Use Your Own Eyes
by William B. MacCracken, M. D. Use Your Own Eyes was first published in 1937.
IN the different special chapters various techniques have been described. This chapter is intended as a summary, or review. It is first, a reminder that all of the practices are only expedients to secure the relaxation which will not come unless the mind is wholly interested in some objective mental occupation. This very simple explanation is not easy to realize at first. I have seen this difficulty many times in the conduct of patients quite in earnest. They believe they are carrying out the directions perfectly, when actually their mechanical obedience is leaving out the spirit and the mental co-operation without which the visual center will not respond. Much can be accomplished by simply blinking at an ink spot on the thumb nail, with a soft feeling in the muscles, if the mind is completely occupied with that proceeding. In my own beginning, I blinked at the big C on the Snellen Card very earnestly, for as much as an hour, for several days, before I was favored with any after-image. I was conscious of my eyes, and full of questions and expectations. It was only when I finally lost all self-consciousness in the contemplation of a darker spot on the C, which I made believe was there, that the C stayed with me when I closed my eyes, and my mind showed me the most vivid letter I had ever seen. I afterward realized that I had been thinking of statements in Dr. Bates' book, and considering personal questions, when I thought my mind was entirely occupied with the technique I was practicing. There must be a loss of all personal feeling just as one has no self consciousness when one is intensely absorbed in any consideration which is strong enough to keep out of the mind any other thought.
Having chosen a practice which seems attractive, if it is properly carried out, the longer one can continue it without its becoming tiresome, the more one will find that the degree of improvement increases as the time of practice is extended. This is true of every practice. The man Dr. Bates wrote about, who practiced for hours continuously, and only stopped to sleep, was permanently relieved in thirty-six hours of several abnormal conditions of vision, including cataracts in both eyes. If one continues to deliberate thoughtfully upon any proposition, the mind finds itself being assisted by new ideas on the subject. The unconscious part of the mind is joining the endeavor, and giving aid from its storehouse of accumulated impressions. One who blinks long enough, in such an impersonal and objective way, at a small black period underneath the big C, will find the vividness of the after-images increasing and lasting longer in accordance with the time spent on the period.
If the interest in such an endeavor is sufficient to eliminate the consciousness of the eyes themselves, keeping the mind absorbed in the objective procedure of carrying out the practice, an hour spent on any attractive technique will pass unnoticed. A business man of standing came to me because the glasses he had been given did not suit his eyes, and the only encouragement he was offered was the reply that he must be patient until his eyes became accustomed to them. When I asked him how much time he could spare each day for practice, he did not tell me what a busy man he was. He realized that the glasses were not helping him, and was determined to give this entirely different treatment a fair trial. He said he would give an hour before leaving home in the morning, an hour at eleven, another at four in his office, and an hour every evening.
He began by discarding his artificial lenses at once. The attitude of his conscious mind pushed aside things he considered of less importance to him than the helpless condition of his eyes, and he secured a prompt recovery.
There are few who cannot give one or two hours daily to the proper practice of some techniques that seem the most attractive to them. The positive idea of denying some amusement for an evening, and getting up early after a good night's sleep, in order to use that time for the recovery of fine normal vision, of itself creates new reactions in that part of the brain which has charge of the conduct of the eyes. Mental reactions are a dominating influence over the functions of the body. That established realization is a guiding factor today in the treatment of every other functional and organic disorder in the body. Why is it ignored and neglected in the treatment of the faltering functions of the eyes?
The more often an extended period of time is given in exclusive attention to the care of the eyes, the more prompt and more surprising will be the response that the mechanism of vision will give to that attention. We are being told now, from every kind of loud speaker, that our eyes are our most precious possession, and we should take good care of them. That is true. Can anyone imagine what the result would be if the conditions were reversed? Suppose the public was being reminded, from every direction, that when artificial lenses are fitted to the eyes, it rarely happens that the eyes are ever relieved of them. Being reminded, also, that the general experience is a progressive weakening of vision, with the imposition of stronger glasses, and an increasing helplessness of the eyes without the assistance of spectacles. It is being too optimistic to imagine that the public would gradually come to realize that taking good care of the eyes would be to treat them as we are treating the other functions of the body; and that doing nothing to correct the faltering in the mechanism of vision is not taking good care of them?
It is not necessary, however, to give long periods to practice. Even short periods are effective. Many of the cases that I have treated with success have been so occupied that they were obliged to take time out, from their work, in short periods. Personally, I found that an hour in the morning was always possible, and that period made such a lasting impression on my mind, that the subject was constantly recalled to my attention during the day. The mere conscious mindfulness, recurring at intervals, was an indication of an under-current in my visual center which was attentive and interested, and so I was really doing Bates work all day long. It is possible so to be mindful of the endeavor, and even to use the incidents of daily occupation as expedients in the practice of the Bates method.
Children readily grasp the idea of looking at the letters and figures on the black-board in the proper way. They make a game of not trying to see them—as I have shown them how to look at the letters on the Snellen Test Card in my office. They have found that a letter which they could not see at first, suddenly pops into view after they have practiced for a few minutes the technique of looking directly at it for only an instant, and closing their eyes when they do not see it. Sometimes I tell them the letter and have them draw it mentally with the eyes closed. They often see a letter in a few minutes of the alcove practice even when they do not know which letter it is. One boy of seven found letters that way, without being told the letter—in school he had not been taught the names of letters. When he pulled a D out of the atmosphere, he called it "Daddy", because that was the only name he knew for it. So I drew a big M and S and B for him, because he knew Mama and Sister and Boy. Then we taught him the names of the letters on the Snellen Card, just so that we could use them.
Children have practiced that way with the letters on the board, and have blinked at other points in the room—a pupil's ear, a corner of the window pane, a spot on the wall. But above all, they learn quickly, when they are interested, to look softly at everything, never trying to see, and it helps them to do this when they have learned to be conscious of a feeling of soft relaxation in the muscles on the body. They are instructed to practice looking at distant objects when out of doors. It is explained that their eyes are resting when looking at any object in the distance, even better, perhaps, when quite far away, if they just look at it and pay attention to it, but have no idea of trying to distinguish it. They are taught to develop the habit of occupying the mind, when walking on the street or when at leisure indoors, with the practice of looking deliberately from one specific small spot to another and ignoring every other point, and observing each spot for only an instant. They are reminded to blink softly, without any tinned regularity, whenever they think of it, especially when walking on the street. Such habits help to relax the mind and the eyes while they are being practiced. They also serve to sustain an undercurrent of association of ideas which keeps the consciousness of the purpose and the method in mind, more or less constantly.
With adults the same practices can be used, in the office as well as at home. The time on the way to work, and on the way home, can also be used for these practices. The relaxation produced in this way adds to mental efficiency, and is a fine preparation for the work of the day, and the best kind of a rest after the day's work. This is not merely a theory. I could refer to different cases in which exactly those effects were secured. In a case of severe nervous indigestion, a business man used the morning and evening hours in that way and this served to relieve him, for two years now, of a condition uncured during eighteen months while he was under the care of three physicians. Where diet and medicine and hospitalization failed to relieve the subconscious tension which disturbed the stomach function, the use of his own mind on the subject effected a cure. A badly near-sighted girt, who had very little time except on her way to and from work, not only was enabled to discard her spectacles, but improved in general health from a condition of nervous unrest to a quiet, normal, and enthusiastic mental attitude.
Some are impatient about such use of the common incidents of daily life. They feel that only strange and mysterious procedures can be of any value in treating abnormal conditions. In several previous chapters, I have described specific practices that are directed by Dr. Bates, and that I have learned and used myself. I will add more such practices in this chapter. But my own experience has been, that in most canes those specific practices serve only as a beginning of improvement. Like any other mental or physical mechanism, the improvement in vision must be increased and developed, by constant repetition and consciously continuing until it becomes automatic. The suggestions above are offered with this idea in mind. I have found that the patients who carry them out are the ones who succeed; and those who simply interrupt the customary mechanical conduct of the day for an occasional period, and forget the Bates work entirely when they are not actually practicing, secure improvement very slowly, or even lose patience and interest and so fail to succeed.
In the chapters on Palming, The Sun and the Eye, Shifting and Swinging, The Snellen Card, and elsewhere in the book, I have already described specific practices suggested. It may be well to refer again to some of those suggestions. I trust it will not arouse any impatient reaction, on the part of any readers, when I continue to remind them of the purpose and the mechanism involved. In any field of mental effort, repetition is an acknowledged essential of acquisition.
Palming is perhaps the simplest and most effective of the techniques suggested. It rarely gives results at first. How many correct a bad habit at once? The developed misconduct of the visual center is much more inaccessible than the habit of talking when one should listen, or arguing on a subject upon which one is not informed, and such trivial misbehaviors. But how many are cured at once of such a habit when they realize it and decide to desist? Success in such an endeavor depends upon the degree of earnestness in the conscious mind. The proofs demonstrated as the result of Palming generally begin to appear very soon in any earnest effort. But if one will be fair enough to read the chapter twice before undertaking any effort, the first half hour, or hour, of practice will give more satisfying results; and if one will take the trouble to read it again before starting the next several practices with the techniques, that reader will very soon have most gratifying proofs of improved vision, and will develop relaxation, and have a warm appreciation of the labor and gift of Dr. Bates.
The sun is perhaps second in importance. The eye belongs to the sun. It has developed under the kindly benefits of the sun. It would be worthless without the sun. All life depends upon the sun. Why then is it not to be expected that the sun will help the eye, when the eye needs help, since its help is sought by physicians in every other functional or organic abnormal condition of the human system?
Not to repeat what is already written, I feel that it is worth while to remind the reader that plenty of light is like plenty of fresh air. Many must depend most of the time upon artificial light. A number who have discarded their glasses, always read now with a 300-watt light. Some have the idea that such a practice would make it harder to read with a poor light. On the contrary, those who do use the 300-watt light have found that their vision has improved so much that they can see better with poor light than they could before; just as the man who has fresh outdoor air all day, is better prepared to withstand poor air than the man who spends his days in a poorly-ventilated office, and has very little fresh air during his sleep. It is a good practice to blink into a 300-watt light and watch the interesting after-images that come when the eyes are closed for a few seconds after blinking for half a minute. If one will occupy the mind entirely in contemplating deliberately the different tiny spots on the wires in the bulb, and then in considering carefully the varying after-images with an active interest, there will develop an immediate temporary improvement in vision. This is an excellent half-hour practice for general use.
Although there is much discussion now about stronger bulbs, it is difficult to get shades that do not direct the light rays so that one is obliged to sit directly under the lamp in order to get the full valise of the light. When a lamp is placed in the middle of a table, or behind a davenport, with the slant of most shades, the rays of light are directed into so nearly a perpendicular angle, that unless the book is placed on the table, or one sits sidewise close to the back of the davenport, the book will be outside the margin of the shade.
For the purposes of Dr. Bates' work I am in the habit of suggesting that one use a 300-watt light, with a good opaque reflector, so hinged that the rays can be directed, like a spot light, onto the object being observed. This gives a diffused light where it is needed, when it is needed, for the special purpose of the method. The light which is thrown up on the ceiling and reflected, may serve the purpose for which it is intended. In many tests I have demonstrated that the 200-watt ceiling light in my office, which is a clear bulb with a dull white reflector, does not suit my purpose of specific illumination. When a patient tests the sight on a Snellen Card at ten feet, using the office ceiling light, and then makes the same test with my 300-watt lamp, thrown on the card from an opaque reflector, the patient is almost always able to read, for instance, the 30—or the 20-foot line, quite easily, when with the office ceiling light the patient could hardly read the 50-foot line.
The use of the Snellen Test Card has proved to be a very helpful practice for patients of all ages. In the public schools of New York City and other cities, during the years in which the Snellen Card was allowed to hang in the classrooms, the pupils were always interested in it, and their vision was improved, according to periodic tests, and the testimony of teachers. Some of the teachers, by the use of the Snellen Card, discarded their own spectacles. This is according to the published specific testimony of Dr. Bates.
The Snellen Card should always be used according to the established principles of central fixation. The attention must be restricted to selected small spots, as described in detail in this book. The spot being observed must be easy to see, and all tension, or trying to see, must be deliberately eliminated from the practice.
The specific directions given in the chapter on the Snellen card will serve as suggestions for other practices of the same nature, which will occur to the imagination of the patient. It is a worth-while plan to practice with the card every day, even if only to blink as directed at every letter once a day—perhaps half the lines at one time, and the remainder at another sitting.
A patient of mine in Berkeley, a well-known woman, who discarded her own glasses with only a little help from me, talked with a Vassar graduate who went to Dr. Bates because her near-sighted eyes were getting worse. After one hour in his office in New York City, that Vassar girl went out and walked up and down Sixth Avenue for two hours. When she began she could not read one of the signs on the opposite side of the street. At the end of the two hours she was reading all of them. She had what I have learned to think of as an attitude of mind—an abiding confidence had been developed by that one hour of instruction. When I read the book of Dr. Bates I realized the simple, proved truth of his claim. Anything and everything in it confirmed my experience with my own eyes. It was the first reasonable explanation I had found for the variable conduct of my own eyes. My eyes would behave or misbehave regardless of whether or not I was wearing glasses. They had done that for many years. I did not accomplish my own cure in two hours, nor in two weeks. But I had a foundation of absolute confidence, based on experience and demonstrated facts. That young college woman began by wanting her own eyes. She had a responsive mind. She had confidence in herself, She knew that one learns to swim in the water, and learns to dance by dancing, and learns to play a violin by playing it, and she was a woman of action, so she promptly tested out her new discovery, and she won. The technique which cured her high degree of myopia was simply looking at signs which she could not see, one after another, with an attitude of mind which was confident, and determined to succeed, and persisted until the visual center responded to the demand she made upon it.
A patient of mine made a habit of looking for numbers on every house. She would walk half an hour, and not overlook a house. She never made an effort to see a number. That thought which she carried in her mind aroused her visual center, so that very soon she was able to read any number without the least effort. In carrying out that practice, she learned the sensation, mentally, of having her eyes "relaxed at infinity"—just as the shopper is relaxed mentally when she also is "just looking"—and has no least feeling of constraint. If it is possible to look out over. the housetops, that is an especially good opportunity—looking softly at the many distant points in the picture. I have spent half an hour looking and blinking at the evening star, on a clear dark night, and kept my mind on the star by wondering about the power that keeps those light waves flashing through the ether for a period of time that we cannot comprehend.
For nearer work there are many opportunities. A type writer keyboard is often at hand. With a spotlight on it, the eyes behind any opaque reflector, one can select a spot on any letter, and in a short period of alternate blinking and closing the eyes there will appear some interesting after-images. There are highly-colored pictures in magazines, and different colored letters. There are lead pencils and penholders of different colors, plain or with periods made on them with black ink—single periods or rows of periods. There are figures an wall paper, and on picture frames—large frames or small frames. There are the angles or the dots of squares or diamond shapes, of various colors, on linoleum. Even in daylight these spots are good to practice with, and with a strong light at night, especially a spot-light, they make excellent opportunities for interesting after-images, and are very effective in securing relaxation, and a certain improvement in vision.
It is not in a multiplicity of techniques nor in working with strange figures that one must look for the best results. The familiar objects of daily life have a value due to the advantage of long acquaintance. Results are dependent upon the degree of interest and confidence, and the thoughtfulness with which the practices are carried out. The power is in the eyes. It is only necessary to have an earnest purpose, and a deliberate comprehension of the meaning of the directions, and a faithful devotion to the purpose. This has been proved for many years, and in thousands of cases. If these qualities are not in the endeavor, it is not reasonable to expect success, and it is wiser not to undertake it. It has been my experience, however, that almost all of those who have sufficient interest to undertake this work are rewarded with success.
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