Have you been diagnosed with progressive myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (the asymmetric curvature of the cornea) or presbyopia (farsightedness caused by aging)? Have you been told you will have to wear glasses for the rest of your life, at least while performing certain activities? Have you been told that the body has no natural way of correcting visual defects?
If so, you’re not alone. Many people hear such definitive conclusions from their eye doctors; many believe it. But is it true? Have you ever wondered why other organs are capable of making remarkable recoveries, while the eye—our most important sensual organ—appears to be alone in lacking this power of self-correction? Why are doctors more likely to believe stories of spontaneously disappearing tumors than those of natural recovery from nearsightedness?
Eye doctors tell us that 90 percent of all people will one day have to wear glasses. Yet in my twenty years of experience as a practicing ophthalmologist, I have found that eyesight improvement is within most people’s reach. I have met and spoken to thousands of people who were the cause of their own visual improvement. The question seems not to be how “bad” one’s eyesight is, or how long the patient has been suffering from a particular problem, or what the precise nature of that problem is. Natural visual improvement mostly seems to be a mental thing rather than a matter of the eyes as such.
Ophthalmology as a rule teaches that the inability to focus properly—as in nearsightedness, for example—is caused by the shape of the eyeball. That shape is said to be genetically determined, which is why visual improvement is thought to be impossible. But if the eyeball’s inherited shape really is the cause of bad eyesight, how is it that our ancestors did not suffer the same problems? What people fail to realize is that the contemporary industrialized world is faced with an epidemic of visual defects—especially nearsightedness, which is rare in less developed countries. It appears that the number of cases of nearsightedness rises within a single generation if people are better educated and spend more time indoors. As early as 1969, researchers found that 59 percent of primary school-aged Inuit children suffered from nearsightedness, a condition that affected only 5 percent of their parents and none of their grandparents. A similar development was recorded in Japan, where the number of cases of nearsightedness nearly tripled between 1945 and 1970, in pace with the industrialization and Westernizing of Japanese society. So although hereditary factors may well contribute to the problem, there are clearly other factors which influence people’s eyesight as well.
Even in the modern world the number of cases of myopia is significantly lower in rural areas than among the more highly educated professional population. In fact, the higher your education, the higher your risk of becoming nearsighted. The statistics look something like this:
- Age or level of education—Percentage suffering myopia
- At birth—less than 1 percent
- Ages 5 to 9—8 percent
- End of primary school—20 percent
- End of secondary school—40 percent
- End of university—80 percent
But this development can be stopped, as I discovered in my own eye clinic. In the afternoons, when parents would pick up their children from school, I found myself stuck with little to do. I decided to make up for my lost time with an experiment. We had a special eye therapy room where we worked with children who suffered from learning difficulties because of their visual impairment. I decided to go there in the afternoons and take off my glasses, just to see what would happen. The first day, I sat down, put down my glasses on the table next to me and looked around for a while. Everything seemed to be in order. But as I sat there, suddenly my right arm reached out for my glasses and put them back on! It happened before I even realized it. Before I knew it, I was back in my consulting room, going about my usual affairs.
The next two days the same thing happened. Each day I would enter the room and take off my glasses, only to put them back on within minutes without even noticing it. After a few days I started to notice an uneasy, tense feeling, apparently just before I was about to reach out for my glasses, so I tried to wait and see what would happen after this feeling of discomfort set in. My tension turned to fear, which in turn triggered other emotions: grief, anger, or a sense of loss of control. The longer I took off my glasses, the more these emotions came to the surface, but they would instantly disappear when I put my glasses back on. Trying to figure out what was the logic behind all this, I wondered if perhaps my glasses functioned as a way of altering my emotional state, as alcohol does in an alcoholic. At that moment I realized how addictive glasses really are.
One day, after I had taken off my glasses for about fifteen minutes, I wondered how the removal of a couple of mere corrective lenses could produce such powerful emotions. But then it struck me that I was looking at it the wrong way round. My glasses were like a mask for my awareness of those unpleasant feelings, feelings which must be aspects of my life which I could not bear to face; feelings I had obscured and unconsciously buried by wearing glasses. And the longer I took off my glasses, the more those feelings surfaced. The theory matched my experience, but how could this be? My optometry teachers had never mentioned any correlation between eyesight and emotions.
A few days later I looked at the chart on the other side of my practice without my glasses. It somehow looked different. Suddenly I realized I could read the smaller print, about half the size of the largest. I could see better than I had for years! In my enthusiasm, I could hardly believe it. I couldn’t wait to share this amazing news with my colleagues. I told one of them, “I’m working on an experiment, and now my eyesight is twice as good as before.” He gave me a quizzical look and said, “The images are as blurry as they’ve always been; you just know what’s supposed to be there.’ As if he was trying to say: ‘How can you be so naive?’ It was the same with all the other opticians with whom I tried to share my experience. I felt like a child that had been slapped in the face. They wouldn’t even listen to what I had to say about my experiment. After all, I had no control group or statistically sound research to back up my story—just my own personal experience.
Still I persisted, gradually increasing the time I spent without glasses, and my eyesight still seemed to improve. The longer I kept my glasses off, the better I could see. That’s when I decided to re-examine my eyes. If an eye test could prove my eyesight had deteriorated, it could also prove its improvement; if there was any truth to my experience, my eyes should have gotten measurably better.
As I sat down in the doctor’s chair and placed the large examination tool before my eyes, I ran the full range of tests on myself. The results were remarkable. For the first time, I asked myself that famous question: Which one is better, A or B? It was confusing to be both patient and doctor at the same time, and it was strange how this huge optical instrument in front of me was blocking my whole view. I knew that the eyes process both visual information from the centre and the periphery of our view. We focus on the centre: it is where we perceive the details and colors of still objects in our central visual range. It is mostly active by day, as it is especially useful at high light intensity. Our peripheral view is used to perceive forms and motions. We use it to scan objects surrounding our central visual range. We always use it, and at night, with its low light intensity, it is our prime source of visual information. Yet here I was, in a completely darkened room where my peripheral view should have been called upon, but it was blocked by this apparatus. I realized that the strength of my glasses was based on a whole range of seemingly faulty questions. My intuition was trying to tell me that the whole thing was wrong.
Having finished the examination I concluded that my eyesight was indeed better than before, despite my feelings of disorientation. Despite my reluctance to wear glasses, I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to get a new pair. Meanwhile I took to wearing my old glasses less and less often, taking them off whenever I noticed I didn’t really need them.
When my new glasses finally arrived, something surprising happened when I put them on. I felt as if my entire being shriveled up. My eyes felt tense; they almost hurt. My consciousness seemed to get sucked inward and I felt as if my solar plexus had suddenly been blocked. What was going on?
Because I wasn’t wearing glasses that often anymore, I sensed a dramatic shift in perception when I put on the new pair. In fact, a similar effect of constriction and tension occurs each time we put on corrective lenses, but we tend to get used to this to the extent where we don’t even notice it. You may recall the feeling the first time you were prescribed stronger glasses. It’s the same part of your consciousness saying, geez, this feels weird. But usually we suppress our discomfort because we rely on our doctor: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
So how could putting on a pair of glasses cause such a stifling sensation? I knew that research had shown that the two aspects of eyesight had to do with more than looking either straight ahead or sideways. The central view which all routine examination focuses on is the analytical aspect of our mind’s eye, the one which probes our world in detail. The peripheral view, examined only if an illness is suspected, is the aspect of our mind which experiences our world as a whole. This global perspective allows us to scan our entire range of observation all the time. Only then do we decide what we wish to focus on.
By putting on glasses our peripheral view is considerably narrowed. Remember how the doctor would place a small ruler on your nose? He was measuring the distance between each pupil, so that the optician could provide precisely the right lens strength for the centre of each eye. If you take a closer look at your glasses you may be able to see this optical centre. The standard method of lens polishing ignores the fact that the eyes are constantly in motion. In reality, the strength of your glasses changes each time your eyes drift from the optical centre. But the eye doctor doesn’t tell you this, because he was never taught it was important.
Just how important is it? If you look straight down the middle of your lenses, your vision will be perfect: you can see every detail as if you were looking through a microscope or telescope. But as soon as you look to the left or right or up or down instead of straight ahead, the strength of those lenses changes and details become blurred. There is a prismatic effect which blurs your vision, and your eyes respond to this distortion by always returning to the center and finally staying there permanently.
By coercing us to look straight ahead all the time, our glasses effectively train our eyes to stay in one single position. We are literally taught to look at reality from a single fixed point of view. But by looking straight ahead we can only analyze and discriminate. The more we wear glasses, the more we learn to judge our world instead of experiencing it, until slowly we lose our natural ability to perceive the world as a whole.
Chinese Eye Exercises
The Chinese claim to have discovered a simple tool to combat the growing number of people suffering from myopia. Since the government’s intervention in 1948, many Chinese students and factory workers carry out the visual exercises outlined on official posters for about ten minutes, twice a day.
1. Keep your eyes closed during these exercises.
2. Massage slowly and gently until the area surrounding your eyes becomes slightly tender.
3. Perform these exercises twice a day.
Exercise 1: Massage the insides of the eyebrows with your thumbs while resting your slightly curved fingers on your forehead (repeat 8 times).
Exercise 2: Massage the bridge of the nose using your thumb and index finger. Work down, then up (repeat 8 times).
Exercise 3: Place your thumbs on your lower jaw and place your index and middle fingers against the sides of your nose, where your nostrils are. Lower your middle fingers to massage your cheeks, keeping your index fingers in place (repeat 8 times).
Exercise 4: Curve your fingers inward and place your thumbs on the sides of your forehead. Make a rubbing motion with the side of your index fingers following the pattern 2-3-4-6-5 as outlined in the illustration (repeat 8 times).