It is strange that there should be opposition, on the part of any physician, to the endeavor which is involved in the Bates method for the relief of abnormal function in the mechanism of the faculty of vision. It is easy to realize that anyone whose only calling is to sell lenses will be confirmed in the mental attitude consequent upon the conviction that artificial lenses are the right and the only relief for such conditions.
Physicians, however, are constantly relieving other abnormal conditions which are certainly analagous. The procedure in those similar conditions is to discover the cause and remove it. Cases of nervous indigestion; idiopathic insomnia; nerve-tire in a patient otherwise normal; neuralgic pains where no cause is apparent; a complaint called by the patient “nervous,” sometimes extreme and distressing, are part of the cases of every physician engaged in general practice.
In such conditions the physician knows that the cause, or causes, of the trouble is a dysfunction in some part of that complex, interlocking mechanism of organs and nerves and chemistry, which is beyond the consciousness of the patient Whatever success he may have must be through the influence of the conscious mind upon that mechanism. Commonly that mechanism is the dominating force of the organism. This is a truth by which the medical profession is being more and more influenced in the practice of what is an art as well as a science.
It is worth while to follow this line of thought as far as it may be of help to the mind of the patient who is trying to learn just why, and just how, the method we are discussing can serve to correct difficulties in the function of vision. With that purpose in mind, I will call the attention of the reader to a few most important facts.
There are many functional conditions which are discussed by physicians as “psychic”. To designate a condition as such is to say that it is caused by the direct interference of the mind. It may be that such interference of the mind produces an abnormal conduct of some function, or the interference may serve to correct a dysfunction.
Authentic cases are of record where an unexplained deafness suddenly disappears. There may be in evidence some specific outside influence. A woman who had been deaf for years, without any perceptible change in the visible mechanism of hearing, was shocked by the fear of death in a falling airplane. Her hearing was normal when the fright was relieved. One could multiply similar incidents.
Amblyopia is a condition in which there is poor vision up to the degree where there is no vision, when it is called amaurosis. These names are given only when no change is apparent in the structure of the tissues of the eye. In many of these cases there is no discoverable cause in any other part of the system. These conditions are sometimes explained by the statement that they are the symptoms of hysteria. But the definitions given for hysteria are only descriptions of abnormal functions – in other words, a recital of symptoms. The abnormal condition comes on usually without any apparent cause. It may even be present from earliest life. Sometimes it is relieved by the specific efforts of a physician. Often it disappears as it came – and it is not apparent why it came, or why it went.
Delving further into the field one finds records of positive results from specific efforts on the part of the patient, either under instructions or acting independently. A young woman, or an older man or woman, disturbed by some extreme emotion, may suffer as a result, most marked and plainly apparent symptoms of mind or of body. The manifestations of hysteria are manifold, and in many cases are quite serious. They may simulate the symptoms that are typical of some specific disease, which is not present. There may be an apparent paraly- sis of one or more limbs. There may be some phobia — that is, some fear of a condition or a presence which is believed to be real. Such conditions rnay continue and become chronic and uncured for long periods. They are often cleared up entirely, under the treatment of a physician, or in some unknown manner.
One of my patients had an uncle in France who owned an inn. He was afflicted for months with a condition diagnosed as arthritis. He was often in bed, but was sometimes able to get down-stairs and sit in a big chair in front of his inn. It was always necessary, however, that he be assisted by two helpers. One day he was sitting in the sunlight as usual when a neighbor rode up with the information that a vicious bull was loose in the road nearby. Everyone else sought safety in a hurry. When he found himself deserted, he promptly left the chair and bolted up the stairs.
Blondin, a world-famous tight-rope walker, found himself crippled with a similar condition of his lumbar (back) muscles a few days previous to a most important public exhibition. He engaged a physician, but the doctor was unable to relieve the condition, and even warned him on the day of the feat that he would risk his life if he attempted to carry out his con- tract. But Blondin had so much at stake that he dismissed the physician and, with the pain undiminished in his back, determined to carry on. His performance was to wheel a bar- row across a cable stretched over Niagara Falls. According to Blondin’s own statement, he felt the pain until he had actually taken hold of his wheelbarrow and his balancing pole. He did not feel any pain when crossing the turmoil of waters raging below, while he was reversing, or while he was returning. But as soon as he had finished the marvelous stunt the pain returned, and he was again a cripple.
Suppose we consider for a moment the analogy between this most remarkable incident, and the report I have recorded elsewhere of a man fifty-five who broke by chance the glasses he had worn for nearsightedness for many years, and went without his glasses after the accident, and had vision that was perfectly satisfactory without lenses.
Blondin was a strong, self-reliant man. He had none of those sensory inhibitions which restrain most of us from con sidering the feats he had schooled himself to do. But he was confronted with a dilemma which was unlike any other he had met. The faulty chemistry in the muscles of his back produced an irritation which registered as pain in the specific receiving center in his brain. For help he took his sick muscles to a physician; but he received no relief. It thus became his necessity to make a decision. He knew the physician was right in his remonstrance that such pain might overcome his customary power over those muscles* and might even cost his life. But there was an emotion in Blondin’s mind that the concerned physician did not realize. Failure to keep his contract meant so much to Blondin that, like the dying gladiator, who had to consent to death, “but conquered agony,” Blondin brushed aside the intruder in his back, and marched straight on to victory. In other words, the emotion in his conscious mind was strong enough to suppress all other impressions. The pain could not register while his mind was filled with that thought. But when the triumph was accomplished, and the necessity had passed, the pain registered again, because the new, strong emotion was no longer in charge.
In the case of the man who lost his glasses up in the mountains, the mechanism was similar. He had planned with his friend for two years to spend those weeks together up in the grandeur of the wild hills. The lure of that quest was so strong that it would not be silenced. His emotion was different, but it was similar in kind to Blondin’s. They were both “wants”. His want was so strong that it likewise suppressed any question about discretion. His will demanded of his eyes, and that order changed the chronic habit of the visual centers. The power of his vision returned; and once he knew it, the truth was so strong that he held it fast, and his mind gave back to him the natural, normal sight which had been suppressed.
It is easy to see why these spontaneous cures are illustrations of the same psychological and physiological mechanisms as are exemplified in the method of Dr. Bates. The mind in one case acted spontaneously, outside of the consciousness; and in the other case — the Bates method – it was commanded by the determined wish and conduct of the conscious mind.
Among other reports found in medical books I remember that of a chronic invalid, an old woman who needed the constant help of a nurse because she could not move without as sistance. One afternoon when the nurse had left her alone for a time in a country hotel, the building caught fire. When she found herself alone, and realized that she must get out without help or be burned, she walked out unaided.
These cases are illustrations of an emotion causing an impulse from the central control in the brain to take charge of an abnormal condition and correct the fault in the mechan ism – and this has been done even where there have been changes in tissue structure, or a nerve or muscle habit for years. There used to be a sharp line drawn between organic conditions and functional conditions. The first involves some change in tissue structure. The second does not. It was written that though a functional derangement could be cor- rected, tissue which had changed into an abnormal state could not be changed back into its normal structure. The ground is broken there. The leading thinkers in the medical profession began by pointing out that functional derangements sometimes merge into tissue changes. It cannot any longer be denied that tissue changes do reverse, and change back to normal.
A patient, a graduate of a German university, told me that as a boy he had a bunch of warts on his hand, and they disappeared after he followed the instructions of a “Frau” in the village. An aged mother was being buried. The church bell tolled for half an hour, during which time he was to recite to himself, continuously, four lines of doggerel which proclaimed that his warts would accompany the spirit of the departed.
He remembers that he was faithful to her instructions. He did not lose a wart that day, and cannot give an exact report; but he is sure the warts were gone in a few days.
In answer to an inquiry, an official medical journal recently made a statement fully confirming such a claim. The procedure is described as a mental suggestion. The statement reported that men of high standing in the profession had in that way rid their own skin, and that of others, from warts, and that this had been done after medical treatment had failed. The statement explained that in order to be successful, it was necessary for the operator to have a conviction that the effort would succeed, and the patient, also, must have a distinct emotional attitude of mind, which would make him susceptible to the suggestion.
Over two years ago a report was submitted to the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science which was signed by four physicians who were on the medical staff of a foremost Eastern university. One of their number had been afflicted with a gastric ulcer that seventeen years of medical treatment had failed to cure. They decided to treat the ulcer by mental suggestion. In six weeks there was a complete cure that had, at the time of the report, lasted two years.
Following their success with the chronic condition of their colleague, the four medical men selected thirty cases of ulcers of the stomach, and treated them exclusively with mental suggestion. They reported a complete success in every case.
It is not hard to imagine how such a proceeding operates. In the stomach, meat is digested. The lining of the stomach is meat. That lining is not digested because a physiological function acts to protect it from such a process. That specific function is principally, perhaps, the presence of what are called hormones in the tissue, and is directed by the central control of the brain. When an ulcer is allowed to develop, one or more functions in that field act in an abnormal manner. Stomach ulcers commonly act in the manner called recurrent. They come and go; get worse and then improve; are present for a short time, or a long time. In typical cases the history indicate* some internal cause or causes for the onset and the spontaneous recovery. The symptoms, like those of the doctor in this case, are often beyond the control of any medical treatment. But when some change occurs in the conduct of the central control, the effect is an onset of the ulcer, or return of the normal function, and cure of the ulcer. These four physicians gave their thirty selected patients instructive talks, in sessions, on the normal functions of the stomach. They had them relax in periods, with closed eyes, keeping their minds occupied with thoughts which impressed on the central control in the brain their confident expectation that it would correct the abnormal impulses sent out to the stomach walls. Since that central control dominates the mechanism, it is necessary only to command its service. Success in that depends almost entirely upon the strength of the feeling in the conscious mind.
Certainly the beliefs of unusual healing, which have been held in all ages and all countries, are not based only on morbid imagination. There are many authentic records of such cures in our own day. A biologist who is a world authority on cancer reports the cure, by faith alone, of most serious functional and organic conditions. He cites the immediate closing of chronic wounds, the repair of diseased bones, the complete disappearance, in a few days, of lesions caused by tuberculosis, and even the deadly ravages of cancer. What he speaks of as records, are cases he has personally investigated, with the care of a veteran research worker.
Is it necessary to call attention to more illustrations, or more varieties of examples of the cures of abnormal organic as well as of serious functional conditions? At Van Nuys in California, a man with special talent has succeeded in piling up two thousand records of cases of many kinds of paralysis. Most of thern came to him helpless after a trial of customary methods of treating such cases had ended in failure. He ha. given them new power, many of them with full normal function. His work is actually mental suggestion, carried out in a simple, direct fashion of personal instructions, which he calls education.
The writer referred to above, in offering his explanation of the cause and mechanism of those cures which are spoken of as miraculous, classes them as extreme cases of natural repair. He claims that the only condition which must be present is prayer. Even the prayer of someone who is present can effect the cure. “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed; The essence of a hidden fire that smoulders in the breast.” But he speaks as a scientist when he states that such facts are of profound significance, because they show the reality of certain relations. The nature of those relations are still unknown, he points out. They are the relations between psychological and organic processes. They prove the objective importance of the spiritual activities. The study of those activities, he believes, has not yet begun. They will open to man a new world.
In this chapter I have tried to show that in the presence of all these established facts, it is a most reasonable procedure to endeavor to influence the visual centers in the brain. They are influenced to act in a normal manner when the mind has a normal attitude toward them. That is what is going on with most of the race – with all those whose eyes are acting is a normal manner. When the eyes act in an abnormal manner, the fault is with the same central control. It is not uncommon for dysfunctions of the faculty of vision to spontaneously recover from the fault. Since it is in evidence that the mind can cure a shriveled, paralyzed muscle, and rout out of the body a tubercular or cancerous condition, what an incomparably simple proceeding it is to so influence that same mind that an order will issue for the mechanism of vision to behave in a normal way.