Working with people's eyes
 
  • ... means helping them to change their points of view

    November 2003
 

 


Warning: I talk of "people with eye problems" referring to those who have been diagnosed as suffering from conditions such as Myopia (shortsightedness), Hiperopia (farsightedness), Presbyopia (middle age farsightedness), astigmatism (blurred vision), Strabism (squint). In reality I don't think of these things as "problems", much less as sicknesses. As it will be clear by reading this article, I think of them as part of the character of a person, the way a person "sees" existence and responds to it. Still being aware of one´s character and being able to introduce changes in it is something that I consider as an expression of freedom, something rather valuable.

Second warning: shortsightedness is often the focus in these pages: examples and explanations often deal only or mainly with it This doesn't mean that I am not interested in the other eye conditions. It's a fact, anyway that shortsightedness is by far the most statistically relevant eye condition in our society (more than normal seeing...) and the fastest in growing. In an average vision training group of 15 people you can expect at least 10 of them to be myopes. Therefore I assume that people reading this document will be probably also mainly interested in understanding Myopia

"Funny idea, working with the eyes! What for? I mean, there are much more important things, like cancer, Aids. And if there is any problem, opticians can fix it, can't they?" This is perhaps the most common attitude we can come across, and even those who can make a distinction between compensating (with glasses) and recovering vision power, sees it as a kind of technical matter (like the kind of problem you expect to be solved by a dentist), to be treated in the same way you tackle a mechanical trouble in your car. There is a strange scarcity of attention and of holism when we deal with eyes.

This is nothing so strange in our non-holistic culture. There is a certain tendency, coming from illuminism, to consider the eyes as a scientific tool: a cool, objective and dispassionate servant of reason. Eyes are therefore seen as a scientific tool, they are thought of as "cameras". From there comes a very strong resistance to accept the idea that seeing is highly subjective, that what I see is totally different from what you see. It is funny, in this respect common sense has long been more advanced than science. Common sentences as "You don't see it from the right point of view" or "Love is blind" or "See with the eyes of a newborn baby" prove that.

It has been said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. And still we go on believing that we can fix them without paying attention to the body they are attached to, to the mind and to the Being they express. Healing, if such a thing exists, cannot happen but on a global level, including the body, the mind and the spirit of a person. So, even when we focus on the eyes, we should "keep an eye" on several other levels. That will involve the integration of the approaches and results coming from several different directions, that are today available. The opposite is quite true as well: many "holistic" therapies and approaches have often forgotten to keep an eye on eyes. I would like to define here some dimensions that working with people's eyes (and the whole of them) should face, giving some references and a few examples.

The sociological/anthropological point of view

I was educated as a sociologist, so I may tend to overestimate the importance of this field. Still facts like the following seem to me to be highly relevant:
- Myopia was unknown to the Eskimos of Alaska until compulsory education was introduced.
- American military academies don't accept people with vision problems, but at the end of courses the rate of vision problems among the students reaches high.
- (Mainland) Chinese have little vision problems, (Taiwan) Chinese more than any other people.
- Peoples from places like Vilcabamba in Ecuador or the Hunzas in the Himalaya tend not to suffer from middle age farsightedness even at a very old age.
- Between ´76 and ´21 many shortsighted western Sannyasins dropped using glasses and "surrendered to the Buddha, to the Commune and to the Truth", living in Poona, India for long stretches of time, working and meditating there (undergoing no particular visual training). After a couple of years many reported that their vision had improved a lot.
So, it seems that the surrounding culture, the social values etc can really influence how and what we see.
Let me advance just a couple of hypotheses that have been supported by several studies:
- Where there is a strong goal-oriented attitude, you find a rigid social structure and rigid education. Education is in turn based on the principle of concentration (as opposite to contemplation and meditation), that means focusing attention (and vision) on a reduced target for a prolonged time. Myopia and hyperopia (children' farsightedness), as well as squint and astigmatism, are adaptations to the stress brought by concentration (especially on tasks performed at close distance from the eyes) in a situation where you cannot either physically fight or physically escape.
- Moreover, a long life training in being oriented on a goal which is always some time away, and never here & now will bring presbyopia as the inability to focus on (and get in touch with) what is close to me in space and time


Awareness

Enlightened people have often been called seers. "To open one´s eyes", "seeing clear" are used as synonymous with becoming aware.

And still it could be said that at times we need to close our eyes in order to become aware. We may discover that we have been excluding from consciousness a lot of inputs coming from our other channels of perception (see later, under channels of perception), or we may become aware of the constant internal dialogue, the constant chattering going on inside our mind (which has been often called the Chatterbox). By becoming aware of this space, we can start to recognize the prejudices, projections, beliefs and conditioning we have been receiving. In a way, this is like looking at our eyes, because our seeing has been molded by that organized chaos: Now, that organized chaos of conditioning, fears, prejudices etc is generally called Ego, and is the center around which we build our sense of identity . So, we can say that our eyes are very much expression of our Ego., and that seeing our Ego is difficult. Looking at a mirror may not help: we may go on looking with prejudiced eyes.

So, how can we see our eyes (i.e. our Ego) from a space of no "chattering"? This is precisely one idea at the core of meditation.

This has a special meaning for people with vision problems, because they very often have problems with their self image (both the way they think they look and what they think of themselves in general), they may be torn by very contradictory drives about that (some of this is explained in working on beliefs and the following sections). That means that deep down they don't want to see (the image that they have of) themselves. They don't want to see their Ego. They are afraid of what they could discover by becoming aware of it. That brings to the theme of how to become aware of beliefs on oneself, how to loosen their grip and break free from them (see later under working on beliefs).

- Also the relation between concentration (as opposed to) and global perception must be taken into account (and this has to do a lot with meditation). Shortsighted people for example have been trained to understand and accept awareness as heavy concentration on something or somebody. When they relax they tend to sleep. Either they are in a state of at-tension or they are not aware. Farsighted people tend to escape concentration on one subject, and to jump from one to another in an exciting but often inconclusive way. Both, as almost everybody in the west, are also unable to allow a soft, widened, 120° vision (which can in reality be brought to 360° with contemplation/ meditation).

- Visually oriented people -and all people with vision problems are generally visually oriented (see here under, in channels of perception)- tend to be dualistic, to chose the right side and to deny the wrong one: darkness is discarded, unconscious is forgotten, the feminine (or male) part is denied, body and instincts are denied. All these attitudes, which constitute hindrances on the road to awareness and meditation, also bring direct unbalances in vision (need for sharp contrast, search for over definition, obsession with the meaning of things = the what, and inability to follow changes and movements = the where and how)

- Then, the way we perceive ourselves in the universe influences the way we see the universe. Do we think of ourselves as part of a whole, or separated? At the center or at the periphery of existence? Separateness may bring a I v/s you (or You v/s me) style of view, with difficulty in perceiving whole patterns (you see trees but not the forest). Feeling at the periphery means inability of self orienting, which is a superior visual ability. Then Centering (which is part of the approach to awareness) can be of use, in helping us to learn to change our point of view.

- Accepting that reality is in perpetual change and that therefore there is not such a thing as a fixed point of view (or a fixed point of reference) is also particularly difficult, especially for shortsighted people. They tend to prefer stabilized systems of relations, consistent jobs and clear cut, fixed and well organized systems of thought (traditional religions, for example), where right is right and wrong is wrong. This goes along with a preference for sharp contrast in seeing (and the search for over -definition of images), narrowing of the visual field, reduced ability to move the eyes and the body in a fast and coordinated way, inability to track fast moving objects, tendency to stare.

Phases of growth and transformation

As a matter of fact the way we act, the way we are in the world and the way we perceive it, go through changes, whether we like it or not. And our periods of change tend to follow certain patterns, certain archetypes which are defined by the culture in which we live. In our culture a common pattern is that of the orphan, the betrayed. When we are in that space we tend to think that the world is unfriendly, that we have no hope, that we are deeply wrong, that the only hope rests in a savior which will redeem us (but deep down we suspect that we are beyond redemption, and those who are friendly to us may be going to cheat us). This is an incredibly powerful archetype in our culture (think of the Christian myth of the lost Paradise, the original sin and the redemption thanks to a Messiah, the Devil constantly tempting us...). Everybody is bound to be affected by this pattern from time to time.

In other moments we feel more like warriors: the idea is that we can do something good, but only through a lot of effort and fighting against some kind of enemy. If we want to win, then somebody or something must be defeated. This is very archaic and very male oriented, but it is also very dominant in our society.

Think for a moment of what generally happens in case of sickness: people tend to act like orphans ("Why me?") and run to physicians who are supposed to save them, to release them from the consequences of their "sins" ("You eat too much fat!"). The doctors in turn tend to think of themselves as heroes fighting against a dragon, an epidemic, a virus, or a high level of sugar in urine, or whatever is the case. The dragon must be defeated and the unhappy victim rescued. The only act expected from the part of the victim (the patient) is to be thankful to the savior.

There are a few more powerful patterns which are frequent in our society: the traveler, the martyr, the magician, the madman etc. We shift from time to time from one to another; we tend to chose certain and avoid certain others. It is important to be able to recognize which one is the pattern presently lived by the participants to a group and speak with the language of that pattern. It is also necessary to help people not to get stuck in one pattern, and to befriend patterns which are less customary.

But let me play a little bit more with the two patterns I have already introduced, and explain with them what is rather often happening in vision training's.

First, many people with vision problems tend to stay in the orphan pattern more often than in other patterns. And tend to look for a savior: that means that they expect the Group or the Leader to solve their problems, they don't expect to do it themselves. They are ready to suffer, to make efforts (like a form of sacrifice, when asking something to a god or a king), but not to be responsible for themselves.

On the other hand we find the leaders of vision training groups who have learned especially one thing: that seeing well is your responsibility (which is true). They have learned in a way to be warriors.

If you want to see well, they think, you have to use your will, train and train, like an athlete, and win your way day by day, inch by inch and fight against your laziness, and finally your vision problem will be defeated,, more than solved (and this is a misunderstanding of Bates' original message).

Now, the average "orphan" participant cannot really believe that he/ she should exercise every day! Exercise is suffering, sacrifice, and once (during the group) should be enough! He/she doesn't want responsibility, but deliverance!

This can be the source of a lot of misunderstanding.

Patterns can shift, and they do with a relative ease, provided that you make a good use of the language and the values of each of them. In other words: points of view can change, even if they will tend to come back to certain positions more often than to others. So, all the archetypes/patterns work (I think of C. Pearson, the author of The hero within, for example) has particular relevance when we have to deal with Beliefs (see under).

Science, technical data, machines etc.

Let's not close the eyes in front of that huge body of knowledge. Let's face it and see what can be useful for us.

- Once that there is a general knowledge of the anatomy of the eye, the kind of detailed neurological knowledge as it is meant by ophthalmologists has no great relevance in vision recovery, because it is meant for understanding sicknesses such as eye infections, glaucoma, and the like. For sure ophthalmologists lead important researches, but not in directions that we may find useful. Also official ophthalmology seems to be strangely "blind" to results coming from ANY other branch of science. Attending their congresses and browsing through their papers can definitely be very frustrating. Still, keeping an open channel can be important and we need to know how to relate with it.

- There are also people researching on how the growth of one perceptive system can influence or hinder the development of the others. For example Delacato has established connections between how a baby goes through the phases of learning how to move around (and especially crawling) and how good will be its brain/ body integration. His work helps a great lot to understand dyslexia (problems in reading) and other aspects of vision. Tomatis has studied quite a lot on the ear, and concludes that the correct development of the ear /spoken word system is the central axis around which the global development of a person is founded. He has developed a very interesting therapy around that. Though we may consider his point of view a little one sided, there is a lot of connections, similarities and suggestions for us in his approach.

- Most of the monumental research developed by Gestalt psychologists (nothing to do with Gestalt therapy) on the Grammar (Kanizsa) of visual perception is of little use for us. They take as object of their research the "normal" human being, who sees "normally", very much abstracted from social and psychological reality. Whatever good come from them, can be found in the book of L. Ancona (including the fundamental discovery of saccadic movements by Yarbus). To this conclusion I came also after examining 40 years of visual research by reading several ponderous books and a multitude of (summaries of ) articles in magazines like Perception and Visual Research.

- A little more important can be the case of the two brain-hemispheres theory (which is at the basis of all brain synchronizers, and of brain gym). This theory has powerfully influenced many approaches, including "Learning to see in order to draw" (B. Edwards) which can be very helpful for recovering lost dimensions of seeing (see under Channels of perceptions).

- Research on light, colors, UVA and UVB, and their effects on human beings has revealed interesting facts. For example: our body knows that winter is finished and that we can become more active, awake, sexual etc. through the rise of the amount of light and of ultraviolet rays: we don't see them, in a way, but our brain indeed does, and it does it through the eyes. One of the consequences is that when you see more UV rays you come out of lethargy (which was a good way to adapt to winters when we where just animals) and out of depression (which has been discovered to be highly seasonal, related to winter and to lack of light). But you can prevent all this alive, optimistic wave to reach you, you can create the conditions that will make you prone to sluggishness and depression. How? You have to put glass between your eyes and light (it filters UV rays out). You can stay behind a window, or wear glasses of any kind: The more you do, the more you will become intolerant to light, and so a vicious circle has been established. Can you see the implications? There are many more aspects (for example the psychological aspect of colors) that can be relevant for our work. So, we better keep an eye on this field.

- The use of technical means to check the condition of the eyes and the understanding of the way they work could be of some utility, in the case that we want to work in a more therapy/ medical oriented way. They are generally very expensive and give little output. When possible, much better to get the collaboration of opticians and ophthalmologists..

- In the official scientific arena only behavioral optometrists have given contributions that can sometimes be integrated in our approach. They have engaged themselves in measuring vision from every side (like the word -metrist will suggest). And in the process they have been forced to admit that psychological conditions have an influence. They have studied it in terms of stress and answers to stress, particularly through the antagonism of the sympathetic- parasympathetic nervous systems. Their results fits rather well with the approach of Bioenergetics (see under) and helps to understand a lot of details. Their research has also given support to or disproved certain aspects of the Bates method. This has also brought them to a better approach to the use (and non use) of lenses and to develop correcting exercises which are different from the usual Bates activities.

Their literature is can be interesting (though obviously difficult to read!) and some amongst them are relatively open to the contributions coming from our side, even when the American Association has always kept an official attitude of disdain towards Bates and followers, even promoting legal actions against them. As they are generally also opticians, when working with the eyes in the west, specially in Europe, having a good relation with behavioral optometrists can be helpful in many ways.

Of course it's not all a bed of roses: most of them don't share a holistic approach. They give a lot of importance to science, advanced tools and .... themselves, and not that much to their client's level of awareness...

-Science, scientific magazines, brilliant researchers, new optical instruments.... They are a hugely wide contribution, it's easy to get fascinated and lose ourselves. it's easy to go a little too much after words, concepts, ideas, theories (see digitalization, under channels of perception).

Bates and the educational aspect

Working with the eyes has long been synonymous with applying the Bates method of vision recovery: it can be said that it constitutes the core of the whole thing.

More so now that we can again read his original books and magazines, Contrary to what has been the understanding of many a scholar, the Bates method is NOT based on exercises, but on a radical change of daily habits about vision, which, for psychological, more than practical reasons, may be very difficult to follow.

According to Bates a natural eye:
-moves and doesn't stare
-In relaxation, with no strain to see better
-Centralizes (in Bates" terms: using central fixation), not trying to see an object all together and equally well.
- Support a good visual memory which in turn leads to a clear mental image.
All different parts of the Bates method work in synergy together and bring back to a natural way of using the eyes.

Though Bates' work was mainly oriented on reading, and seemed not put much stress on aspects which are very important, like the ability of tracking fast moving objects, his swinging and perceiving apparent motions were a great tool for the perception of space. There are hints in his writings that prefigure the eye- body coordination in movement, the peripheral vision, the eye as a way to contact with other human beings. Today we can develop all these aspects and we have to! Also, today we can better develop the learning of the art of vision in groups, while Bates was able to do either individual sessions or school-like training's.

He had no tools (concepts, data) from any other side to help him, except his research and his intuition. Meanwhile he had to fight hard to have the optical establishment accept evidences. He was a solitary genius and developed a holistic vision. And, as a matter of fact, in his method there his much, much more than he could explain.

Important contributions to the educational aspect of eye training have come from the Awareness through Movement of Feldenkrais, from certain aspects of Bioenergetics and of Gestalt therapy, from edu- kinesiology, NLP and from behavioral optometry (and minor contributions have come from disciplines such as Qi Cong, Eutonie, different yoga systems, different art approaches, sport coaching etc). Still I definitely consider the Bates method as the core of any program of vision recovery.

The body-energy approach

Bioenergetics, in the wake of Wilhelm Reich, has given a lot of useful contributions.

One is that different characters mold different bodies, and therefore different eyes with different ways of seeing. Lowen has defined six main characters (Oral, Schizo, Masochist, Psychopath, Rigid and Hysteric) which are useful models in understanding people´ s reactions. This model can be expanded to include the ways of seeing, which are therefore not any more thought of as sicknesses but as parts of one´s character, the personal style of looking at existence (Lowen, Kelley, and recently Shapiro have a lot to say on eyes; Bernasconi has developed very much the connection between characters and colors).

Bioenergetics has also studied in great detail the flows of energy along the body, as well as the blocks that may prevent them, and has devised powerful methods to restore them. Some of these methods may have at times dramatic results in changing the way of seeing of a person, both literally and metaphorically. In order for these changes to stay it is needed that they are perceived as a good change (and this involves working on the beliefs), and also that they are supported educationally (and that involves experiment, exercises and general support by other people).

There are several ideas coming from Bioenergetics which are useful for working with the eyes. One is the idea of pulsation. For example, breath is pulsation, breathing in and out should follow each other naturally, but this mechanism can be disturbed. People in search of control on others tend to keep the breath in and never let it completely go (this is the case of some farsighted). People in fear tend to breath as little and superficially as possible (this can often apply to medium and strongly shortsighted people).

Pulsation can be seen in eyes too, between actively looking (going out to grab or to refuse) and passively seeing (receiving, letting the outside in), between seeing close and seeing far, between focusing on an object in a scientific attitude and opening the vision field in a contemplative way, etc.

The idea is that recovering the ability to freely pulsate between the two poles brings freedom and the possibility of a widened awareness (see upwards).

There is an other idea that comes from this area (particularly from H. Laborit) which I find useful. It runs like that:
In front of a stress (danger, problem or whatever) the man/animal has basically two choices: fight or flight.
Now, if you take any animal, put it into stress and prevent both possibilities, it will develop neurosis, which means that it will still try to solve this unsolvable problem trying to fight or flee, but not directly physically. Most of these new, extreme strategies will not work, or may be self destructive; but it has to try anyway.

There is another basic instinct which cubs and babies undergo when they obviously cannot do anything else, and it is: freeze!
Many times it works, many predators cannot see their prey when it is not moving (you probably have noticed that already by watching a cat follow some moving object: if it loses it for a moment and in that moment the object stops.... It cannot find it anymore).

Finally, there is a fourth answer, that responds to a positive stress: go after it! It is the excitement brought by a prey for a hunting animal, and the natural response to anything which can be attractive to us, in terms of direct pleasure, reward etc.

So, as animals we should be able to answer with any of the four basic patterns as required by situation, but...all our education is bound to alter this natural response; our school, for example will prevent us from following what gives us fun, from fleeing away (not only we are not allowed to space out with our mind, we cannot even look outside the window!). Also, we cannot obviously fiscally fight against teachers.

So, if the stress is too much we may develop myopia as a way of freezing and retreating, escaping inside, and farsightedness (with fast scanning glances, jumping here and there) as a style of escaping outside and being prepared for "battle". The myopic child will in time become a diligent student with little imagination. The farsighted child is generally a lazy student, but he always has a ready answer, he's lively and "creative", and therefore generally gets along in school.

So it seems that it would be great if we were able to experiment our lost abilities. Myopic people may learn some fighting from life: for example they are available to fight with a difficult text or a difficult intellectual problem. But they will tend to consider escaping as a very shameful possibility; also, they may deep down believe that nothing good can come out by simply doing things for the pleasure and excitement of it. Farsighted people find simply being here doing nothing, without escaping or fighting, as horrible as death, and even when actively pursuing pleasure, they may find themselves escaping from it, at the very last moment

The idea is that if we have a richer choice of open possibilities for acting, we don't need our complicated eye strategies any more. Our myopia, astigmatism, squint, farsightedness will become a protection, an adaptation that we don't need anymore.

Bioenergetics has developed a lot in terms of letting people experience with our lost abilities (along with fear, anger, tenderness and any other natural feeling that has been repressed) through expressive acts.

There is in reality a fifth way to respond to situations, apart the four above mentioned, and it is precisely to respond, instead of reacting, with no stress, taking it easy, taking in account what the situation requires, our needs, the relative importance of goals, etc.: being in the here and now and having a broad point of view: This brings us beyond the scope of therapy, and has much to do with awareness and meditation in general, and with what we call soft vision, as related to the way of seeing.


Channels of perception

We receive the world, perceive it, think of it, organize our ideas on it through our different senses. We have many, but the main ones are: seeing, hearing, touch (which is split between proprioception, the sensations of warm, rough, tingling etc, and kinesthesia, the feeling of movement in space, which also includes balance), smell and taste. In our society seeing is by far the dominating one, but this is not so for everybody (and it is not so for other societies). Many people don't think in terms of images but in terms of sounds. And other people are more oriented towards touch. Let me give an example:

When learning massage the visual guy will learn by seeing, the hearing one will need to hear explanations, and the touch guy will need to mimic movements and to experiment with hands. In describing something they will also have different choices of words. Vision oriented people will chose expressions such as "The way I see it.."; hear oriented ones will say "That sounds bad to me", while touch oriented people will prefer expressions like "This stuff doesn't really catch me, it has no kick".

There is still another possibility: people becoming digital. That happens when people are more and more detached from senses and organizing their mind around words, concepts, abstractions. These people will talk "intellectually", using little or no words coming from direct experience of the senses. They will think that they "know" massage because they have read about it.

On these bases NLP (Neuro linguistic programming) Waszlawicz and Arnold Mindell have developed a lot of practical tools.

Here I want to play with these concepts a little bit. First question coming to my mind:
- Are people with vision problems similar to blind people? Can we consider them half blind? (Thinking in these terms would imply that what we call vision problems are a kind of sickness, similar to blindness but of lesser importance).

The astonishing answer is:not at all! People with visual problems are very strongly visually oriented, they tend to lose sensibility in the range of hearing (no musical skills, no sensibility in "reading" the shifts in tone and rhythm of voices), poor movement coordination and they pay little attention to messages coming from the body. Blind people on the other hand, have a very well developed sense of hearing, they distinguish and recognize the nature of sounds, their distance and direction. The may even feel the presence of obstacles at a distance through their greatly developed sense of touch

- O.K., we have established that people with visual problems tend to be particularly one sided in depending on vision alone, so what?
That will bring consequences. E. J. Berendt has elaborated on that. Among other things, relying on vision only brings a deep sense of division, between me and the world outside, and amongst the things I perceive. That in turn brings to dualistic attitudes like the idea of man v/s nature, to science and to cold judging. The mind is stimulated, the heart is not. Meaning becomes important, in terms of causes and purposes. That opens the door to the next step in loosing contact with the whole: digitalization. Meaning is found more and more in words and abstract concepts which support each other.

Now this is what is concretely happening to people with eye problems: from a strong visual orientation it will be easier for them to slide into digitalization: they will by and by loose sensibility to certain details and certain abilities of their vision, and their mind will be organized less and less in visual terms and more with sequences of words.

What this means in terms of working with a group on Vision Training is:
1) Learning to use the other senses is important (listening with closed eyes, body awareness, movement awareness). This will bring real sense in life (love, dance, music, poetry) and develop a more intuitive, creative mind.
2) It is important to be able to coordinate your senses ("Hear the noise of the car, judge distance and speed, turn your head and eyes, catch with a glance the remaining information you need, and jump efficiently out of the way!)
3) Visual oriented people also need recovering and integrating all the visual sub modalities (you can call them also dimensions of seeing, or Gestalt) that they tend to loose.

Many disciplines are based on the integration of different channels. The same applies to several meditation techniques. They can be used for the purpose of working with the eyes, but there are details that need to be cared for. Let me make an example which is obvious to every eye worker: dancing will not work as a way of integration as long as it is done with glasses. The lack of peripheral view will create the possibility of small accidents like bumping into somebody else. The person will then tend not to move from the spot, not to use arms and legs, and possibly even not to listen to the music. On the contrary he/ she will over exert his/ her view, looking at the others.

Working on beliefs

- I have little power on my life. Accidents, other people and even my unconscious already decide 90% of my life.
- My body is weak and vulnerable to sicknesses and accidents. Needs to be protected constantly.
- Life is full of traumas. Every big change, like giving birth to a child, will affect me and leave permanent scars on my life.
- Life is suffering. We need to be able to resist and go ahead.
- Life is competition. Only winning is meaningful.
- Life is money. Either I have it or I'm a nobody.
- I can't rely on my sensations, they are misleading.
- I can't trust myself. There is something basically flawed in my design (perhaps in my genes) or simply I have no luck.
- I can't trust people, they will cheat me. Still, I cannot control them and I cannot avoid giving them power on my life.

We all share some of the attitudes above. We have inherited them from our parents, absorbed from education and even taken them as the ultimate meaning of some of our experiences.
Needless to say, they express a concentrated point of view (focused, serious), where only one aspect of the scene is taken into account and then projected to the whole scene. They are very one- sided.

Working with people with vision problems the constant feeling is that the grip of certain particular beliefs is unusually stronger: considering them and changing them (when it is the case) seems to be such an impossible (when not immoral) task! Perhaps the explanation of this difficulty is that certain beliefs have been reinforced by a long trail of strong and meaningful experiences. So they appear as revealed Truth, something precious that need to be preserved, though they are likely to be the result of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Let's see what often happens to a child in school. This is the prototype of myopic development.

When a child is confronted with a new situation (any new situation), it may go into a certain degree of stress. The stress may be more if it perceives that something is expected from it, that its parents expect it to "go well" in school, if it perceives that the amount of love and acceptance its parents will bestow on it is proportional to "results".

In school there are a lot of foreign notions to learn, and especially this special visual skill called reading. Imagine yourself as a small child in first grade: you are again and again forced to concentrate the attention on these strange characters, and they don't look certainly friendly. Then the board is another place that you may not like to look at, then perhaps also the teacher doesn't look particularly attractive to you. If you are in stress (because for example you don't understand, you feel bored etc), you may try to escape by spacing out, talking, looking outside, even falling asleep. But when you are asked directly you cannot escape: "Now, read on the board!" And you find that you feel paralyzed (you freeze), and that your sight gets blurred (because your eyes too are paralyzed).

Teachers, when they notice these signs on your part, tend to do one thing: they put you in the first row, so that they can keep on eye on you.
Now escaping is really difficult for you, you can only do what they want (you cannot flee, cannot fight, cannot go after what you like; you can only adapt, or freeze) (still, there is still a very very narrow space for escaping on a mental level; just because you see blurred your mind is not totally dominated by what is in front of you).

If you find some way to adapt or compensate, and you do it fast, your stress will diminish to a manageable size. But it is possible that your stress will increase (because now you are closer to the teacher for example). What will happen then, is that you will not only freeze, but also shrink inside, and your vision will get again blurred (this is the first stage of myopia, directly related to a situation of stress). Now the drama will unfold following a fixed pattern. The teacher starts to worry (and you perceive it). He/ she will arrange a visual exam for you or talk to your parents about that. Your parents will worry a lot (and that also you perceive, quite well). That creeping feeling that there must be something wrong with you (which was already been suggested by your failure in learning and your parents´ displeasure with that) now is becoming certainty. By the time of the eye exam you are really under stress, and your sight is obviously bad. Then you got the result:

"Yes, there is something wrong with you, and particularly with your eyes", big truth number one.
"There is (almost) nothing that you can do about that" (n°2).
"They can fix it, with a pair of glasses" (n°3).
"Because seeing clearly (i:e: reading characters at a distance of 3 mt (20 feet)) is something dramatically important" (n°4).

Now, pay attention, because it is possible that, if you have really been passing through such an experience, you may have canceled certain parts of your memories.
When they give you the new glasses what happens is that now you are able to see clearly the blackboard also when you are under stress. Where is the gain? From your direct point of view, there is none: when you are under stress, you are under stress; unhappiness is unhappiness, that you see clear or blurred. Not only that: now the object of your stress is not any more blurred, it is painfully clear. This means that even that mechanism of escape (seeing blurred, over the thing) is not possible any more. There is no (and will never be any more) possibility of escape! (big, absolute truth n° 5) (see under The body energy approach, for escape as a basic reaction to stress)

But from their point of view everything is going in a satisfactory way: they are incredibly relieved! (also because they were deep down suspecting that it was their fault). They have found a culprit (your eyes) and found a solution (glasses for you) for their problem.
So, they will change their attitude towards you: your difficulties were not, after all, completely your fault (they love you again, parents and teacher). Now you can read the blackboard, so for them you are perfectly OK.

This means that there is again hope for you. If you want that people are pleased with you, that they accept you, now you know what you have to do: to study, and to see always clear, whatever your feelings or sensations (with time the pain of seeing clearly object of stress will become unconscious). From here comes the obsession of myopes about clarity of vision. If they allow themselves to see blurred again, the hell of before may come back! (notice to which point seeing blurred went together with "not seeing clearly"= feeling the pain and not understanding why, and now seeing clearly means both that you understand, or believe that you understand your situation better, and that you see always with high definition)
The small girl/boy will gladly accept the glasses, because they have magically changed the whole situation with parents and teachers .

Of course they have also brought negative consequences. Relating with other children is more difficult: they may tease you and playing together is more difficult, especially with running, playing ball etc. Communicating is being hindered by the glasses hiding your expressions. You will find yourself slower, with less spatial perception, with less coordination, less attractive than other children (less expressive, less attractive and goof: what will this bring to, when the child becomes a teenager?).

There is only one field open, and it is studying. And studying means reading, focusing your eyes at a short distance for long stretches of time, training them day after day to see close, on a surface with only two dimensions, to reduce their visual field, to stare. That will in time change the shape of your eye bulbs: they become more oblong, and so Myopia is becoming also a structural condition of your eyeballs.

But, when you force your eyes to adapt to a short focusing you are doing something that will bring some (indirect) reward, while in every other field or situation you are bound more and more to perceive your inferiority. That's why we can talk of shortsightedness as a sequence of choices, based on deep ingrained beliefs, each new choice reinforcing the old ones.

The original belief, "there is something wrong with me" has turned into reality, thanks to the year- long conditioning. You now are in many ways inferior (precisely in all those aspects of vision training that you have discarded). Recognizing it is twice painful because it would mean to betray your original decision (to be a good child and please your parents) and all your following choices. So it becomes unconscious. It will show up from time to time as stubbornness, negativity, need for recognition etc.

The course followed by farsighted children is different, and I will not go into details here. From the very beginning they try to find way of escaping outside (not studying, lying, occasionally rebelling). And therefore the beliefs are different. It is also possible for many children that their farsightedness goes unnoticed.

Working on beliefs is today easier. Many techniques have been devised by Gestalt, Primal, NLP and others (Kinesiology amongst them). And from all these works improvements on eye conditions have from time to time been reported. But, as I tried to show with the example above, in the case of eyes the layers of beliefs are complex. All these disciplines on their side could find it useful to integrate the experience of eye workers in their approach.

Contact and eye contact

With the eyes we can get in touch with reality, retreat from it, escape it, confront it aggressively, welcome it, absorb it, suck it, deny it, etc. All these operations can be translated in a peculiar way of looking, of staring, of glancing etc. Some of these operations may require a more permanent adaptation of the eyes, and will therefore bring what we call visual problems (and could perhaps better be called fixed visual styles). We can also come in contact with reality through other channels (that part was developed above).

Eye contact with human beings is an important part of visual contact. After all it was part of our first visual experiences: the eyes of our mother were the first thing that we were able to discriminate from the rest. And they almost always came together with nourishment and physical contact. They were also a sort of nourishment in themselves, conveying acceptance and a sense of rightness, that everything is OK..

But of course this mechanism can be disturbed. Mother can be unable to convey love: perhaps she cannot be there and touch you when you need, she may be unable to breast feed you, or not liking it (and this you will feel), or not looking at you, or looking with unloving eyes. When one of these things happens, doubts creep in; there is division, something is wrong: either I am wrong or existence (i.e. mama). And most of the time children find it more logical to conclude that there must be something wrong in me.

Later on more eye contacts are bound to happen, specially with grown ups (papa, relatives, teachers) and from the original non-contact with mama's eyes two new possibilities of eye "contact" (and of generally relating with the world through the eyes) may develop: the Me v/s them way of seeing and the They v/s me. The first one will include an attitude of readiness for fight/ flight, a tendency to judge and project, and a difficulty to see close to me (deep down I still now that it's me who is wrong, and I don't want to see that). This may in turn develop in farsightedness. The attitude of They v/s me will bring to shyness, difficulty in facing others, self projections and retreating, also in visual terms. This one can bring to shortsightedness. Needless to say, both ways are over focused, dualistic ways of seeing.

From this approach our aim will be that of regaining an attitude of me and them: in the beginning this simply means relaxing in the process of simply seeing the eyes of a partner (with the awareness of projections and fears that may be there). Then, with relaxation a feeling of union, communication and nourishment can happen. We undress our masks, renounce our projections, as if we were getting naked, and allow us to see and to be seen.

A further step is the opening of awareness (and acceptance) to the whole field of perception, still keeping the eyes of the other as the center of focus. This may not only help us to change the way we look at others (correcting also our visual problems), it can open the door to love and to meditation.

It goes without saying that when glasses are there, no real visual contact can happen..... (and some people are so dependent on their glasses precisely because they think that they need to be protected against visual contact).

There is one particular visual problem which has a lot to do with contact /non contact: presbyopia. It is generally considered as something which is bound to happen to everybody because of age (it is also called middle age farsightedness). People know that they have it when they find that they cannot anymore read small letters at a short distance. "I'm getting old; I have to adapt to that and get glasses: It happens to everybody: it's a natural process, and there is nothing I can do about it." I believe that what in reality happens is that they don't want to see anything too close to themselves. In other words: they want to keep the world at a distance, they don't want to get involved, emotionally involved. They don't want to experience risks, emotions, they want to "keep quiet", to stick with the goals they have given to their lives and not to lose energies in that which is not important.: no more music, no more playing, no noise, no love etc. I see these attitudes as the result of a long social conditioning. Years and years of a global conditioning towards a goal - oriented attitude and against everything that is not rational (i.e. very much stressing the importance of mind against everything else) will sooner or later get anybody. By the age of 40 we are rigid, we are "old". We may complain about getting old, but all our choices go in that direction. So, the barriers we put between the world and us become more and more rigid (as well as our eyes and our stare). This cool staring into each other's eyes with no real contact is considered the "proper" way to behave in the world of business and in dealing with the others. It is especially to be found in big towns and in "advanced" countries (as the USA).

Real eye contact can help break these barriers; real eye contact means opening the heart and the ability of touching and being touched by others. It may bring us in connection with life and existence. And this means also that our presbyopia will gently fade away, once that we bring life, love and laughter to our eyes.

Love and relationships

We all use words as love, connection, relationship assuming that we all mean and experience the same things. As a matter of fact they take different connotations according to culture, character and "point of view". Let me state certain tendencies related with the main vision problems (shortsightedness and farsightedness; about presbyopia, it is possible to infer them from what has just been said here above).

Farsighted people cannot see well at close distance. That means that they will find difficult to see their lovers, to learn to know and accept their peculiar characteristics, their individuality. Their eyes and their mind are constantly shifting far away: they are fascinated by things and ideas as long as they are away, but they cannot really grab them. So they are more prone to fall in love with the idea they have of a person than with the real person. In positive terms, they can bring a lot of excitement in a relationship, a lot of fantasy and changes. But the depth of the I/ Thou intimate connection will be difficult for them: they cannot focus on anything for a long period of time, and much less on intimacy (i.e. being and seeing at close distance). They will be often tempted to escape to another object of interest: flirting therefore becomes a common attitude for the farsighted person.

The counterpart character, the myope, will have the tendency to take things very seriously, often dramatically so. He/ she will have in the beginning difficulties in establishing a connection with a partner. They literally cannot really see anybody unless at a close range. Once that they have seen you, there may be a lot of shyness and mistrust, attempts to avoid emotions and keeping rational (keeping the barrier of their glasses between the two of you), but there will be also a strong focusing on you. You may be able to perceive that they are expecting a lot from you, that you are at the center of their attention and that whatever you do will have a powerful impact on them. The way they look at you is staring: they keep a steady eye contact, without blinking and without apparent expression; a rather hard glance: you may feel examined and judged, which is often the case (they try to understand whether they can trust you or not, and don't easily find a definite answer. Deep down they don't believe to be worth of the interest of anybody). Even when love arises these characteristics will remain. They focus, they stare, they are never completely sure about what they see (they are never sure about you: this you may find rather disturbing!).

All these attitudes will make them rather monogamous, and depth of intimacy is possible. They are good at seeing the details of that which is near; so they will learn a lot of things on their partners and on their relation with them. This may help the relationship to grow. Still, they will tend to be possessive: their world is made of me/you relationships (often you v/s me), with them at one side. They can't simply understand that you can have other centers of interest in the same time, and if you do, their interpretation is that you must not be paying (any) attention to them. They find difficult solving problems involving third parties: a wife, to make an example, knows her husband, knows her son, but doesn't see the relation between father and son, because that would imply seeing two objects at the same time, which she finds difficult. For the same reason a myope will tend to look jealous, will often try to drag the partner away from groups of friends: he/she does not see the group, does not see (understand) love and friendship when they are spread (like in a group): that would imply a width of vision directly opposed to the central focusing that constitutes the basic approach of a myope.

Groups can still be of enormous relevance for shortsighted people. In therapy they can give a form of support and recognition that can help to change their old self- negative beliefs. But still a shortsighted person will have the tendency not to see these things (support and recognition from a group) when they happen. Therefore they may look at times stubborn and ungrateful to the other members, sticking to their misery when a lot of love is showered on them. On one level this can be explained by their difficulty to believe that others could really love and appreciate them; but there is also the direct inability to literally see it. They need to be lead and encouraged into the perception of things which are away and around.

"External" remedies

There are a lot of dimensions of working on the eyes (as opposite to working with the eyes) which can be of great use. The first one is direct manipulation: Rebalancing and other massage techniques can directly work on the muscles around the eyes. They can also change the posture of a person, inducing changes in vision: there is statistical evidence of the relation between posture and eye problems. Shortsightedness is often related with forward dislocation of the body center of gravitation, farsightedness with the opposite, differences of visual acuity between one eye and the other are often related with sideways tilting of the head, etc. Craniosacral therapy can provoke changes in the position and integration of bones, nerves and fascias inside the skull. Manipulation of vertebras (Chiropractic or Osteopathic) can also contribute to shifts in posture, better functioning of nerves etc. All these techniques can also bring changes in the attitude: relaxation v/s anxiety, for example.

I personally deal with Sensage, a kind of massage related to Rebalancing, and I have had dramatic results in vision improvement

with my clients, thanks to the relaxation and increase in self esteem induced. Acupuncture, color puncture, shiatsu, reflexology and micro massage can influence the flows of energy going to the eyes (same can be attained by regular self massage of points related to the eyes).

It is important that all these external changes are accompanied by a growth in awareness (see above). Otherwise their results get easily lost, they don't really become part of us.

Same thing goes for food and integratives. A certain diet can contribute, say, to shortsightedness (too much sugar and carbohydrates, not enough fibers). Indeed forcing the right diet on us out of discipline is an approach that will bring troubles... and no awareness. On the contrary, awareness of dietary habits, and of the drives that support them, can possibly bring to conscious changes (at least in the way we see it). Warm pads, cool pads, herbal washes, rice bags etc. are also nice things to do for the eyes.

All that it is possible to do working on the eyes can bring pleasant experiences and give an opportunity for awareness at different levels (they can for example introduce the idea of taking loving care for the eyes and bring to the surface the difficulties in doing that). So, experimenting with them and integrating them in our approach can be a good idea.

On the other side, there is a lot of things that we can teach to therapists dealing with those approaches when they want to specifically work with the eyes of their clients.

A conclusion

Our work is indeed focused on eyes and vision.
But this point of view should not bring us to be shortsighted (i.e. only seeing our little field of interest).
We need to be able to see far, to all possible developments.
It can be argued that it is possible to look too far but we still put a lot of care in the details of our work, we look closely at them.
It is also important to keep a soft, open view on what is happening around us: a lot of things are happening in fields that can be complementary to ours.
We need to keep in contact with the people involved in these fields, we must look into each other´s eye and allow us to see and been seen.
That´s what we call Holistic Vision.....

Eye fitnessworking with people's eyes in hebrew (pdf)

Some documents from the first and second conference are beeing translated into english, thanks to Max Mandolini. Go to Documents

 

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