Use Your Own Eyes
by William B. MacCracken, M. D. Use Your Own Eyes was first published in 1937.
DURING the ten years that I have been using this method, as part of my occupation in the routine of a general practitioner, I have found it the most fascinating part of my work. Generally it is gratifying. Sometimes it is quite disappointing. In a number of cases the results have been thrilling. There is nothing mysterious in the method or the techniques of the system. The reactions, like every other human experience, are determined by the different mental responses.
The principal combat is against the universal impression that the eye is a helpless thing—like a tooth, for instance. Skin can heal, an enflamed joint can become normal again, even a broken bone can unite by its own effort. But who ever heard of a tooth doing anything to get well, once the hard covering has softened and the toothache has registered a call for help? So naturally, when the eye begins to fail, and something must be done—well, who ever heard of doing anything to help the eye itself? Just buy it a pair of windows. No other idea registers in the conscious mind. As a sign of progressive, modernistic enterprise, the atmosphere now is full of warnings to beat the eye to it, and get a pair of windows before anything does go wrong—because naturally one ought to take it for granted that ones eyes, which are all right now, will certainly go bad pretty soon—and, besides, one looks more in the vogue these days with the latest model spectacles on display.
As a result of all this, when someone presents the strange and astounding proposition that it is actually possible for the ailing eye to get well, that is, to recover normal vision once it has faltered at all, the natural reaction, as I have found it, is to wonder how any sensible person could become possessed of such an idea. In other words: "a crank is an expert on a subject we are not interested in." To put it differently, even when the response is cordial enough, one is balked by the well-known human failing called inertia.
If it is possible to convince the patient of the simple truth that the eye, like every other part of the body, can get well—recuperate, recover normal function, get over a bad habit, see just as well as ever or better, under the same kind of treatment as the doctor gives to every other part of the body—beginning with that conviction impressed on the mind, the subject has already made a fine running start.
Next, it is good to develop in the mind a simple and clear idea that vision is a mechanism which consists, in part, of muscles that act on the eye, just like other muscles which control other functions of the body, controlling the heart and the stomach and even the blood vessels. Beyond the muscles is a system of tiny nerves which carry orders to them from the mind. In charge of all is a central control in the brain, which ordinarily acts in a normal manner, but acts sometimes in an abnormal way, just as the central management in any organization may usually act with good judgment, but sometimes acts in a way that creates disorder in the whole system.
With such a foundation, one has an attitude of mind which can realize that it is within one's own power to "comeback" to the old habit of seeing things right, and even to develop a new power of better vision than ever. This understanding helps the patient to think of the mechanism of vision in an objective way. One can lose the mental obstruction which is produced by the consciousness of an eye which is crippled. The attention can become so completely absorbed in the practice of the technique that all self-consciousness will be lost. One sees that best in the children. They forget themselves as completely as they do in playing house, or cops and robbers. When the letters they could not see begin to appear, they just thrill with the pleasure of it. One boy who had been to school some months, but did not know the names of the letters—by the modern system of education—could identify them, as he learned to see them one after another, and in three lessons could name the letters as well as see them! I trust I did not interfere with the process of his education; but we just had to name the letters for him, because he was being retarded with his eyesight by the confusion of trying to prove that he really saw the letters. The D was "Daddy", and the M was "Mama", and the C was "Cat"—but the R and the W and the rest were things he could not name.
Assuming that there is an active interest, it is necessary to guard against an added tension, caused by the concern to accomplish the unaccustomed endeavor. The techniques directed develop a relaxed state of mind and of muscles, when they are carried out correctly. But the patient must learn to practice them as a game. In learning to swim one must first learn to trust the water. I saw a fine swimming teacher start with forty young girls who had never been in the water, and on the third day I saw all but eight of them jump into the nine-foot end of the tank, four at a time, and ply their way across and back without the least fear. They each had a different technique, but they all reached an arm away forward, and grabbed a lot of water, and pushed it back behind them, and just kept on going. The remainder of eight girls could not get their minds off the fact that the water was water. In working with the eyes, one must succeed in distracting the mind from the acquired abnormal habit, by engaging the attention, and impressing the mind at the same time with the necessity for working objectively-that is, thinking only of the details to be attended to. Above all, it must be repeated again and again, so that it influences the mind, that every practice in the method has the primary purpose of developing a relaxed mental condition.
A very effective way to develop a general feeling of restful relaxation is to have the patient practice a specific, habitual daily custom of lying with closed eyes for half an hour, and keeping the mind constantly occupied with specific selected thoughts that are pleasant and impersonal. One may imagine, make believe, that there is a soft and heavy and liquid feeling in the eyes, or in the muscle on the front of the arm, or in the back of the neck. Or if there is a symphony or organ recital or other relaxing program on the radio, one may imagine the performers or the orchestra leader or whatever the picture may be. That should not be a concentration, the better word is an exclusive contemplation. When carried out with care, this procedure produces a soft restfulness of all the muscles, and a feeling of languor in the mind. Unless it is in a dark room, it may be better to cover the eyes to shut out the light.
It is possible to secure some measure of the same feeling by closing the eyes at any time or in any situation. It requires always a complete exclusion of the customary automatic trains of thought—which dominate and interfere. For whatever period the mind is occupied with any chosen picture or series of pictures, the subconscious mind is kept standing at attention; and it will soon become a help, instead of a hindrance, in securing the relaxation that is sought. A young woman, lying on a couch in the dark, with no music, and no one present but her mother and myself, was kept constantly mindful by the soft repetition of the injunction to keep her mind on the muscle on the front of her arm. She was to make believe it had a soft, heavy liquid feeling. In fifteen minutes there was a silence for five minutes, and then she was asked to tell how she felt. She answered: "I feel just like a jellyfish. I don't know how a jellyfish feels, but that is how I feel." Her eyes felt soft, too. There was an improvement that evening in her near-sightedness which encouraged her so much, that in a few days her vision was normal.
It is a very worth while practice to make a habit of commanding a soft, relaxation of the muscles when walking on the street. The softness of the muscles, in ordinary walking, indicates always a relaxation of the mind, and this involves a relaxation of the tension in the eyes. When the mind is relaxed the muscles are relaxed; and when the muscles are relaxed, the mind has been relaxed first. If there is any difficulty in securing a feeling of relaxation in the muscles, it is a good practice to demonstrate on one leg by making believe it feels as though it were a rubber leg filled with water, and has to be swung helplessly in motion. From one limb the same feeling can be passed on to other limbs. These are illustrations of ways in which relaxation can be secured deliberately and specifically. Other expedients will occur to a mind that is interested. Relaxation is an absolute fundamental in this endeavor. The only further essential requirement is that the central control in the mind be interested, and so impressed, that it is constrained to give the necessary impulse to the visual centers in the brain.
All the treatments used in this ingenious system of methods are based on very simple principles. The simpler the directions, the clearer the mechanism is registered by one who is learning about a subject never heard of before. But if the new ideas are to really make any lasting and effective impression on the inner mind, the details that are necessary must be hammered home. The erudite and the ignorant each have inhibitions and inertias. There is a spot to shoot at in an elephant or a rhinoceros. I have sometimes found I lead been aiming at the wrong spot; and even had my game get away, and had to register a lost case, because I had fired with bad judgment at the mental makeup of the patient. It is a unique situation after all, and I am still trying to learn how to estimate what there is in each mind that may be my helper, and what there is that I must battle.
To illustrate, a young woman who had an apparently unconscious aversion to any sunlight treatment, had me puzzled until one day she volunteered the information that the negroes at the equator have cancer because of the hot sun. This is quite untrue, but her idea acted as a serious inhibition nevertheless. A man lust would not try the practice of "swinging", and I found out later, by chance, that he had fallen off a swing when a boy, and went to bed sick for several days. 'The fear of a swing had remained so strong all his life, that he still fears even the word, and connects it even with the soft swinging which is done on the feet.
There are always inhibitions. The customary ones are expected; but the peculiar ones are generally not apparent, and are always more of an obstruction. My training as a physician has taught me that it is difficult, generally, to get an accurate record from a patient. So I ask questions of each eye patient. When the patient, in this procedure, is to be the doctor also, the patient should read the chapters in the book which will teach the mind the questions to ask itself. A deliberate and honest analysis of the existing conception of the subject, as of the past, should be followed by a personal questionnaire on the attitude of the mind, now that the endeavor is about to begin.
Having recorded the above previous record and diagnosis, it is vital for the patient to study carefully the intent and the special details of practice in every specific technique that is undertaken. Commonly, for instance, a patient who is "blinking" at a letter to develop a relaxed condition of the mind, forgets the purpose of the practice, and blinks in such a constrained manner that a new tension is added to the old one; or swings with so much concern that the muscles are hard instead of soft. This will not happen if the patient has read and reread some of the previous chapters, and realized the simple facts under consideration. I am writing this, at great length it may seem, in an effort to anticipate and prevent mistakes I have observed. Working without a teacher, some will fail to remark discrepancies, and come short of, or delay, success.
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