The richness of the visual depth experience is often a surprise for people who have worn eyeglasses for a long time, then start going without them. Glasses flatten depth. This means those who wear them need to compensate by using visual cues to depth, like that objects farther away will appear smaller. Yet they often are not seeing the depth, which can be overwhelming. A myopic friend who always wears her strong glasses, and knows I am interested in vision improvement, decided to take hers off briefly while she was driving on an empty highway bordered by woods. She was so startled by the abundant depth she saw in the trees at the side of the road, layer after layer, that she slammed her glasses back on immediately, almost frightened. It was too much and she wasn’t used to it.
A few years ago when I took a workshop with Peter Grunwald, the developer of the Eyebody Method of vision improvement, he emphasized the importance of noticing depth as people come out of a myopic pattern. In fact he said practicing seeing depth is one of the most important ways near-sighted folks can start stretching their vision easily into the distance. With this in mind, as it was winter here when I began seriously focusing on this practice, I spent a lot of time looking at the bare leafless trees, playing with “Is that branch closer, or is that one?”. This seemed like more fun than practicing with the flat eye chart, which was often a struggle for me and made me feel like I couldn’t see that well, like I was failing a test. Mother Nature felt much less judgemental.
When I take walks outside now, I consciously focus on seeing depth. If I’m not sure which object is farther away, I can tell by moving my head slightly so the view shifts. Try this yourself: when you move your gaze to the left, the scenery shifts to the right, the classic oppositional movement. And what is closer to you will “move” more than what is farther away! So I can use this to test my depth awareness, and am pleased to find my interpretation of which is closer and which farther away is usually correct.
Another place I practice seeing depth when I am outside is straight overhead, with the clouds. I had always assumed clouds were flat, if I thought about it at all, the way a child would draw them. One day I was glancing up at the clouds, just playing with seeing up since I always used to look downwards when I wore strong glasses. I was amazed when the depth in the clouds popped out at me, like looking at mountains of whipped cream! Now every time I’m outside I look up to enjoy the cloud mountain ranges, scanning the slopes.
When I first started working with a behavioral optometrist years ago to improve my vision, he wanted me to spend time with 3D pictures, those where you look beyond the page to create another image which isn’t obvious at first. I wasn’t able to see the Magic Eye pictures at all in the beginning, so had to practice with “training wheels” of red and green images which I looked at with special glasses with 2 different color lenses. Both my eyes could see (you do need 2-eyed vision for a stereoscopic effect) — my theory as to why I couldn’t see depth is that I had been trained out of it by all those decades in a strong prescription, the natural depth in my view squashed flat. When I could finally see the Magic Eye images, I was thrilled! I still order their wall calendar every year, but honestly, these images are much less exciting to me now that I’m seeing the true depth around me in the natural world all the time.
We are meant to see depth, as we are meant to see color, or movement, or shapes. One of the reasons babies are so fascinated by mobiles hanging over their cribs is the varying depths in that view, much more stimulating to the eyes and brain than a flat picture. Since I was put in glasses at such a young age, I’ve often thought that my vision improvement journey now is like that of a child learning to see her world for the first time, naturally, without my glasses in the way. As my vision continues to improve, the depth I see keeps getting deeper, which is very exciting to me. And I’m right in the middle of that world now, rather than walled off apart from it behind my glasses. I feel like I’m looking with my environment, rather than looking at it.