Use Your Own Eyes
by William B. MacCracken, M. D. Use Your Own Eyes was first published in 1937.
PICTURES sometimes help more than words to make clear a new and strange subject. The illustrations that follow are chosen because they are representative of different types of cases.
A. P., 15 years old, suffered an attack from poison oak which swelled his face so that both eyes were closed for some days. When the swelling disappeared, and his eyes opened, there was a dense, white opacity filling entirely the lens of the right eye. Four months later his parents brought him to me. His fancily physician had treated him for several weeks, and then referred him to an eye specialist. Four months of treatment, with drops in the eye and a bandage over it, had made no apparent improvement in the condition.
I was asked to remove the bandage and look at the eye, and say if I could cure it. Having explained that I could not do that while the patient was under the care of another physician, I suggested that they might have some special ophthalmologist give them an expert opinion on the unusual case, and then, if they were not encouraged by his conclusions, they might return and let me endeavor to relieve the condition by treatment with the Bates method. They did consult two eye specialists in San Francisco. Both doctors reported that no treatment would help the lens; and their only suggestion was to have it removed by operation.
Thereupon, we began at once to treat the cataract. It was October, and Arthur had not returned to school, so he had the entire day to practice. He was encouraged into an active mental campaign of his own, instead of a helpless, passive state of mind. He was given a Snellen Letter Test Chart with instructions to spend time every day blinking softly at the different letters in accordance with the practice described. He was to lie quietly with the strong sun shining directly on his closed eyelids. He was told how to swing softly in a hammock; how to lie with closed eyes and listen to soft music. He was urged to have always in his mind a confidence that his eye would return to normal, but not to think of his eye. He was to occupy his mind with the techniques he was practicing, and forget himself, just as a violinist loses thought of himself when he gives his mind to his practice. No doubt his own work had much to do with his success. But it was obvious that the greatest help in his case was the sun. The first day he could look directly into the sun and did not even see light. I began at once to use a convex sun glass on the white of his eye. He learned quickly how to protect the lens by covering it with the lower lid. I focused the glass so it showed a small round spot on the white of the eye, and passed it rapidly back and forth for perhaps half a minute at a time. He then closed that eye while I used the same technique on his normal eye. This treatment with the glass I continued for several minutes each day. In a very few days he could not look into the sun at all because the opacity was rapidly becoming less dense. It not only lost the dense appearance, but also began to show spots on the margins of the lens where the opacity had disappeared entirely and the normal lens was plainly seen.
In three weeks, three-quarters of the lens was clear. The quarter which then remained became quite a study. It varied in density, it had a ragged edge, and it would always disappear entirely when treated with the sun glass—that never failed. It might return in five minutes, or it might not return for a much longer period. But there was another phenomenon which, to me, was even more remarkable. His family knew that often, when he awakened, there was no remnant of the cataract visible. It might be absent for half an hour or longer. But any unusual incident, or least excitement—for instance, the refusal of a permission, an undesirable errand, teasing by his younger sister—would flash it back. We had begun treatment in October. Arthur returned to school in January. There was only a small trace of the cataract left then, which could not be seen without a close inspection. For weeks he had been able to see as well with that eye as with the other. The remnant gradually disappeared entirely. Over six years have passed, now, and the lens is normal.
When I asked a friend of mine, who is an ophthalmologist, for a personal comment on this case, he replied that cataracts do clear up, without treatment, and more especially in children. Because such is an established fact, it seems to me quite reasonable, also, to expect cataracts to clear up under some method of suitable treatment. There can be no reasonable doubt that the use of the sun glass cured the cataract in Arthur's eye.
After four months under treatment without any change, the opacity in Arthur's eye began immediately to show an improvement under the method I used. It was not a mere coincidence. There was no bandage over his eye, as there had been before, and his family watched the progress daily. The consistent temporary disappearance of the lingering remnant of the opacity, whenever I used the concentrated sunlight, and its frequent temporary disappearance during the night, sustained the claim of Dr. Bates that cataracts can be caused by a mental reaction upon the muscles of the eye. The ultimate and permanent disappearance of the opacity was consequent upon the complete relief of the mind from such an unconscious tension. The tension itself was produced by the toxemia developed during the invasion of the system by the poison oak.
Dr. Bates described a demonstration, which he suggested could be carried out as well by any other research worker. He explained that if the eye of a freshly killed steer is held softly between the fingers the clearness of the lens can be seen at a distance of twenty feet. If the eyeball is compressed firmly between the fingers, an opacity will be plainly apparent. The lens will be clear, or opaque, accordingly as the pressure is released or applied.
Personally, I have had the same success in enabling other patients to secure great improvement in vision when their sight has been very much impaired by cataracts. But this case of a young boy was quite unique. It was obviously caused by an attack of poison oak. It showed an immediate change. The remnant would disappear completely, and stay away for half an hour or for a few minutes, and finally stayed away—for over six years now. It must not be forgotten, however, that there are authentic records of cataracts which have disappeared spontaneously.
V. R., 18 years old, had been troubled for several months with a distressing condition technically known as nystagmus. Her eyes rocked back and forth horizontally, in unison, rapidly and continuously. Her vision was poor. There was no pain, but there was a depressing, general nervous condition. Glasses had been prescribed for her by a well-known eye specialist in San Francisco months before she came to me, but no other suggestion had been offered by him. When the glasses secured no improvement, he protested that at least they freed her from pain. When reminded that she had never had any pain, he replied that if it were not for the glasses she would have had pain. Their family physician knew of the Bates method, and when the ophthalmologist failed entirely, he referred the case to me.
The causes assigned in the text books for such a condition are constant straining of the eyes, use of the eyes in poor light, disease or poison in the system. The theory offered is that there is a perversion of the center controlling parallel or parallel-rotary motion of the eyes; and there is no lesion of the muscles or the nerves controlling them. There is, however, no unanimity of opinion as to the way in which the perversion is produced. The duration of such a condition is uncertain. It is dependent probably upon the continuance of the cause of excitation. The treatment suggested, therefore, is the cure of any known abnormal condition, and more commonly, the use of some kind of lenses. There was no abnormal condition apparent, except the state of her nervous system.
This girl lived out of town, so it was agreed that her mother would bring her to Berkeley for one week as a trial, to see what improvement could be effected in that time. There was such a marked improvement that the case remained in my care.
My first procedure was to remove the spectacles, with the understanding that they would not be worn again. The treatment consisted of various Bates practices. She was occupied much of the day lying down with closed eyes, listening to suitable radio music, or phonograph records. She lay with her closed eyes directly in the sun, beginning with periods of a few minutes and gradually increasing the time. She was taught how to practice palming, and swinging, and the use of the Snellen Test Chart. It was not easy to change the extremely, abnormal condition of tension in the mind, and the strange habits that had grown on the nerves. But there was a consistent, progressive improvement in her eyes, and her nervous system also relaxed into a very good normal condition.
For many weeks after this patient's eyes had become habitually quiet, and her nervous system was relaxed and apparently normal, the old habit of the eyes would assert itself, frequently without warning. Sometimes the rocking would be mild and slow, and would soon cease. At another time the reaction would be more noticeable. I had opportunities to study her lapses myself, and also heard the comments of some who were familiar with her case, and with the manifestations of the condition. To me, it seemed quite apparent that the outbreak was always a reaction from a tension in the mind; and sometimes a connection was plain between some trivial shock and the immediate recurrence of the abnormal conduct of the eyes.
For instance, one day when she was in my waiting room, another eye patient came in, who had been quite familiar with the course of her recovery. The two had not met for several weeks, and they had a little visit together for, perhaps, twenty minutes. When I saw the second patient alone, after the eye patient had been in my office and left, she gave me quite a clear description of a slight reaction that had come and gone in the eyes of the young woman with nystagmus, bringing on gradually a slight, but apparent, return of the old abnormal conduct of the eyes. The rocking had continued for ten minutes before ceasing.
This second patient reported that when they met, her friend's eyes were quite normal, and she had been received with a cordial greeting, and for a few minutes there was no change. In a short time there came over the first patient an apparent slight constraint, which was recurrent, being noticeable when the second patient was talking and being lost when the young woman was responding.
The second patient, being an old friend of the young woman, was so well acquainted with her affairs that she was able to interest her in personal matters. This relaxed the tension which had come unconsciously into the mind of the young woman, by arousing thoughts that brought pleasant memories and interesting ideas. The mind of the young woman had been dominated for a few minutes by a return of the old habit of mind, aroused by the shock caused by the appearance of the second eye patient. The new habit of the mind was strong enough to overcome the lapse, when it was assisted by the conversation of her friend.
A friend of mine, a physician, discussing this case, countered with the statement that there must have been a predisposition in the mind before it could react in such an abnormal manner to any cause of tension. The reply is, that every mind has its own predispositions. A predisposition is an attitude of mind. It is possible to change an attitude of mind. Most attitudes of mind are unconscious. Generally it does not help much to battle with them. In the statement of this case there was no discussion or reference to the cause of the abnormal condition. The mind was interested in a variety of thoughts, always objective and impersonal and pleasant and interesting, and always appropriately and helpfully opposing the abnormal attitude of mind which caused the strange conduct of the eyes.
If one is inclined to think lightly of this explanation of the mechanism of the onset and the course and the cure of this case, my answer is, that a renowned eye specialist failed to make the least change in the condition, and the method which I used corrected it. Whatever his understanding of the mechanism may have been, he did nothing but impose a pair of lenses, which, after a fair trial, proved worthless. It would be interesting to hear his explanation of the mechanism by which the cure was effected.
A young lady of twenty-two came into my office, for the first time, one day, at four o'clock. Her left eye had been crossed since her earliest knowledge. Her older brother had a crossed right eye; she had never seen him otherwise; and there were three other relations with crossed eyes. About ten years before her visit, a change had occurred, and her left eye became straight, while the right eye, instead, turned out in a marked degree. She was employed in the office of a large store in San Francisco, and is employed there now. She had worn glasses for several years, and could not do her work without them. She had recently secured a new pair of lenses, and though they made the figures clearer, there was a constant feeling of discomfort while she wore them, and her eyes seemed to resent them in various ways—for instance, in looking at objects not quite close up. She could not describe exactly how the change from one eye to the other had taken place—it just happened.
During the two hours she was in my office, I was not with her continuously. Sometimes she sat in another room and read some designated chapter, or explanation by Dr. Bates, or some thing I had written. I consulted her occasionally, or had her look at a 1,000 watt light. At six o'clock I saw that bar eye was straight. The change had occurred while she was alone in the other room for about half an hour. The eye has remained straight during the intervening three years, and she has never worn her glasses since. Her vision is good, both eyes are about even in power, and she has not paid any attention to them since the first few weeks after she came to me for treatment.
There is nothing miraculous about her case. In the standard textbooks on the eye it is reported that a crossed eye may change its position without any outside interference, or that just such a change may take place as occurred with this patient—the crossed eye becoming normal while the normal eye becomes crossed. Eyes may be crossed while open and straight when closed, or vice versa. In the books, just how and why that happens is left to conjecture. Why should it be thought remarkable that an influence can be brought on the mind in a deliberate, reasonable way to secure a result which the mind accomplishes itself, when it so determines, without any order from the conscious mind? That young woman had developed an attitude of mind before I talked to her. A close friend knew of cures effected, and had so impressed her mind that when she came to me there was a perfect confidence, and an actual expectancy, and all that was needed to consummate the change was the specific directions she must carry out.
W. C. S., a boy of 18, had worn glasses for eight years, could not do his high school work without them. With very little practice his glasses were permanently removed in a few weeks. He relaxed by lying with closed eyes and his mind at attention, occupied as continuously as possible with some designated idea, or series of ideas, thus excluding aimless trains of thought. He let the strong sunlight shine on his closed eyelids for an increasing period of time each clear day. He practiced blinking at the Snellen Test Chart, as will be described in a later chapter. During the intervening eight years he has taken his degree at Stanford University, had a scholarship in post graduate work, and for two years has held a position in the research department of a corporation laboratory. His sight is at least as good as the average normal, and he has never thought of wearing glasses since.
A boy came to me for treatment because he had seen the above-mentioned boy for two years with glasses on, and then for one year with them off. This boy was a very different type. I soon demonstrated to him that his eyes could be improved. He was able to see clearly at a distance, objects that could not be seen before, without his spectacles. One day, out in the open sunlight, his sight improved in a half hour, from seeing only the one hundred-foot line at a two-foot distance, to seeing the forty-foot line at a distance of ten feet. He complained, however, that he could not retain this improvement. He reported that when he practiced alone, he was not able to accomplish with his eyes the success he frankly admitted he had whenever he practiced under my supervision. The outcome was that his father refused to pay for my services, claiming that I was not curing the condition. The attitude of his father was a breach of faith, and I resented his statement that I was taking advantage of him, and claiming to be able to accomplish something which it was not possible to do. To my reminder about the cure of the boy that his son had seen daily for a year without glasses, he had only an evasive answer. I determined to see what would happen if I took his father into the small claims court in an effort to collect my fee.
The father appeared, fortified with a letter from an eye specialist who claimed that what I declared could be accomplished was an impossibility. My rejoinder was to submit to the judge seven letters from known, responsible persons, all of whom had been successful in the endeavor to secure good normal vision after having been obliged to wear glasses for years.
Of the writers of those letters, one man had worn glasses on account of nearsightedness for forty-five years. Another, a well-known educator, had worn her glasses for fifteen years, and took them off permanently with very little help. Another well-known teacher had worn glasses for twenty-five years, and like the previous case, began by leaving them off absolutely at once, and was able after three weeks of practice to go without them and without any further practice. The judge knew three of the writers personally, and when he had communicated with them, he concluded that I was warranted in claiming that it was not impossible to secure the improvement I had promised. He decided that my charges should be paid.
My purpose in recounting these two cases is to point out the importance of some effort on the part of the patient. The first boy was interested and faithful in his efforts to carry out the instructions given him. The second boy was the opposite. Just what practicing he did was problematical. His replies to inquiries concerning it were principally excuses. He was not reliable. Having secured his assurance that it was safe for him to go without his glasses generally, even in traffic, I secured also his promise to leave them off on the street. But I saw him more than once on the street with them on. One day when he forgot to take them off before he came into my office, I told him this. He promptly put them into the case, and put the case significantly into his pocket. When he departed it occurred to my nurse to look out of the window and watch him on the street. She saw him take his glasses out and put them on when he left the building. Few persons so deliberately break faith. But I have learned that a number do not give to the endeavor the consistent earnestness which the cause is worth. They are willing to accept a fine normal vision, but they have not a clear and strong conception of the necessity in their minds of an emotion strong enough to dominate their conduct and he an active force.
Mary S., 18 years, a high school girl, came at the close of school. She had been very near-sighted for several years. I saw her five times during seven weeks. There was a fine improvement in her sight from the first lesson. She told me there were several other girls interested, and they would come to me if she was successful. None of them came. Nearly two years later two sisters came to me. The example of Mary had finally impressed them enough to make a try themselves.
They lasted through three lessons. One had worn glasses for some years. The other one had warnings that she would soon need them. The spectacle wearer was a slave to perfect marks, and quickly decided that she would not let a small matter like good eye-sight for life interfere with her ambition to keep her place on the imaginary line in the class. Her sister decided to leave her eyes to their fate—just because her mind never realized the meaning of what she was doing. So they bath have their poor eyes for life—and one has, or had, the "credits". But Mary has fine eyes for life. Worth more to her mind, infinitely, through life, than the foolish, and so often worthless, accumulation of dead marks.
A patient of mine, who had been a graduate nurse for years before she was married, had worn glasses for many years continuously. We relieved her of the spectacles between us, and her eyes have given perfect satisfaction without them for several years now. Without any help from me she taught her husband to discard his glasses, after he had worn them for forty-five years. He had begun to be near-sighted following a severe illness from scarlet fever when he was sixteen years old. His eyes became progressively worse, and for the previous ten years he had been unable to go safely in any traffic without the glasses on, although he could read the smallest type close to his eyes without the lenses. His relief came in a few days, and he did not practice any further care or method with them, taut simply used his eyes freely.
He was a busy man of affairs, with long hours and much work with fine figures, and there was the common concern that most business men were having during the first years of depression, and after one year his eyes faltered again, and he gradually resumed the wearing of artificial lenses. He wore them constantly again for one year. But his mind was never at rest. He could not cease thinking about his eyes. It happened then that we were together at the seashore for one week. He had to relieve his mind of the complex, and I listened for half an hour to a recital of statements which were more or less true, and which he was confusing into arguments against the use of the unaided eye if it had any difficulty in seeing. His principal obsession was the glaring light of the sun. He had never thought of the sun in that way before. He even dragged in accounts of accidents caused by glaring headlights at night.
I refused to argue with him, but secured his promise to spend a few hours daily, during the five days we had left at the shore, in the practice of the simple techniques directed by Dr. Bates. He was an earnest and fair-minded man. From the first hour that he gave himself freely to the purpose of testing again the value of the method, there began a return of his confidence in his eyes. He was like a swimmer in the water again after a lapse of years. Perhaps you have felt that feeling, as I have, and have lost all consciousness of the liquid you were in, and have revelled in the buoyancy of floating on your back, carried by the strong water. In that five days all the power of vision he had lost came back again, and more. It is seven years since those five days, and his vision today is strong and free.
Mrs. W. C., forty-five years, had been afflicted for over a year with a condition known as Iritis. It is a serious inflammation of the eye, which generally diminishes the power of vision, as well as being very painful. She had been under the care of a well-known eye specialist in San Francisco. The condition of her eyes had grown steadily worse, so that when she came to my office—because, to use her own words, he had "let me out"—she was so nearly blind that she could not leave her own rooms without being led. In that disease lenses are of no service.
Besides the customary practices of the Bates method, I used on her eyes a treatment that I have used on other eyes, a careful exposure to ultra violet rays. She practiced a great deal of exposure to the sunlight, generally with her eyes closed. I was able to secure such a fine improvement in the condition that in a few weeks she had very good sight, so that she did not need assistance, and could even read fine print.
She ceased to come to my office, and neglected the other practices which had been of such benefit to her, and was disturbed constantly by serious mental concerns, and this resulted, after a few months, in a return of the symptoms, but in a much milder form. In a few weeks her eyes were normal again. It seemed that the improvement was due to the treatment, because it began at once with the resumption of the same method. She moved to San Francisco, and her eyes were in a perfectly satisfactory condition before she left. I am confident she would have returned for treatment if the symptoms had ever recurred.
Children should have an important place in this chapter, but I will not write about them here, because it is my belief that the salvation of their eyes is so important that I have devoted a chapter to the discussion of what is being done for their eyes, and what is not being done, and what can be done for them.
There are those at the other end of life, also, who have a claim. Some who are getting along very well with the help of glasses, might still be interested, like the fine old gentleman whose case I will now describe. He was eighty-five when his granddaughter told him what she knew about the work I was doing with the Bates method; and especially about a Mrs. Kinley, who came to me when she was eighty-three, with cataracts which hampered her sight so much that she was fast becoming helpless, and spectacles gave her very little assistance. She discarded the glasses at once, and had such fine success with the Bates method that she wrote me more than once, months later, that she could read and write, and could see to do whatever she wanted to, and was quite happy.
The gentleman, Mr. Burns, of Oakland, had worn glasses constantly for forty years. He was near-sighted, and was also troubled with astigmatism. He was getting along well enough, but when he heard of this opportunity he determined to see if he could correct the faults in his eyes. He began in a systematic manner to study the principles of the method, and to carry out instructions for hours every day. It was most interesting to watch him consider deliberately a statement which was new, and then question or comment, and then proceed to carry out the technique. It was his way of working with flowers, and the other interests which occupied his days. He was so absorbed in the mechanism of vision that he was not inhibited at all by a consciousness of his eyes. He very soon discarded the glasses entirely, and relieved himself of the dysfunction which had interfered with his sight for so many years.
This patient lived for two years after the return of normal power to his eyes. He never used his glasses again. His experience was a fine illustration of the control of the mind over the function of vision. His case is a contradiction also, of the theory of presbyopia, which claims that the lens of the eye begins to harden and lose its power in middle life, and even claims that for this reason the eye cannot focus on nearby objects when it is old. Mr. Burns could see small type closeup as well as he could see objects at a distance.
There was nothing remarkable in that. Such strong eyes at eighty and at ninety are in constant evidence. Some of the great artists of history accomplished their finest work when they were over eighty.
The different types of visual dysfunction have been offered as proof of the power of the mind to correct abnormal function in the mechanism of vision. The underlying principle of the method of Dr. Bates is the necessity of securing the alert and interested attention of the mind, when the eyes are not doing their work correctly, and the visual centers are at fault, instead of ignoring the mind and simply giving the eyes a pair of artificial lenses to work with.
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