A nearsighted vision student told me recently that, the way the human eye is designed, he thinks it’s more difficult, more “work” to see near. (I smiled to myself at this, since he himself can see near very well but has trouble seeing in the distance.) He proposed that the eye’s structures were working harder in close vision, the muscles not as relaxed as when looking at something far away. Then he talked about our ancestor hunters easily scanning the horizon for game, seeing far distances clearly, that the human eye was not designed for peering at cell phones and computer screens!
I was excited about the discussion I could feel building, both as a chance to teach, and also to articulate and further clarify my own views on this. First, I told him my belief that a healthy eye sees both close and far well, without struggling and trying hard to do either. If you’re feeling eyestrain, it’s bio-feedback from your visual system that you’re doing something inefficiently! I agreed that cell phones were unnatural for the eye. Then I reminded him of the women of the tribe who stayed in the camp while the hunters were out looking for dinner, doing intricate beadwork or sewing clothes, or the hunters in the winter meticulously repairing their tools or weapons. People back then needed good close vision just as much as good distant vision, and depended on both for their survival.
What I hoped to emphasize to my student here was that both good close vision and good distance vision are natural and normal for the healthy human eye. Beyond that, I wanted to increase his awareness of his own visual system and his thoughts about it, to start him noticing when he is straining. Then he can take steps to change his habits and reduce the strain. If he feels that looking at a certain distance is supposed to be difficult, it won’t even occur to him to see how it could be easier!
Once again, I am learning from my student. It’s definitely true that I still am more comfortable looking near than far, although “far” has to be farther than it used to in order for me to feel stressed. I’m catching myself more often now in that automatic tension increase response when I glance at something far away, and questioning it — do I really have to be anxious looking at that big tree over there on top of that hill? Or is this just a bad habit I can gently start to release? Little by little, I am enjoying looking at all distances, all the time.
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