have reported being astonished by the same revelations of power in their eyes, which they could not have imagined. Letters and words appeared blacker than the ink, and they stood out with a vividness never realized before.
There is nothing unreal or unnatural or miraculous in such an experience. It is simply the result of interesting the active and sympathetic attention and co-operation of that part of the brain which has charge of the mechanism of vision. There can be no doubt that millions have a constant power and vividness of eyesight that is unknown to most of us. This is true of the savage, and the plainsman, and the man of the sea, who see plainly what most of us cannot see at all. The same is true of the artist who reads the lines of the face and the form and the color and beauty of the picture which his sight enables him to reproduce so the rest of us can be helped to imagine something of that which, to him, is an open book.
In the practice of palming, several factors serve to assist the endeavor to secure a special condition of mind. We speak of the condition as a relaxation. It is, however, a positive mental attitude. But it must be impersonal and objective-some pleasant contemplation which enlists the interested attention so completely that one forgets self entirely and becomes absorbed in the subject. This unusual gesture facilitates, as well as the darkness; but the paramount element is the complete domination of the mind by the idea in charge.
Each mind finds its own natural line of thought, and some will try very different imaginary pictures. Since the vital element in the techniques is the degree of exclusive attention which is given to the specific idea that is to occupy the mind, it is imperative that no other thought be allowed to merge into the process. It is easy to think that one is giving complete and undivided attention, when actually the, mind is only half-heartedly in its effort, and the greater part of the opportunity is lost.
Suppose we undertake to make believe we area winging in a hammock. I have questioned some who agreed to that expedient, and found they could not tell a detail of the proceeding. They could answer only that they just made believe they were swinging in a hammock. Those who really do it, can describe the hammock, the short rope that held it to the house at one end and the long rope that held it to the tree some feet away. They can describe the pillow, and the cord they pulled on to keep up the slow swinging which produced the soft drowsiness that was so restful. I have even been told how they climbed into the hammock, and how they later woke up and were amused to find that they had fallen asleep.
Suppose we imagine, make believe, we are going to drift down the stream in a canoe. Let us begin at the float by looking the canoe over and deciding just how we will sit. Let us then carry out the proceeding by stepping carefully into the canoe, with the same deliberate care one should always use. No one familiar with the conduct of a canoe would share the close attention necessary to every move, with any other thought. I have seen a few incidents where even one familiar with the requirements of balance and movement has failed to give the attention the canoe de. mands, and has demonstrated his carlessness by a spill.
Now let u recline quietly and float lightly down the stream. If the mind forgets the canoe, and wanders to some other subject, at that moment it stops carrying out instructions. The conscious part of the mind, I mean, stops obeying instructions and allows itself to be misled; and right then it forfeits the advantage of having the subconscious part of the mind help in the proceeding, instead of hindering, as it commonly does. But if one watches the water, and the shore, and the sky, one keeps the mind intent and active on the side of the endeavor. One imagines the details of the scenery, observing specifically a house, a boat, a rock, a tree, the hill, the sky, the turn in the stream, the opposite end of the canoe. If one answers that it is not possible to do this, I know that one has not really tried. One has not held the idea. One has not been earnest enough in purpose. One has not learned what his own mind will do for him, even in his first efforts. If the feeling is strong enough to persist continuously for thirty minutes, with a quiet determination, the subconscious part of the mind will become interested in the new adventure, and will reveal to the adventurer something of its power. I have explored a little into that new country myself, and others who went further and found more, have confided in me. As long as one keeps the conscious mind occupied with any impersonal, objective idea, the unconscious mind is at the command of the purpose implied in the idea.
It is a great help to remember the way a little girl plays alone with her dolls. As well as she knows that it is all make-believe, her conversation proves how perfectly the autosuggestion works. Her mind is not hampered with confirmed mental habits. It is simple and direct. With a strong, primitive impulse she gives her whole mind to the idea, and no hampering doubts or reminders interfere with what she is doing. That is the subtle meaning in the sentence: "Unless ye come as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." The cures I have seen occur in a few minutes have all been accomplished by a profound and positive conviction acting on the control center in the mind.
It is necessary to forget the eyes entirely, or to think of them objectively, as one thinks, for instance, of a sprained ankle, or a cut finger. There are no mental reservations with those. We think of them as we would of some other person's cut finger, or somebody else's sprained ankle -just do this or do that with it, as one does this or does that with any other predicament.
There are many different lines of thought with which one can interest the mind in an endeavor to secure an abstract condition of mental relaxation. Each mind has its own predispositions and aptitudes. As illustrations, the following practices may encourage original ideas better suited, perhaps, to individual students.
While palming, imagine the soft rolls of water, lapping the sand on the seashore. When the water is seen, picture a large rubber ball, black or red, bobbing on the rippling rolls. Always in motion, the ball will slowly recede from the shore. As you see it in your mind, it must recede farther and grow smaller, until finally it is lost in the hollows of the swe11s, and you do not see it any more. If the mind is given with feeling to this interesting experiment, the ball will seem very real, and all other thoughts will be excluded from the field.
Imagine a dog romping and swerving on a large lawn. See him stand, with head up, facing you, asking you what you think of his speed and grace. Make believe a fly is crawling over a large pane of glass in front of you, reaching a corner and starting over again to find a path with no obstruction. Picture a cat racing up a tree trunk to a low limb, and standing there with back and tail and hair raised, daring the dog to come up and see which eye she will put her claws into. Look from the cat to the fool dog, trying to stand on his hind legs, and yelping "coward" at the cat for not staying on the ground, even if he is four times as big as she is.
If any of these suggested techniques, practices, efforts of the imagination, are to be of value, they must be carried out with a will to win. Beginning with a conscious feeling of soft relaxation in all the muscles, put into them by the will of the mind, the same purpose must pay close attention to each detail in the procedure, and not be satisfied until j some specific success rewards the close devotion and enthusiastic expectation which will be amused if the spirit is right. When one really works that way, the conscious mind is actually demanding, and it will secure, the help of the inner mind. All these simple requests, the ceaseless activity of that inner mind can grant in marvelous fullness, if only the spirit of the worker dominates the mechanism.
Some simple procedures are very helpful, especially if they are practiced frequently and for a sufficient period, and with patience, and with an earnest expectancy.
One may blink at a soft, dull finish piece of black cloth, the size of a large pillow case, hung at a distance of two or three feet. While blinking softly for half a minute, one confines the attention to a point on the surface, then closes the eyes for the same period, and continues to think of that spot. Blinking again, with the attention confined to a different spot, and then closing the eyes, one thinks of the new spot. In twenty or thirty minutes there will come some most interesting after-images. There will probably be a white oblong at first, and there may be some spots seen. Later the surface may be seen black, while the eyes are kept closed and the mind attentive. With the eyes closed that image will fade, and if one waits, it will appear again, not so black, and disappear and appear again, less black; then come gray and faint, and not return, until the blinking is renewed, and the eyes closed expectantly. Black, soft and not shiny, is generally most relaxing, and is a favorite objective with many.
Some find a white pillow case more effective. Practicing the same way, the after-image seen is black at first, in the shape of the pillow case. Later, when more relaxed, the image will come white, fading and recurring as gray, and finally showing again black and faint.
If one changes the practice, and blinks longer, transferring the attention so as to see the four corners, one after another during a full minute, when the eyes are closed the after-image will be white very soon, and the recurring image will hold longer the white.
Another variation is to sew a small period of white cloth on the black cloth, and confine the attention to it while blinking; or to sew a black period of cloth on the white pillow case, and practice with it the same way.
In various practices sometimes inconsistent after. images appear, or even when looking at letters or figures, one will see double, overlapping outlines, or half letters alr nearing while the eyes are open. Or, again, the outlines may be more or less blurred. I think of these hybrid appearances as sideline stuff, which are easiest eliminated by smiling them off, and proceeding expectantly to the result which is correct. Careful attention to directions very soon gives the better results which lead on to success.
There are different kinds, as well as degrees of eye. I strain. Some with good vision find trouble in various ways. For instance, in continuing to read after twenty or thirty minutes, an astigmatism begins to blur the print.
A remedy for that is found in the simple procedure of ignoring the print, and confining the attention to the white paper close under the line. Have the eyes observe the paper from the beginning of the line to the end, then treat the space beneath the next line the same way, and so on down the page, and to the next page, as in reading. Continue this practice the first evening for ten minutes. Add a few in. utes each night, observing directions consistently. It has not failed to cure that specific tension in the several cases I have seen.
Related perhaps most closely to any difficulty in reading is the technique with a very fine white line, imagined, made believe, to be close underneath a line of print.
Clipping some heavy small type, suppose a short insert advertisement in a magazine, paste it in the middle of an oblong white card, say five by eight inches, across the short diameter. Blink softly at some line in the middle of the set of lines. While blinking, and looking, and blinking, make be, lieve, hold the idea that there is, close under that line of print, a line as fine as a hair, and whiter than the rest of the card. After half or a whole minute, close the eyes for the same period. While they are closed, keep thinking of the imaginary white line. Sooner or later, either first under the print, or first when the eyes are closed, as an after-image, the vivid white line will appear. This is n expedient which secures the co-operation of the imagination acting through the mechanism of vision. It is one of those practices which correct and improve the vision in whatever experience the eyesight is occpfed with.
This technique is a practice designed to develop a custom which will secure a specific help whenever one finds difficulty in getting a sharp image of any object.
The idea is that one will rely on actually seeing a period, and that expedient will secure a clear image of the object that has not been clear.
Doctor Bates said that "To see a period is the optimum of relaxation." To realize the import of that, one must remember that one sees the period in the visual center. This involves relaxation, meaning normal conduct of the mechanism. The result is the "optimum" because it is an endeavor never tried before.
A first reaction is that trying to see a period would add to the difficulty rather than relieve it. But Dr. Bates explains that seeing a period, in that way, does not relax. One will not see the period unless already relaxed. In short, one must practice and learn to see the period, without any concern being aroused, just as one finds an answer, in the mind ready, in response to some simple question, as for instance, "What will I do now, this or that?".
The way I learned this technique was to put a large period in the middle of a good sized white card, and learn from practicing to get a bold after-image of the period. Progressing with the practice, I learned to close my eyes and see the period, not after looking at it, but as a memory, just as one can recall from memory, other objects.
One cannot understand the import of this proceeding at once. It involves a conception of the higher functions of the mind at work. But one can readily realize that it is a mental reaction, in response to a specific desire. Accepting this reason as the truth, one will surely achieve success. I know it from experience, and from the enthusiasm of others who have made it work. It is a most helpful practice.
Dr. Bates says not to fill the atmosphere with periods. That means to be concise in your expecattions. He had a small room with a red linoleum, and the patient was to select a spot which gradually he could imagine to be redder in contrast. It might be easier to imagine a difference in redness that in blackness.
In my own endeavor, after securing an after-image of I a period, I made believe that the period, while l was looking at it, moved from side to side, back and forth, by the diameter of itself. Dr. Bates explains that the normal eye moves continuously back and forth just that much. Otherwise, not moving, there would be a constant specific tension. The visual center ignores, in its adjustment, the effect such a back and forth movement would produce, if not autom otically ignored.
Seeing a period, as in this practice, when the period is only in the imagination, is simply a technique. But it is a great little helper when one has accomplished what Dr. Bates has directed.
It seems timely to repeat a few words about this most important element of the practices prescribed. One should constantly recall that seeing is attention, because seeing actually constitutes attention, because when we pay attention, we see.
Supplementing the specific detailed directions involved ith the Suellen card and other practices, it is worth while to devote periods to just paying attention. Thus we see one spot after another, deliberately and alertly. Without any intention of seeing, the practice is to involve the interest, may we even say a certain degree of discipline of the visual center. I do not say of the eyes, because the eyes are forgotten. The measure of discipline and of control involves the mind itself. It is the mind which is used as long as we remain attentive to whatever we are designating.
Such periods may often be found, in a room, or when walking for just that purpose, even for perhaps half an hour. Simple as it may seem, this is fundamental. Those who have tried it earnestly have found it a great help.
Attention is a factor in human life which we began to make use of when we started to live. If one ponders the history of what Mark Twain, a thinker, called "The Damn Human Race," it is obvious that only a very few have made in their lives more than a very little use of it.
How many great men have neglected entirely to realise that they have failed to pay attention to the most important factor in the mighty problem it was their mission to solve?
Note the attention of an infant-learning every minute. Certainly each has an endowment that is different. But as one watches the procession, the "big shots" and the "man on the street," how often it is evident that their contrasting success was due only to the deliberate thought that marked the distinguishing difference in the quality or the conduct of the individual who left the crowd behind.
My concern here is to impress on the seeker for success in the practices of the method of Dr. Bates, the value of attention. This means for us the specific exactness with which we examine and differentiate the factors in the mechanism involved, our own conscious reactions, and the evidence of that progressive improvement which is the result that we are working for.
Often a patient who has succeeded in preceiving finally some letters on the Suellen card, or on a sign from the window, generally after practicing with me for twenty or thirty minutes, forgets on the next office visit that he saw those letters the last time, and we must start again.
I have impressed a beginner to pay earnest attention to every item seen with eyes blinking softly twenty or thirty time at a 300-watt clear glass bulb inside a reflector, or at a 1000-watt light. Then to pay close attention to any vision at all while the eyes are closed for the same period of time. Often enough, when I question after ten or fifteen minutes of such practice, about the details registered, the first answers are almost empty. Gradually, the patient may recollect, under persistent questioning, that the filament did ap. pear to change its shape, and did have one, yes, finally even three or more different colors, as the blinking continued. Then, almost surprised, the memory prompts the answer that when the eyes were closed there were a large number of colors seen, some solid shapes, or the filament, changing color, and even several filaments of a much smaller size. Such reactions illustrate some want of the necessary attention.
Only a little deliberate thought is required to realize that memory is a most important part of the mechanism of vision. We know that constantly it is our memory of objects, human faces and every other thing, which enables us to identify them. Such an obvious truth, however, is constantly ignored by us, INASMUCH as we do not think of it, much less take care to use the advantage of it in our daily lives.
Memory is born of experience. The value of an experience depends on the degree of attention we may pay at the moment. How often our conception of an incident involves the picture which is conveyed to the mind by the mechanism of vision. It happens constantly that our interpretation of an image is determined by the judgment of the memory; and that judgment is dependent upon previous attention during the reception of other images. It is just as true that the care with which we observe an image is the measure of the stimulation imparted to the mind. How much more the mind learns from the mechanism of vision than from any other one of our faculties.
Considering the story in the previous chapters, I feel that this reminder of the necessity, and the value of our memory, is the best suggestion I can offer to the beginner. Give a most earnest attention to the attention you use when you are asking something of the outside contact with the world-your eyes. Such a deliberate careful attention will register a more correct image, will store up a more permanent memory, and will develop the habit of using the mechanism of vision correctly, allowing that function to conduct itself automatically without the intervention of an abnormal strain.
In the medical dictionary memory is defined as: That mental faculty by which sensations, impressions, and ideas are recalled. Has anyone added to that? Going higher, can anyone suggest how the changes, record of alterations in the brain cells, might perhaps be explained; and more of it, can anyone tell us how the unknown changes are retained, notwithstanding the renewal of the cell tissue by the constant repair. It is not necessary to know those facts. It will be a very profitable indoor sport, however, for a beginner, undertaking the practices of the method of Dr. Bates from the reading of this book, to ponder carefully what is written here.
If one will please read again, deliberately, the preceding paragraph, it will help in the realization of what Dr. Bates tries to impress in the many pages he spends on the memory itself.. The different ways one can develop, and can be helped to get value out of the practices he directs, by building up and using constantly the memory.
Although he majors on black, he remembers that some do better with another color, or even changing colors. Always the endeavor is to remember, as perfectly as possible, some familiar object in its color which is being used to practice on. A dress, a shoe, a hat, a book, a colored wall, even some colored object or surface never seen. He emphasizes that the more perfectly one does REMEMBER, the more perfectly one is relaxed, that is, without abnormal tension. To be successful one must be without any urge. One must EXPECT of the memory. Its function is to recall. How often it does recall, vividly, objects or incidents, perhaps in a past which to the memory never has ceased to exist.
Constantly our registered vision is a procession of more or less attention to routine incidents. Memory is functioning automatically; but we are drifting with the tide. How many have ever considered the thoughts here involved. To obtain value from our memory, we must study the subject, and then practice the method.
Imagination is allied with memory. It depends very much on memory. Memory depends on experience. Experience depends on attention, as it may have been used in the past. But imagination is not static. It is creative. It can build, however, only with the power it has. Therefore imagination depends on previous experience, previous attention. I am discussing this reminder only as it concerns the practices used in this method.
In the accumulated conceptions of the mind there is power to fulfill any reaction that is required. The figured imagination here required is an aggressive attitude of mind. With that attitude there follows what I call an expectancy. That must be built on two factors, conviction and determination. Conviction will come only after one has considered the evidence presented. Determination must be founded on a realization of the value which is contained in the simple practice that is engaging the attention of the mind.
These are simple statements, and their meaning easily understood. It is my experience, nevertheless, that a few questions from me to the patient demonstrate to most of them how incorrectly they are attempting to carry out the unaccustomed mental procedure which has been described in the instructions with deliberate care. Emile Coue, a miracle man who proved his claims to many thousands during twenty-five years, reminds us that the will is only the engine, and that the imagination, which he tells us is finally just the idea, is the engineer. Suppose we consider as our model in this undertaking the engineer whose constant responsibility requires a deliberate and unremitting memory and imagination, concerning and involving not only the smallest detail of his mechanical commander of life and death, but also the immutable laws of the signals and the switches of the track which tell him, and dominate his conduct, which according to the mechanism of his mind, will be right or wrong.
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