I was lying down on a bench, looking up at some tree branches, and I slipped into an altered state of mind, near sleep. I saw the leaves and branches pretty clearly, but at the same time I had no understanding of what I was looking at. There was no depth. It was all just pieces and colors mixed together. Meanwhile I was thinking of something unrelated. So my imagination was totally disengaged from what I was looking at.
Why does this matter? What does it mean?
Dr. Bates found that his patients’ ability to visualize things they have seen corresponded to their quality of vision. People who have very good vision can visualize vividly, while people with very poor vision either have very poor visualization skills or they don’t make full use of their skills.
What you see with your eyes, in the moment, is very important. But it is only data, and limited data at that. You may think you see a flower because of your eyes, but your eyes only took in the light rays bouncing off the flower. Your mind does the rest of the job for you to perceive the object that your eyes are looking at.
In the picture to the right, the man is visualizing what the flower should look like, even though his eyes are giving him blurry data. But what is he really doing?
Remember that when your eyes don’t focus light rays correctly, the image on your eyes’ retinas is scattered, which is what we call blurry.
If you already know that imagination is important to vision, you may still be making a critical mistake. You may be trying to use your imagination to fix the data that your eyes receive, bringing it into focus by perhaps trying to overlay a clear image on top of the blurry one, or imagining that the clearer image inside your head is “out there”. But consider that the image you perceive happens inside in your mind and not out there. Everything you think you see as you look around is an interpretation inside your mind of what is out there.
So it makes much more sense to do things the other way around. Use what your eyes see to assist your imagination. This way, seeing becomes all about visualizing. The data from your eyes is secondary, while your focus is primarily on the image that you are visualizing.
Visualization happens in a different place mentally than the place where the data from your eyes is first received. People have described it as in the back of their heads. For instance, briefly remember the home you grew up in. Do it now…
You had at least a vague flash of the home, right? If it wasn’t vivid, then at least you had some minimum sense of form, place, color. And as you did so, you didn’t suddenly see it out in front of you, where this computer screen is. It happened elsewhere in your mind. If the image was very vague and you are unable to make it much better, that just shows that you need to practice it more. If at other times, like while sleeping, you spontaneously visualize things very vividly, even if briefly, that shows what your immediate potential is. If you visualize clearly at any time, you are capable of doing it virtually all the time. If you have a hard time doing it while you are awake and your eyes are open, that just shows that it’s against your programmed way of seeing. But that can be changed, just by practice.
So like the man looking at the flower, you should be visualizing what you are looking at. If you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like, imagine what it could be. Or even just imagine something that you know it isn’t. The point is to prioritize your imagination and use the visual data from your eyes to feed it. Maybe you don’t even care about the flower. Maybe something else deserves your attention more. Experiment with this often and see what happens.