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The Yoga of Vision

by Marc Grossman


The term “yoga” literally means “union.” It is so named because its practice leads to the integration of the physical, mental, and spiritual energies that, together, enhance health and well-being. Yoga teaches the basic principle of mind/body unity. If the mind is chronically restless and agitated, the health of the body will be compromised, and if the body is in poor health, mental clarity and strength will be adversely affected. The practice of yoga can counter these ill effects, restoring mental and physical health.
The eyes are, after all, simply tools of the mind. They are made out of brain tissue, as if the brain itself has pushed its way out of the skull, in the same way a seed pushes its way out of the soil in order to see the light. The eyes are the brain’s expression of itself on the surface of the human body; vision is the method by which the brain knows the world and gathers enough information to make itself known to the world at large. To me that is why the eyes are so mysterious, so filled with meaning. They are the tools (basically they are just like video cameras mounted on the front of our heads) that allow us to interrelate our minds with the world around us.
And yet, I can’t truly say that the eyes are simply receptive in their function. They are organs of both receiving and giving. They are reflections of our soul, of who and where we are at any given moment on all levels of being—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Therefore, similar to yoga philosophy, to really work on clarity of vision, you must work on yourself as a whole being and you must understand that vision involves relationships.
Even on the most basic level, sight involves the intimate relationship between the person seeing and the object or person being seen. On a more profound level, vision evolves based on your relationships with yourself, your loved ones, your community, your world, and your Spirit. Therefore, your ultimate goal should never stop with simple visual clarity. Rather, it is to move toward having spiritual clarity.
So the natural vision philosophy and yoga practice can weave together to help one achieve higher levels of mind/body unity. This article will give an overview of natural vision therapy.
History of Natural Vision Therapy
Over the centuries, there has been much discussion as to who was the first man to make a pair of glasses. We know that the Egyptians busied themselves with vision therapy. They worked with eye-teaming problems with the use of a mask that had two small eye holes in it, placed far apart. The idea was that the overly convergent patient would have to work hard to have his two eye see out of the holes.
The idea of vision therapy, in fact, predates the concept of glasses by thousands of years. And this is important. Many of us live with the misconception that vision therapy—or, to name it more correctly, Natural Vision Improvement—was invented at the beginning of the last century by a man named William Bates. But while Bates certainly had a huge impact upon the idea that we could learn to see better naturally if we would only exercise both our eyes and our vision, he was certainly not the creator of the concept.
The concept of vision therapy, of improving how we perceive the world visually, was perhaps originally the work of Greek philosophers, who were themselves trying to understand the world.
And they came to quite a good understanding; they understood vision to be a dynamic process, one that involves an interaction, a relationship, between the viewer and the viewed. Plato himself insisted that the eyes not only took in energy but sent it forth as well. And he insisted that the visual system did more than take in images, that it perceived information as well. And the aspect of self that actually perceived the world, Plato insisted, was the human soul.
By the time of the Roman Empire, the concept of naturally improving vision had, at least to some degree, been replaced through the use of corrective lenses. Whether or not actual pairs of glasses were being made is doubtful, but Pliny reports that Nero used a concave gem set in a ring that he placed before his eye in order to see the games in the Coliseum in Rome.
Natural Vision Improvement Philosophy
In today’s world, we tend to take vision problems in stride. We have, in fact, focused most of our attention on the clarity of the image itself, so that we tend not to even diagnose many other forms of vision disorder, such as eye teaming or suppression of the image in an eye. Instead, we slap a pair of glasses on our patient’s face.
I want you to be aware that a pair of glasses has never fixed the vision problems of a pair of eyes. Never has and never will. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because when that pair of lenses makes everything clearer, makes better vision possible, the eyes behind the lenses actually stop trying so hard to see. They let the lenses do the seeing for them. And that is why, a year or so later, much of the time, that same patient will need another pair of glasses, with stronger lenses.
It is important to remember that, when considering the workings of the world, the Greek philosophers did not say to themselves, “What can be put in front of the eyes in order to make vision clearer?” but instead asked, “How can we help these eyes to see more clearly, to perceive more correctly?”
In the eighteenth century, George Berkley, in his “Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision” again insisted upon a philosophy that vision was more than just an optical event. He wrote that the ability to perceive distance was not something that happened in the eye alone but that needed to be integrated between the eye and the brain.
Berkley was lauded for his work with the blind. He wrote, “When a congenitally blind person was surgically given sight, he was, at first, so far from making any judgment about distances that he thought all objects touched his eyes… He knew not the shape of anything, nor any one thing from another, however different in shape or magnitude.”
This observation gave rise to the idea that the judgment of distance is something more than an innate ability.
During this same time period, the philosopher Spinoza gave additional insight as to how vision really works. He theorized that the image that our eyes see is affected by past experience, and, therefore, is affected both by our memory (our interpretation of past experience) and by our beliefs (or biases). Spinoza also theorized that mind and body could not be separated, since they were one and the same thing.
The idea of natural vision improvement was further refined in the teachings of modern era philosophers George Gurdjieff and his student Ouspensky. Each spoke a good deal on the subject of “self-observation,” a concept that, simply put, tells us that “to know others, one must first know oneself.” Thus, self-observation is the key to awareness and attention.
Both state further that, to really know oneself properly, “one must first of all remember oneself.” And that this remembering is a nonanalytic way of directing attention onto oneself without weakening or detracting one’s attention from other things.
Ouspensky illustrates his point using an arrow that extends from the individual and points to that which the individual observes:
I ——> The Observed Phenomenon
If, however, while observing, one tries to “remember oneself,” attention is now directed both toward the object as well as toward the self. He illustrates this point by using a line with two arrowheads, connecting the observer with that which he observes:
I <——> The Observed Phenomenon
Understanding that there will be a great resistance to “self-remembering,” Oupensky advises that the first step one should take is to realize that one is not fully conscious all the time. “When we realize this and observe it for some time, we must try to catch ourselves at the moments when we are not conscious and, little by little, this will make us more conscious.”
In other words, by suggesting that you observe yourself as you are in the process of observing and perceiving the world around you, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky are advising that one live in the present moment. This, of course, is part of the philosophy of natural vision improvement, and an important part in attaining greater vision.
Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy taught that “ultimate awareness can only take place when the computer is gone, if the interaction, the awareness, is so bright that one really comes into his senses.” He concluded, “Lose your mind and come into your senses.”
Krishnamurti said, “One must begin to observe and listen, not only to what is being said, but also to your distortions, as you are observing, see your prejudices, your opinions, your images, your experiences, and see how they prevent you from observing.”
All of these philosophers—from Gurdjieff and his “Remember yourself” to Perls and his “awareness” to Krishnamurti in his insistence that you “observe”—have helped to shape the philosophy by which natural vision improvement is practiced today, as they all emphasize the importance of total awareness of what is happening at the moment. Happening both internally and externally. They insist that we must be a witness, both to history and to our interpretation of that history.
A philosopher who touched my life personally was Carlos Castenada and his character Don Juan. He says that, by “talking to ourselves too much and by repeating the same talk and the same choices over and over again, we maintain our world.” For Castenada, a “warrior” is the man of knowledge. The man who knows the effects of this inner dialogue and seeks to end the inner chatter. A warrior “listens to the world … and … is aware that the world will change as soon as he stops talking to himself.” Again, more of the shapings of the idea of greater vision: our internal chatter lessens as we are more in our own vision and less inside our own heads.
The philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine is another important tool in shaping my practice of natural vision improvement. The Chinese and Ayurvedic model are holistic ones, based on the idea that no single part can be understood except in relation to the whole. A symptom is not traced back to the cause, but is looked on as a part of the totality. These models are based in the wonderful concept that we cannot measure static “things” in order to find answers for our problems—that to understand the root cause of a problem, we need to look at interactions and relationships. These practitioners look for “patterns of disharmony.” For them, direct cause and effect is secondary to the overall pattern of Nature. Remember: don’t ask, “How does X cause Y?” Instead, ask, “What is the relationship between X and Y?”
The same is true for every sort of disease and allopathic medical treatment. Medicine, for the allopath, is sort of a “quid pro quo” prospect. Diagnose the disease based upon the presence or absence of the causative agent and then treat the diagnosed disease based upon the course of action that the diagnosis suggests. But what about the thousands of other things that are tied to that causative agent? What about the relationship of the disease to the human with the disease and the relationships of his myriad of symptoms both good and bad? Where is the consideration of all this in standard allopathic treatment? Indeed, where is the consideration of the patient?nt

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