You need a moderate amount of sunlight for your eyes to function at their best. Dr. Bates wrote about how miners working every day underground, completely cut off from the sun, seemed to always have problems with their eyes. When I used to work a job where I spent most of the time indoors and didn’t have a chance to get out almost every day like I do now, it would feel so refreshing to get outside a little bit, showing just how much I was suffering without some sunlight in my eyes. Whenever I went too many days without spending some time outside, my eyes would start to bother me.
Dr. Bates promoted what he called the “sun treatment,” a method of using a magnifying glass to briefly shining the focused rays of the sun on the whites of your eyes, quickly moving it around while doing so to prevent any harm. You would need a partner for this. It floods the whole retina with light. If you have problems in bright sunlight, this method of adapting to it may have quite an effect both short-term and long-term. Don’t ever stop to focus the light in one spot. Kids used to burn ants with a magnifying glass in this way, so it’s important to keep the light moving and never hold the focus in one spot.
You can also do “sunning,” an exercise similar to the Long Swing, which was discussed on the Movement page. The difference is your eyes are closed, and you’re facing the sun, and while turning you can feel and see the bright sun pass across your field of vision and. You don’t get the same intensity of details as the long swing, but bright sunlight is still intense in a different way, and you’re also helping your eyes adapt to the bright light.
If you want to go extreme, there are people who promote sungazing, or the act of actually looking directly at the sun. If you’re going to try this, do it briefly near sunrise or sunset, where there are no damaging UV rays. It’s literally almost impossible to have your eyes damaged by sunlight if you look at the sun for several minutes when it’s close to the horizon, although you can expect a harmless after-image for a while. The UV rays are what lead to sunburns, and they are absorbed by the atmosphere when the sun is at such a low angle from you.
If you do try sungazing, the principles of good vision still apply. If you focus on keeping your eyes relaxed and leading with your attention, you’ll find yourself glancing away form the sun and exploring the edges. Bright light acts as an amplifier to any discomfort caused by eyestrain. So if you’re not using your eyes right and are causing strain to them, the bright light will make it worse. In one sense this might be helpful because it can make the discomfort more noticeable and thereby give you pretty good feedback when you do something wrong.
As an alternative to the sun, you can gaze at a bright light bulb by sitting closely to it. I would advise a bright incandescent bulb (the old-fashioned type that is becoming illegal in the US due to their high energy use) because fluorescent light can bother some people’s eyes. And halogen (often used in porch lights) are more hot than they are bright. But any of these have virtually no UV light at all, so as with the sun on the horizon, they are safe, and the temporary afterimage is nothing to worry about. I believe a set of white LEDs would work ok too, but I’ve never tried it with anything but a small LED flashlight.
When years ago I practiced gazing at a bright light bulb while sitting closely to it I could feel the intensity of the light, and my eyes tensed up in response. I understood an aspect of the Bates method to mean that I had to direct my eyes to look at one thing at a time, and moving my eyes from point to point to avoid “staring.” I had associated “looking” with a certain feeling of intensive concentration, even though I thought I had understood that I had to relax my eyes
After a while I noticed that when I softened my gaze, or made no effort to keep my eyes firmly pointed at the light bulb or to bring it into focus, it instantly become much easier to continue to look at the bulb, even though i wasn’t “looking” at it in the same way I thought I had to. It felt like I wasn’t looking at the bulb at all, despite the fact that I was sitting quite close to it and it was taking up much of my field of vision, and I noticed details of it. If I got double vision for a moment (as happened many times), it was because my eyes were “let loose” and had to calibrate, and the double vision would go away as I focused on my intention of keeping my eyes comfortable.
Below is a summary of practical suggestions for applying the above ideas. The ideas and reasoning are more fully fleshed out above. Each of the suggestions are separate (this is not step-by-step) but may be combined as you see fit. They are also included in the Practical Applications page at the end of this guide.
- Sun Treatment – Get a partner and a magnifying glass. Be careful!
- Sunning – Close your eyes and spend a few minutes turning your head back and forth to let the sunlight pass through your field of vision.
- Light Gazing – Spend a few minutes at a time with this, and allow several more minutes for the afterimage to fade. Don’t get too close to the bulb, or the heat may bother your eyes.