Peripheral Awareness

As someone who used to be very nearsighted, rarely looking far ahead and to my sides hardly at all, the “wide open spaces” of my enhanced peripheral awareness now are a joy. I’m no longer trapped by that tight restrictive cage which eyeglasses trained me to stay within. Don’t look outside the frames! Don’t color outside the lines!

When I was wearing -10 contact lenses, a co-worker regularly teased me about seeing me driving and waving to me, yet I never noticed him in the next car! I did not have good visual habits back then, with my attention only focused on the small bubble around me. Even though I had no eyeglasses frames on my face to artificially restrict my vision, the way I used my eyes was restricted. Now when I drive, I can see farther to the sides naturally, without straining. This is a delight, as there’s so much to see. I’m sure I’m a safer driver than when I was only focused on the car immediately ahead of me.

Glasses train us to overuse our central vision, and to ignore our periphery. In healthy natural vision, the clearest point of sight is in the pinpoint center of the visual field, from light falling on the macula of the eye in the center of the retina. The healthy eye is in constant motion, re-directing the sharpest vision to a different area. Wearing glasses teaches our visual system to artificially expand the center, trying to see everything clearly at once, without moving the gaze from point to point to point. I’ve wondered if this bad habit is behind macular degeneration, where the central vision is so overused it starts to wear out.

One of my vision teachers said that 5% of healthy vision should be from the central macular area, and 95% from the periphery. This 95% is clearer near the center (though not as crystal clear as macular vision) and less clear farther away from the center. He said many people with poor vision have this reversed, over-using their central vision and shutting out their periphery entirely, giving themselves “tunnel vision”. This was certainly my case until about 10 years ago.

If your gaze and your head are not slightly moving all the time to look at something new, my guess is you have a stiff neck. This is classic for people with poor vision. Healthy human vision is supposed to work by the clearest image falling in the center of the retina (the macula), then the gaze easily moving to something interesting in the periphery, to let the sharpest vision examine that next. Even if it’s nearby, a slight gentle movement of the head will accompany the eye movement.

As I continue to improve my own sight, peripheral awareness has become a barometer to me of how good my vision is. Good vision is not only about how well I can see the eye chart! I’ve noticed my periphery contracts when I get anxious, and I go into that tunnel vision mode. I guess this intense focus is a good thing if I’m in a fight for my survival, when I want no distractions. In my daily life, it’s not necessary.

I’ve said many times that for me, limited vision comes from high anxiety and not feeling safe. I can feed this pattern by ignoring my periphery and trying and straining to see everything clearly, so nothing will “get me”. Or I can take a few deep breaths, feel my feet on the ground, and let my peripheral awareness open up. The expansive view is more relaxing to me, with more possibilities. And this feels so much better!


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Nancy
I wore strong glasses, then contact lenses, for most of my life, starting at age 5. While making many mistakes, eventually l learned how to improve the way I use my eyes and to see in a more relaxed, healthy manner. It is my pleasure to coach others to do the same. Visit me at https://NancyLNeff.com.
Nancy

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Nancy

Author: Nancy

I wore strong glasses, then contact lenses, for most of my life, starting at age 5. While making many mistakes, eventually l learned how to improve the way I use my eyes and to see in a more relaxed, healthy manner. It is my pleasure to coach others to do the same. Visit me at https://NancyLNeff.com.

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Tom
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Tom

Hi, Nancy == I just finished reading three of your related posts: Thoughts on Overfocusing, How Do I Practice Central Fixation and this one, entitled Peripheral Awareness. I chose to reply to this one only because it’s the only one without reader comments yet. =] I very much appreciate the way you’re grouping your articles, with links to related posts below the current post. Based on your writings of several weeks ago I’ve been more and more aware of Central Focus and how I’m not making best use of it and the periphery. Reading ALL THREE of these articles provides a very solid understanding of the concept. UPPERCASE is for emphasis only, not yelling. =] I’ve been experiencing WIDE swings in my visual acuity lately. It can be alarming, but I’ve been paying attention long enough to realize that vision is in a state of flux. I exhibit some (undiagnosed) symptoms of a thyroid disorder (maybe) and my research suggests that the polyopia with which I struggle could be the “Vertical Diplopia” sometimes associated with Graves Disease, which causes problems the muscles of the eye. I mention this for your edification, Nancy: When I began to realize that vision improvement… Read more »

Tom
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Tom

Dear Nancy, It’s taken seven months for me to find my way back to this discussion. Thank you SO MUCH for the very helpful links in your post above, and for your equally helpful comments therein. I read that post when you wrote it, but put off reading the linked articles, meaning to return in a day or two. But my Dad passed away on May 19 and my world turned upside down for a while. We were very close. After the mourning, life just sort of swirled out of control, such that I never seemed to catch up with important considerations. I stopped exercising regularly and my vision improvement efforts fell by the wayside. I HAVE thought of you and this discussion many times, mostly when on my “Vision Walks” as suggested by you. Each time I think I will write to you upon my return from the walk, but by the time I return home I’ve lost track of the intention. FINALLY I made it back here! I truly appreciate your willingness to help me and others make sense of our vision problems, and find ways to overcome them. I read the three linked articles you suggested and… Read more »

Nancy
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Nancy

Oh, Tom, I’m so sorry about your Dad. Loss of a parent is a huge deal at any age. Give yourself plenty of self-care, and all the time you need to heal from this. Too many people rush the grieving process, in my opinion . And yes, as I’ve said I consider peripheral awareness crucial to good vision, and it’s a lot easier to notice this out-of-doors where your periphery can expand and expand.

Tom
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Tom

Thank you for kindness regarding my Dad’s passing. The world looks a little different now, but it’s all “Lessons” and I’m probably a better, stronger person as a result.

Your ideas about Peripheral Vision and Vision Walks has changed the way I take walks. I used to have a sort of “tunnel vision” as described in your article. I’m a creative, analytical person and although I was walking “out in the world” I actually SAW very little of it. My thoughts and indeed my VISION were compressed and restricted to whatever problem I was solving at the time. I began to realize that I was not using my eyes at all. I *really* saw nothing. I was so much “inside my head.”

Since encountering this Vision Walks concept, my walks are FAR more enjoyable and I notice my vision seems improved and more relaxed on the walk back home. THANKS!

Nancy
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Nancy

Tom, thanks for letting me know about your vision walks being more expansive — I love this! Yes, vision improvement is not rocket science. Good work!

Tom
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Tom

Yeah, well thank YOU. You mention your teachers sometimes, and that makes me consider how teachers have teachers, too. So I suppose in some cases you’re “passing it forward” as they say – probably the best way to spend time on the planet. Thanks from “everybody else”… =D

Nancy
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Nancy

Thanks, Tom. This touched me, and made me smile. The best teachers I’ve encountered are always learning. I think you need to be a good student to be a good teacher. If I can’t teach it effectively to someone else, to me that means I don’t really understand it! 🙂 Take care.