Folklore of Human Sight
'Keenness of sight has achieved instances transcending belief in the highest degree,' wrote Pliny. Cicero records that a parchment copy of Homer's Iliad was enclosed in a nutshell. He also records the case of a man who could see 123 miles. Marcus Varro also gives this man's name, which was Strabo, and states that in the Punic Wars he was in the habit of telling from the promontory of Lilybaeum in Sicily the actual number of ships in a fleet that was passing out from the harbour at Carthage.
Our Eyes vs. Other Parts of Our Bodies
The normal human eye in good health is capable of detecting the light of a match on a clear, dark night at a distance of fifteen miles. It is capable of detecting the light of a candle at a distance of thirty miles. When a person who is not
night-blind passes from a brilliantly lighted room into one that is dimly lit, his eyes may become as much as 2000 times more sensitive to light. The eye is the basis of the most important of all man's five senses and is one of the most extraordinary organs in the human body.
Nonetheless, many people have difficulty with their eyes. Possibly as many as half the young adult population cannot see well without corrective lenses. With age the number increases. The majority of older people suffer from what is
called 'middle-aged sight' or presbyopia which is caused by atrophy of the ciliary
muscle in the eye and by a gradual hardening of the crystalline lens that is used for focusing.
There is something strange about this because every other organ in the human body seems to be capable of self-repair, especially in young people. As the doctors say, "medicus curat, natura sanat", (the doctor treats, nature heals). Only the eye is exempted from this privilege, and only the eye must, in every
case, be fitted with what one professional in the field called 'those valuable crutches,' spectacles.
This seems strange to an oculist, who is accustomed to questioning orthodox theories about this and that, but it also seemed strange to at least one oculist in New York named William Horatio Bates.
Bates' arguments were all based on the fact that the orthodox theory was first proposed by Helmholz in the last century. He believed that focusing in the eye, which is technically called accomodation, was due entirely to the ciliary muscle and to the crystalline lens, which it controls. If you want to see something far away, for example, the ciliary muscle tends to relax, allowing the lens to flatten. This brings distant scenes to a sharp focus on the retina of the eye, which is composed of light-sensitive cells. If you want to see something
close up, the muscles tend to tighten, causing the lens to bulge.
Dr. Bates pointed out, though, that some ability to accommodate has been noticed in cataract patients who have had their lenses totally removed. This is an astonishing fact that cannot be explained in terms of Helmholz's theory. Dr. Bates concluded that Helmholz's theory was either inadequate or positively
He suggested instead that the six external muscles that we use when looking up, down, right, or left have a part to play by changing the shape of the eye.
A near-sighted person, for example, has an eye that is slightly elongated, so that images come to a focus in front of the retina instead of on it. The ciliary muscle and lens cannot correct for so great an error of refraction. Corrective lenses are, therefore necessary. Concave lenses are required for near-sightedness and convex lenses for far-sightedness depending on whether the retinal image needs to be moved forwards or backwards.
Dr. Bates believed that the external muscles might be pulling the eye out of shape in a person with visual problems and that, if the situation could be corrected, the person might be able to see normally without any corrective lenses at all. If that is true, it means the end of a large and prosperous industry. And, that being the case, it is not surprising that Bates' theories found little favor with the makers of optical glass.
Follow the Money Trail or the Healing Trail
An intense advertising campaign was initiated to convince people that they needed to continue buying spectacles for ever and ever. It was pointed out that some of Bates' theories were pretty wild and it was suggested on that basis that his methods would not work.
The fact is that they do work. Eye expert, Harris Gruman, who assessed both Bates' theories and methods, wrote that in spite of Bates' hypotheses and theories, he did hit upon some worthwhile methods of aiding human sight. Time has proven their worth and for that the world should be grateful.
Lawrence Galton mentions a woman who had only one-tenth of normal vision who could, therefore, be considered blind. After a few months of visual training she passed a driving test with 20/40 vision. In two years her vision was completely normal.
Another of Galton's examples is a 'far-sighted businessman' who could not read without glasses. The printed word was a mere blur to him, yet after three months of Bates' training, he discovered that his glasses were no longer necessary. He discarded them and has not used them since.
One of the most interesting testimonials, however, comes from an article in the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift. The author was a German Army Surgeon who presided over a test of Bates' methods with near-sighted recruits.
The recruits were asked to discard their glasses temporarily and try to pass their marksmanship tests using Bates' exercises instead. The results were so excellent
that visual training was officially endorsed by the German Government.
Exactly, How Does Our Sight Work?
The basis of it is quite simple. Sight consists of three processes: Sensing, Selecting, and Perceiving. Only the first of these, sensing, has anything to do with the eyes. Selecting and perceiving take place entirely in the brain.
In fact, even sensing involves the brain to an extent because when accomodation is performed, this requires that the brain control the necessary muscles. After sensing has taken place, the brain must aright the image projected on the retina. The retinal image is upside down and there must be other corrections in the visual image - again performed by the visual centers in the brain.
'The optical quality of the human eye is extraordinarily bad,' writes Lyall Watson. 'The image projected onto the retina is blurred at the edges and fades away into iridescent halos. All these defects are put right in the brain.'
That being the case it is obvious that the brain must be in good working order for vision to proceed unimpaired. That is where Bates comes in; he contends that owing to stress our brains are not always in good working order.
'The origin of any error of refraction,' he wrote, 'is simply a thought - a wrong thought - and its disappearance is as quick as the thought that relaxes.'
Bates mentioned a young man who happened to be twenty-five years old and who was one of his patients. If he stared at a blank wall 'without trying to see' he showed no error in refraction. But if someone caused stress, for example, by saying that he was twenty-six instead of twenty-five, he became near-sighted.
'When he stated or remembered the truth his vision was normal,' wrote Bates, 'but when he stated or imagined an error he had an error of refraction.'
When this was first published the world was astonished. Since then we have learned that stress - the very same thing that appears to cause visual problems - is also responsible for high blood pressure, heart disease, allergies, asthma, stomach ulcers, and possibly even cancer.
It is worth mentioning here that two of these - heart disease and cancer - between them are responsible for three out of every four deaths in the Western World today. It is, therefore, not surprising if stress affects such a delicate sense as that of sight.
Although we do not normally notice these effects, our ancestors did and they made them a part of our folklore.
Aldous Huxley collected numerous examples: Fear makes the world 'go black' or 'swim before our eyes.' We are 'numb with worry.' There is the proverbial seamstress who can see to thread a needle, but who cannot see to read.
And there is the following well known effect mentioned by Arthur Edward Waite in The Mysteries of Magic. 'If a man be bidden to look for anything by another whose will dominates, but perturbs his own and whom he fears to displease, his anxiety to find it will sometimes so confuse him that he will not see the object, though it may be under his very eyes.'
How Can We Reverse the Effects of Stress on Our Vision?
There are several ways in which you may reverse that process. Dr. Forbes Winslow quotes a 'distinguished oculist' to the effect that 'light is injurious to the eyes in proportion as the red and yellow rays prevail.' These produce what he calls 'cerebral and visual excitement,' stress in modern language,
'followed by debility of the retina.' Lamp shades which favor calming and soothing colours, such as blue, produce less stress and better sight.
Another technique is what Bates called central fixation. The average reading distance is fourteen inches. The best clarity is attained within a circle one half inch in diameter. This is the part of the printed page which produces an image at the exact center of the retina. The central portion of the retina is called the macula lutea and the center of the macula lutea is called the fovea centralis.
Exercises for Stress-free Vision
Since it is in this one half inch circle that you can see best it is obvious that you want to direct your eyes, so that whatever you want to see produces an image in that area. Your brain has to work harder to resolve images at the edge of the retina; that produces strain.
Therefore, when you are looking, you need to be sure that you are looking directly at whatever you are looking at. Simple as this principle is it does not occur to many people who are not trained in optics (and better trained at casual glancing.
(e.g. Notice in a grocery store how people are constantly misjudging where to push their baskets in relation to the person in front of them. This is because most people try to rely on their peripheral vision rather than looking directly at other people. This sort of behaviour is also taken onto the highways where this type of misjudgement can be a lot more deadly.)
To encourage central fixation, Bates recommended mobility drills and swinging. The next time you are walking along the street glance at the people on the other side of the street. Glance directly at the first person, then allow your eyes to smoothly pass from that person to the next, and the next, and the next. Each time look directly at your target.
After you have tried that, try moving your eye back and forth, so that you get the illusions of things 'swinging' from side to side. This is essentially a relaxation exercise. Avoid staring, keep your eyes level as you swing, and allow yourself to blink. Blinking not only relaxes the eye, but helps to keep it clean, and by swinging you can get the idea of calmly looking without strain.
Now we are going to cover only one more Bates exercise. It is the one which most interesting to oculists. Those who wish to work with the complete Bates system will do well to get one of the excellent manuals that have been published.
Especially recommended is Aldous Huxley's The Art of Seeing. Not only was it written by one of England's great men of letters, but it
is widely available in the public libraries. As for us I should recommend palming even to those who have 20/20 vision.
Like swinging, palming is a relaxation exercise. Unlike swinging it is done with the eyes closed, usually after any other eye exercises:
Cover your closed eyes with the palms of your hands. Your eyes should be relaxed and there should be no tension in either hand or in the muscles of your face. You should not rub your eyes with your palms. Just allow your palms to lightly touch your eyelids. As you do this - visualize a sea of blackness.
Bates says that to the extent that you do not see blackness while palming, you are suffering from mental stress and consequent strain. 'When you palm perfectly,' he wrote, 'you will see a field so black that it is impossible to remember, imagine, or see anything blacker. When you are able to do this your sight will be normal.' (As Gerald O'Donnell might say, "The 'Sea of Black' is all in your wonderful imagination...")
One of Bates' patients suffered from astigmatism and incipient cataract. He was seventy years old and effected a complete cure after palming continuously for twenty hours. Aldous Huxley recommends mental palming when the normal method is impossible. Simply close your eyes and imagine that you have covered them with your palms. It is not as effective as actually using your hands, of course, but extremely beneficial nonetheless.
The reason that this works according to Huxley is that 'all parts of the body carry their own characteristic potentials.' He suggests that 'the placing of the hands over the eyes does something to the electrical condition of the fatigued organs.'
Edwin Babbit anticipated many of Bates' ideas in his Principles of Light and Colour. He suggests that a person strongly charged with vitalizing force may sometimes animate and regulate these muscles [in the eye] with the ends of the fingers.
The AMORC Rosicrucians teach their members to 'palm' using only the first finger of each hand on the theory that this is where the 'radial nerve' terminates. AMORC Members have worked with this technique and were eventually able to discard their glasses using this method alone.
One of these, a South American, had his progress monitored by an ophthalmologist, who confirmed that his eyesight was indeed improving.
After you have allowed your forefingers to rest lightly on your closed eyelids for five or ten minutes, you will find it helpful to remove them and just let your eyes relax for a few minutes before opening them. If you open your eyes immediately after removing your fingers, you may find that they will not focus for several minutes. This is a normal result, and comes from the excellent relaxation that is induced by the exercise.
Tensor Exercises for Better Vision
The human nervous system is uniquely capable of unlimited training, but the method is the determining factor. This tensor method of relaxation is based on vision. A relaxed eye sees best. The normal eye is relaxed when it shifts steadily. When, for any reason, an eye capable of good vision, begins to stare, the image blurs.
Unlike a camera, the eye sees clearly only on the instant following the relaxing shift. Since the clear formation of images depends on a relaxed brain how do we cause the brain to relax? An obvious approach would be the associative relaxation of the surrounding tissue.
You now, consciously, set about relaxing blood vessels of the cortex, the thalamus, and the sub-cortex where the embryo (tensor centers) are located. By association all of the cells around the blood vessels will also automatically relax.
Follow these instructions - This is an exercise for your eyes: Relax - Look, relax - look, relax - look, relax - look, relax - look, etcetera. Practice is necessary.
Combine deep inhales with your tensed focus while looking. Then relax with equally relaxing exhales. The moment of true focus is determined by your individual awareness how soon a state of relaxation is achieved.