This is the story of how I learned to see clearly without the aid of refractive (usually called corrective) lenses. I write it because I feel a duty to inform as many people as I can that improving one's naked eyesight is a real possibility despite the skepticism of the eye care professional world. I will refer to such apparently unrelated subjects as singing, memory palaces, high-tech catalogues, myofascial trigger points, yoga, diet and pinhole glasses in order to show how these things combined in my life to allow me to shed the crutch of eyeglasses, and so some of those who read this will be encouraged to try for themselves, or keep trying.
For centuries, no one from Europe sailed past the western tip of Africa for the simple reason that they had been told with no room for doubt that the world ended there and they would surely perish if they passed it. The feelings I experienced the first time I encountered success in the retraining of my eyes must be similar to those felt by the sailors of that first ship that saw the southwest African coast. An elation that despite everything I'd been told all my life it was truly possible, though at the time I had no idea how far I'd be able to take this journey, that is, if I'd ever see clearly all the time. A deep anger at the fact that I hadn't found out about it sooner, because almost no one knows about or believes in these techniques, and because due to my ignorance my social life during the nineteen years I wore glasses was almost certainly much lonelier than it would otherwise have been. Those who don't wear glasses as children and teenagers have no inkling of the psychological effect imposed on the children by the wearing of these things. We are branded as nerds, brainy misfits, unathletic "spazzes," to use the slang of my day. When I learned, through personal experience, that most children wouldn't need glasses if these techniques were learned, understood, standardized and disseminated, the ostracization of all these children as being no less different from what is called normal than being of another skin tone or sexual preference became to me a heinous crime, a perpetratorless, victim-replete crime. Thus it is for those like me, of all ages but especially those as yet unborn, that I must tell my story, in the hope that in the future the techniques of eye training will be taken seriously and become a part of the eye care arsenal in the war against blurred vision. I have nothing to sell; I consider awareness of this information to be a right of all those not diagnosed at 20/20.
MY UNWITTING PREPARATION
I learned some Hatha yoga techniques when I was eight years old. The degree of body awareness it gave me has proved extremely useful in my adult life. One technique, a breathing exercise, in part requires the person to relax all the muscles in the body (besides the ones needed for sitting up) by noticing tension and releasing it. This is done in conjunction with regulating the breath with the intention of slowing the heart rate (which many medical practitioners will argue cannot be brought under voluntary control) and generally relaxing the body. Years later, when I learned the techniques of operatic singing, I was able to apply this relaxation technique by noticing and releasing tension in muscles not necessary to the production of an efficient tone. (Many opera singing techniques pay little attention to the fact that there are many sets of muscles in the laryngeal area, and very few are needed for singing. The great diversity of tonal color among singers is due to the many possible combinations of muscular action by which one can make a sound, each of which will result in harmonic structures predictably different from the others.) The difficulty in singing is that the muscles used to phonate are not directly controllable, like the heart rate. One must find ways around this obstacle of inaccessibility through mental images designed to get the muscles to act properly, and of course through audiofeedback. For ten years daily I practiced these concepts guided by my teachers, and my voice underwent many changes in size, timbre and sustain ability, some drastic. I thus became accustomed to searching for a sound that initially would have been unimagined in my mind or ears, but would, when the proper muscular combination was used, often accidentally, suddenly make itself manifest. Because of this constant change in the sounds I was able to produce, I learned to dissociate the sound of my voice from my personality, which some singers and many nonsingers never do, and by extension to dissociate all other aspects of my physical being from my personality, excepting of course those attributes innate to my sex, whatever they may be. Through this experience I came to understand on a personal level that things are often not as they seem.
In 1983 my father was diagnosed with lymphoma, and because of the dismal forecast given him about his life by the doctor who diagnosed him, he sought an alternative cure. Through this search of his I became acquainted with the Hippocrates Health Institute, which promotes a cure for cancer through a diet of only raw, alkaline-reaction-inducing foods. Though several people had been helped back to health by this diet, my father's version of it eventually failed and he underwent chemotherapy, but due to the year on this diet his body was much stronger and better able to withstand chemo's chemical onslaught, and in fact he never lost his hair, even when he was given the drugs he was assured would make it fall out. (Also, the cancer in his bone marrow at his first biopsy, before the diet, had somehow disappeared by the time he decided to undergo chemo.) This adventure taught me that the medical community, no matter how much they insist we submit to their care, actually know very little about the workings of the human body. The nutritional industry is similarly sailing equally uncharted waters. I became predisposed to distrust these and other authorities when it comes to proclamations concerning the abilities and inabilities of the human organism.
In 1972 I got my first pair of glasses. I had resisted them for a year, saying I didn't need them, but once I got them I wore them constantly, except to see closely. It bothered me that every time I had a checkup my eyes had slipped a little more into myopia, starting at 20/70 and ending at my last checkup in 1984 around 20/300. (20/70 is 'legally blind' in New York State.) I was never given more of an explanation for this decline than that it was a normal progression for myopes. When I took genetics in high school and college, I began to wonder why I was the only myope in my entire family, including parents, both brothers, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Genetically this made no sense to me. So for years I doubted the eye care industry's claim that my condition was unchangeable, but I found no concrete substantiation of my suspicions until 1991.
In 1989 I was led to the book "The Art of Memory" by Frances Yates through my participation in an avant-garde opera by Robert Ashley, "Improvement": Don Leaves Linda which refers allegorically to Giordano Bruno and memory systems, and through my a cquaintance with one Philip Guerrard who was familiar with Yates' books on these subjects. The art of memory is a technique of using imagery as an aid in the memorization of speeches by ancient Greek orators. It involves building structures, e.g., houses or palaces, in one's imagination, to house images chosen for the ability of their attributes to remind one of an idea, phrase, or even a word. The theory is that since humans depend so much on visual information, it should help in the retention in memory of such abstract things as words or ideas if one links images to them, preferably striking images. I tested this on myself, and made a house for all the jokes I knew, since I had long been annoyed by my inability to remember all the jokes I knew at parties or on long car trips with new acquaintances. It works. I can now at will call up from memory any one of over fifty jokes simply by mentally looking through the house I used and seeing the representative objects I placed there. I then used the art to help me remember all the important facets of my vocal technique, which was easy since many of them were images already. I thus became able much more quickly to figure out which part of my technique I wasn't paying enough or any attention to when I was having vocal trouble. This made me better prepared to improve my eyesight when those techniques useful to me asserted themselves over the other ones not specific to my personal psychomuscular makeup. I made a house for them as well, some images of which are described later.
MY CHANCE EXPOSURE
In 1991, I was singing the role of Don Jose in Philadelphia, and I glanced at a Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog that a chorus member had brought to rehearsal to alleviate the tedium of waiting for a chorus scene to be rehearsed. In the catalogue was an ad for "aerobic glasses," made of opaque plastic and studded in a honeycomb pattern with pinholes. It advertised seeing clearly without using lenses and improving eyesight. The concept of pinholes was familiar to me: before I allowed myself to wear glasses I had discovered that I could see better if I formed a small hole with both pairs of thumbs and index fingers and looking through them. I ordered the 'aerobic glasses' at an exorbitant price ($40.00; I later saw the same thing in a health food store in Iowa for $25.00. They're worth about 50¢ in material, if that.) and received them at my next job, which was Faust in Durham NC. I wore them and shared them with fellow cast members, who were amazed at the effect they produced. Almost everyone who tried them could see fairly clearly, and what amazed them was that it could be done without lenses of any sort.
With the 'glasses' came a booklet called 'Secrets of seeing without glasses or contacts' which described exercises to do to strengthen and relax the muscles around the eye, a schedule for wearing the 'glasses' and also a reference to one Dr. William Bates, on whose original techniques the writers of this pamphlet had allegedly improved. I mentioned that name to the woman playing Marguerite, Kay Lowe, and she said she had his book. I borrowed and read it. The pamphlet writers had not improved on Bates' technique, only added others, and actually misrepresented some of the most important exercises.
Dr. William H. Bates, M.D., wrote his book 'The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses' in the early part of this century, and it was published by Emily Bates in 1940. Bates, who died in 1931, was an ophthalmologist in the New York area who taught himself to overcome his presbyopia ("farsightedness") and then proceeded to refine and augment the techniques he developed for himself to help others to learn to see without the aid of lenses. (The book is still available for purchase. (It is an 'Owl Book', published by Henry Holt, New York.) It was during my reading of the chapter 'Imagination as an aid to vision' that I first experienced the possibility of long-lasting vision improvement.
The book described a process of observing a letter at a distance at which it appeared in clear focus, then using memory of the letter to imagine it clearly while viewing it at distances at which it would not be seen clearly (in my case, farther away). One could increase the distance in small increments, as Bates had one woman do. I applied this technique immediately after reading it to a few whole words on the page I had been reading. It worked. (It must be emphasized that I read the book with my unaided eyes. I believe it would do no good to read it while wearing glasses. because one couldn't then immediately try out the various exercises described.) I held the book farther away by degrees until I was seeing the words clearly at a distance twice that at which I had been able to see clearly with my naked eye for the past decade and a half. By the time that gig ended I was able after some practice to read book spine titles on my TV eight feet away. The first title I read this way was 'Wonderful Life' by Stephen Jay Gould. I am not a believer in fate or occult connections between things, but that title was appropriate, I thought.
Some of the explanations in Bates' book for various eye problems have been superseded by modern advances in methods of physical examination and a better understanding of the behavior of light. But his techniques for relaxation of the eye musculature have not, to my knowledge an in my opinion, been significantly improved upon.
The techniques in Bates, book which I found most helpful to me (it must be understood that eyesight, like singing, is a highly psychological endeavor and no one set of images will work for any two people, let alone everyone)were: Palming, Shifting, remembering the color black, never staring at any one point for more than a second, and using the letter chart provided with the book to help relax the eye muscles (not the ciliary muscle, the ones around the eyeball, the ones responsible for moving the eye around. They can not be felt when they're contracting and I discovered that mine had been locked in a certain combination of tension for many years, which had increased incrementally by each checkup). Please read his book to learn about these techniques in detail. The arcane writing style and the quaint naivete of someone writing before television can nevertheless be digested. I will describe here the tricks I've discovered myself that are not described by Bates.
THE NECK CONNECTION
My next gig after FAUST was in Chautauqua NY, where I attended a lecture by a trigger point specialist, which is someone who alleviates muscular pain such as headaches by application of an understanding of the relationships between incorrectly contracting muscles and pressure points called trigger points that if properly massaged bring about a release of the offending tension. His live demonstration on singers he had never before met convinced many of us that there was some substance behind his radical rhetoric, and convinced me that his reference book "Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual" would be worth having. (He wore glasses, and I asked him if he'd heard of Bates, and he said yes but didn't seem interested in applying it to his own field. I found it curious that even someone as far from the medical mainstream as a trigger point specialist, and someone who constantly worked to relax others' muscles, should show such little interest in improving the function of his own eye muscles.) I bought the book through the local bookstore at home. It is a user-friendly reference guide to alleviating muscle problems by the use of diagrams showing the many trigger points and which muscles they affect. It led me to wonder if there were eye-muscle trigger points, and several months later I discovered one while on a long car trip.
Once I learned to see clearly fairly often, around 40% of the time (and the rest of the time was never nearly as blurry as it had been when I wore glasses) I was able to drive with unaided eyes, except at night when my eyes got tired and it became more difficult to relax them. (Since then I have become able to drive quite late into the night with unaided eyes.) One evening I began to massage the neck muscles at the base of the skull. I found that if I held pressure on these muscles my eyes would involuntarily see more clearly. It took several more months for it to occur to me that I didn't need to constantly hold my fingers to my neck to see clearly more easily, that the same result could be achieved by using muscles on the other, anterior, side of my neck to counterbalance the pull of these rear muscles and relax their hold on my eyes. The memory image I use for this is a seahorse, because of the curvature of their heads and necks. When I use the muscles in front of my ears to rock my head forward and loosen those rear neck muscles, it feels like I'm imitating a seahorse.
When I first started learning to release the ocular tensions accrued over the years, my yoga background was invaluable. I soon became aware of many theretofore unrecognized tightnesses in the eyes brought on by various actions. One of the very first I noticed was a tension brought on by blinking. This is difficult to describe, and I must use image metaphors. The way I learned to blink had a feeling associated with it similar to the action of pulling shut a long trapdoor than was suspended by a spring at the free end, and pulling it from a position about halfway down the length of the door. Another analogy would be using one's foot to depress a spring-loaded organ or synthesizer volume pedal. Or simply pushing down a cafeteria-type spring-loaded dish holder mounted on a table the surface of which is at shoulder height, with the tips of one's fingers from as far away as one could reach, keeping the arm perfectly straight. If you can keep one eye wide open and the other shut but not at all squinting, they way you keep the eye shut is the way I used to blink. This way of blinking, I found, caused my eyes to blur a bit, and I quickly started blinking more, as it were, with the front muscles of the eyelids, those muscles employed when one shuts the eyes tight while also raising and stretching the upper lip in a smiling grimace. It would be like going to the free end of the trapdoor and pulling down gripping the edge with the palm side of your forearms facing you. Or using your thumbs an the very end of the organ pedal instead of your whole foot along its entire length. Or just sitting on the plates. It was a very noticeable blink and resembled a nervous twitch. Gradually I allowed myself to blink in a more normal-looking manner, but without the old blurring tensions. I use the large 'front blink' now only when the other techniques aren't helping, or when time doesn't allow more effective but slower techniques like shifting. The memory image I use for this is the old Porky Pig, way back before Bugs Bunny was created when all toons had drops of sweat eject from the tops of their heads when they got nervous, and their eyelids were dark and shiny and opened and closed with a mechanical precision. A better image for some would be that mechanical owl in 'Clash of the Titans' whose eyes blinked so loudly.
THE INNER EYELID
Any Trekkie will identify with the above title and its presence in Vulcans which allowed Spock to instinctively shield his optic nerve from the blinding rays of McCoy's experimental light bombardment which killed the creature within Spock. Its relevance here is that there's no better way to describe one of the tricks I discovered to keep my sight clear. It's related to the blinking problem, except that one applies this feeling with the eyes open. It actually feels like I'm lifting up another eyelid that sits directly on top of my eye, like lifting up a long skirt to reveal a white petticoat. It's a very calm feeling when it;s achieved, and until I discovered the Seahorse and Zaphod techniques was one of my main tricks. I say 'tricks' because one must trick the muscles into behaving with these images. The image for this one is, of course, Mr. Spock himself.
In Des Moines, the summer after my initial success, I discovered a trick more mental than muscular. It's important to not let the sight process get nervous, because it will panic and the muscles will contract severely (and bring my vision back to where it was when I needed glasses). To this end I tried to understand what it was that made my eyes go myopic in the first place. Bates talks about the effect that reading a lot has had on people's eyes in general, i.e. we have trained our eyes to see close in order to read, and many of us try to apply the muscle ratios needed to see very close to seeing far away, which doesn't work. The eyes have been shaped by nature (those of you who still don't believe in evolution will not like this. Sorry.) to see images far away. Seeing close is of secondary importance, in terms of survival. But the eye can adapt to either extreme. Force of habit will cause it to let one set of muscular ratios predominate, and since seeing far requires little or no muscular adjustment from a state of rest, since the eye was built to see far, living a life where most sight is for distant objects, the muscles necessary to see really close will from disuse "forget" how to do it, like our toe muscles which only in persons without the ability to use hands are exercised enough to make the feet able to write with a pencil, though we all have the same sets of muscles. Conversely, prolonged use of the eye muscles for close work will tend to lock them into that pattern of performance, and one will with great difficulty if at all be able to relax them again to see far. (Computer screens are especially hard on eyes, because the screen image is not clear to start with, and the tendency to stare to see it clearly is encouraged.) Charles Darwin, in 'The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex,' makes the observation that 'savages,' as he calls them, meaning no disrespect, overwhelmingly see at a distance much better than Europeans. Of course. Savages don't read books all the time.
My eyes had gotten used to focusing in order to see close. I speculated that their tendency through learned unconscious habit to focus on close things, which entails crossing the eyes to varying degrees depending on proximity, probably was affecting my ability to see distant objects. In other words, my eyes were using see-close techniques for both near and far vision. At least, I thought, my eyes were thinking that objects were closer than they really were, and not understanding when they weren't getting a clear image. (To extend the Star Trek reference, in the first movie V-GER was thinking, 'I have sent the creator the correct sequence. Why does the creator not respond?' Or in Robocop when he says 'my targeting system is off.' But he knew why. My eyes didn't.) I tried tricking my eyes into focusing for the proper distance by pretending the object in question was a little farther than it seemed. I got this idea while looking at the pattern of tiles in the Men's Room and trying to get the parallel lines to converge. This was a game I had played for many years, but now with my eyes more relaxed it had the effect of clearing up the image, specifically of removing the false second image caused by astigmatism, which according to Bates is simply another form of incorrect muscle adjustment. Just as all the eye muscles contracting will elongate the eyeball, so a few of them contracting will warp the ball just enough for the cornea to become uneven, which causes astigmatism and hence multiple images. (Also, in the pamphlet that accompanied the 'aerobic glasses' was an image of a stop sign that was split into two images, neither of which had all the parts. One is asked to bring the images together by looking as if at a distant object so that the stop sign becomes complete. One could do something similar on this page by trying to make the following two sets of letters converge by overlapping the T's in order to form a five- letter word: