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Nothing mystical about this: why imagination seems to work
#1
The language on this forum often suggests that there's something mystical about vision improvement. To give an example, people talk about "clear flashes" as though they were some kind of spiritual experience, and then fixate on how to reproduce them and make them last. In reality, there's nothing mystical about a clear flash: for whatever reason, sometimes people simply use their eyes in a more correct way, which makes things clearer, and then for whatever reason, they stop using their eyes correctly again. I think it's important for the credibility of our endeavor to steer clear of language that is overly abstract, and to stick to concrete experiences.

This point relates to the primary subject of this post: the use of imagination and why it seems to work. Since my last post a few months ago, I've continued making rapid progress using this invaluable tool, but Bates's discussion of imagination is frequently misunderstood to mean something more esoteric and less concrete/literal than it really does, which may lead people to dismiss the idea outright as a result. I don't exactly blame readers: when Bates says something like "when the imagination is perfect, the vision is perfect; when the vision is perfect, the imagination is perfect," it's not exactly conducive to clear understanding.

My experience with imagination can be summarized as follows: (1) to release a locked-in strain in a muscle, you must be conscious of it first; (2) while you're adding more strain, you can't feel the existing locked-in strain. (I think of "adding strain" as sending the wrong nervous impulses to contract a muscle that is already chronically contracted. I don't have evidence that this is in fact what is going on, but it's at least a useful analogy. Also, note that it is physically impossible for a skeletal muscle to uncontract itself: once contracted, it relaxes only by an opposing muscle contracting. ); (3) when you imagine something effortlessly inside your head, it is a feedback mechanism INDICATING that you are not adding strain, which then allows you to sense the locked-in strain; (4) once you consciously sense the locked-in strain and are no longer adding to it, your eyes automatically know what to do to release the strain a little; (5) releasing the strain is also helped by your "owning" it--in other words, by your consciously thinking about doing it even more and making it worse. You don't actually intentionally pull on a muscle (you'll inevitably go back to adding strain): you just think the thought of making it worse.

In short, when you're using imagination as a tool, your ONLY job is to allow visual thoughts to pop into your head and, at the same time, to be aware of any subtle pulling feelings that this causes in your muscles. You can be imagining the thing that's physically in front of you, or you can be imagining something in a different room altogether or something that you remember from the past---it doesn't matter which as long as you do it without trying (though it may be easier to imagine certain things than others, as Bates noted, and what's easiest for one person may not be easiest for another).

As for why imagination often fails as a tool for a lot of people: this seems tied to the fact that the existing, locked-in strain makes it hard for us to imagine mental pictures perfectly which, perversely, tempts us to strain more to make the pictures better. And when you realize that you're having trouble imagining an apple (for example), you then unconsciously try to DO something to conjure up the image of an apple by adding strain, when actually the thing to do is to let go of trying to think about the apple and to think about a banana. In fact, while I don't understand the exact mechanism of the connection between mental imagery and vision (a fruitful area for neuroscience research, I think), perhaps what I just described provides clues as to why good imagination seems bound to good vision: you can imagine an object well only by mentally shifting your attention to different parts of the imagined object, and when you're straining, you fail to let go of one thought and allow yourself to move onto a new visual thought.

It's a little risky to prescribe protocols for vision improvement, because then people will inevitably start treating them as exercises to be performed mechanically. But if you really want a protocol encapsulating what I've written above, entertain the following sequence of thoughts: (1) allow myself to think about an apple (or anything else); (2) note whether I feel a muscle tension, and "own" it; (3) regardless of whether I see the apple, MOVE ON IMMEDIATELY, and allow myself to think about a banana. Repeat.

I've managed all of my eyesight improvement over the past few months simply by devoting a few moments frequently throughout the day to this sequence of thoughts (by the way, I'm not thinking about fruit, but about other stuff). And to repeat my mantra: if it isn't working immediately, you're doing it wrong and should do something else.
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#2
A pleasant read as always. It's weird because my eyes are usually quite relaxed when reading through your posts, when usually they're straining to some extent when I read. I guess my eyes like your writing style. Smile

A couple of questions:

Are you shifting from mental object to mental object while simultaneously detecting and "owning" the strain? Put another way, are you noting the strain WHILE you're shifting to another mental object or just before?

How do you think of what to imagine? Do you just let your mind drift?
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#3
Good to hear from you. It's hard to say anything precise about the timing. When I imagine something, I also notice that there's a pulling sensation. It kind of happens all at once. I wouldn't worry much about the sequence.

As far as what to imagine -- doesn't matter as long as its an actual visual thought. It could be something actually physically present (easier for some people) or it could removed from you by time or space. When you imagine your childhoot pet, a visual memory of your pet actually arises -- not just the abstract thought of your pet or the abstract concept of seeing your pet. You actually ``step into the scene,''' and it's like you're there holding your pet.

I have handful of specific images that I tend to use a lot. The set of images evolves on its own. The key thing is not to think at all about what image pops into your head, and to ``step into it.'' As you recall certain memories over and over again, you tend to end up remembering those images a lot automatically. These days I happen to think a lot about the family room fireplace at my parents' house on a particular sunny afternoon (a memory from childhood), some birch trees at the edge of a frozen lake somewhere (a memory from a trip to China few years ago), a patch of green felt on my childhood Christmas stocking, and the top border of an ``E'' on my eyechart. Again, the memory is like I'm there, inside the scene.

Also, once you notice a strain, it's important not to fixate on it repetitively, because sometimes it gets so bothersome that you end up adding strains to try to relieve it. Say I feel something pulling toward the right in the back of my right eye (this feeling often comes with a ``name'' that pops into my head spontaneously. I'm like ``this feeling feels like a 'yerksz'''). Or I might feel a upward pressure at the bottom of my left eye (``this feeling feels like a ``blimpet''). Once I notice the yerksz, if I fixate on it, I feel it pulsing on its own, like it's going ``yerksz, yerksz, yerksz, yerksz, yerksz ...'' And it gets so bothersome and anxiety-inducing that I'll blink hard or tense another muscle to relieve thw anxious feeling. Wrong approach.

Instead, the thing to do is to notice the yerksz, and then immediately let go of whatever thought you're having that causes the yerksz. Think about another memory. Notice another feeling. Or notice the room in which you are physically present swinging on its own. I think one of the hardest things is remembering to let go--you have to constantly remind yourself.

Another tip: it helps to intersperse remembering mental pictures with noticing your actual, physical field of vision moving on its own ( the ``universal swing'' -- seen easiest when you start by thinking about stuff in the periphery rather than the thing you think you're looking at.). Switching between visual memories and noticing actual, physically present things is another form of shifting. Though, I suspect, for people with good vision, when they notice an actual, physically present object, they're also forming a perfect mental thought about it, so the two processes merge. Indeed, I find that even though I have very imperfect vision, when I'm remembering/imagining something physically present, as my vision improves within a few shifts, the imagination/thought about the object and process of seeing the object actually do merge. At the end of the day, I think this is what correct seeing is all about.

If all this sounds like juggling a lot of balls, trust me that as you keep on doing it, it becomes more and more automatic and it gets easier and easier.
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#4
Thanks for the quick response! Smile

It's good to know that I'm on the right track, because after I asked the question with how to think of what to shift to next, I "accidentally" ran into the correct approach, which was thinking of something in the past that had some sort of meaning to me, and that led to another thought, which led to yet another, and so on. It felt like I was revisiting my past, which is sort of cool (I realize it doesn't have to be something in the past necessarily, but that seems to work best for me).

Regarding the detection process, does this mean that I don't really have to even think about making the strain worse (the "owning" part) as long as I can identify where the strain is coming from (I don't have names for my strains, but I can distinguish between the different types)?

I appreciate the last tip at the end. I'll experiment with it and see how it goes.

I hope you enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays! Smile
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#5
I agree that imagination is perhaps the most important technique. Or it's memory. (I can't really tell the difference between memory and imagination. You can't imagine anything you never saw, so even though formally imagination is defined as visualizing things that you didn't see, it is still composed of things that you did see. At least, imagination and memory feel the same to me, so far. But Dr. Bates did discriminate imagination and memory.)

It turns out the imagination is as essential as vision itself. People with normal sight continuously imagine what they're looking at, and in this way they see it. The normal mind is focused on imagining the regarded object, and vision just follows it, filling the imagined detail with real data. The strained mind is focused on the vision — blurry vision, and imagination is suppressed. David is right in saying that imperfect sight is a disorder of attention. Imagination drives attention and shifting from one detail to another. Without concurrent imagining the object you're looking at, you cannot shift and therefore cannot see.

I have been ignoring imagination techniques for a long time. I found it kind of boring and childish. There seemed nothing interesting to remember or imagine. Besides, when I tried to imagine anything I began to conjure up words. Pictures didn't really come to my mind, and I was wondering if I understood imagination the right way at all. I couldn't understand how much really vivid and visual the pictures should be.

It turns out that the imagined pictures should be just as vivid as vision, and getting them is easy. You should just want to imagine something, let it come to you and stop preventing it.

I recently watched an old series "My name is Earl", where Earl tried to compose an essay, but couldn't imagine anything. His imagination was screened as a plain white space with no objects around, except Earl himself, and a black-eyed gymnast, a haunting image from another guy's essay, about whom Earl didn't want to write. The gymnast kept popping up driving Earl crazy and then he (the gymnast) said "I won't go away until you stop thinking about me!" Then Earl somehow managed to let go of the fixed idea and his imagination immediately fountained.

After a good laugh I thought that the gymnast is exactly what happens to me when I try to imagine anything, where by gymnast this time I mean the focus on vision. My mind cannot imagine anything until it's locked on seeing, even with my eyes closed. When I somehow manage to stop worrying about seeing just for a second, I am immediately flooded with a bunch of shockingly vivid images and memories. So far it doesn't last longer than a second, because it's just overwhelming, and my scared mind jumps off to habitual "seeing" again. But I am sure that with practice, it's possible to persuade the mind that it's okay to keep imagining.

Even glimpses of imagination do wonders to vision. All tension and pulling sensations around eyes disappear, redness of sclera clears up in few minutes, and clear flashes begin immediately. And what's great about imagination-induced clear flashes, is that it feels different, like if you already have the detail, you're no longer making it out.

So I'm now a big fan of imagination techniques. It is important to find inspiring images to imagine. Personally I find it good to imagine well-lit objects like rocks, trees, sea shore on bright sunny days, surrounded with bright blue sky.

One other technique I currently use is to keep telling myself to not try to see under any circumstances, even when I "need" to see. Trying to see always fails and is therefore useless, but the habit is deeply ingrained, an it increases the strain to the degree when you can no longer imagine anything. So take a couple relaxed breaths, stop trying to see and then imagine. Swinging the head slightly, noticing the movement relative to stationary shoulder or feet is another good way to stop trying to see. Keep repeating like that all the time. We need to persuade our minds that not trying to see is okay, and go for imagination. Gradually.

@Sean: With respect, I don't think that your thing about noting and "owning" physical tension in eye muscles etc. is the right way to go. I know, the idea of understanding and "reverse-engineering" the strain is just too attractive. I have honestly played with it for a couple of weeks, and though it even seemed to work at first, I finally discarded it. Focusing attention on eye muscles inevitably ends up in concentrating on seeing, whereas we need to go away from it, towards imagination. Endless meditation on sensations of strain doesn't give you a way out of this strain, even if you think you can understand better the mechanics of your strain. Getting rid of strain is simply outside of the strain – as Dr. Bates said, you can't relax with any effort. And it's just not necessary – with help of imagination, all sensations will simply go away.

Btw, I have consulted Rishi regarding observing and "owning" strain as a means to let go of it, and he was very skeptical about the idea. First, he said, strain is very subtle and deceitful. He's right, I mistook my sensations thousand times, as they continuously flow and transform. Among famous meditators, he said, there are a lot of people wearing glasses, which is symbolizing. Indeed, how couldn't they detect the obvious strain in the first turn, and get rid of it through meditation? Second, he said, the goal is to avoid strain by all means – by seeking favorable conditions, and changing them immediately to other favorable conditions once a strain occurs. Observing the strain means letting the strain stay, which is wrong and will not lead to the cure, but impede it. Imagination, imho, is the favorable condition.
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#6
I always learn from Oleg K.
I greatly appreciate your blog where you give detailed directions for the Sunglass so people do it correct, prevent injury.
There are people in the world with learning disabilities and people that teach this method must give entire directions. Back in Bates time, he was there for us.

A couple blind guys; one in U.S., another and his friends (all senior citizens) in Israel re-gained their vision due to the sunglass with the complete directions I was able to test and provide them; 'thanks to Oleg.' link to his blog.

Mary
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#7
Oleg,

I agree with you on everything you wrote, except that I stand by my statement about the importance of observing the strain. When you're imagining/remembering stuff, you can't do so effortlessly due to strain--you inevitably add additional tensions and movements instead of simply letting an image pop into your head. This is the definition of strain and poor eyesight. Imagination aids you in becoming conscious of those strains. If you don't consciously notice those strains, they'll still be there, only you'll do something new to try to resist the strain (a so-called "secondary" strain). Only by consciously noticing what you're doing subconsciously (and incorrectly) can you stop doing it.

I do NOT mean that you have identify the specific mechanics of what you're doing with your muscles, by the way. I agree that we do not need to understand the biomechanics of how we use our eyes in order obtain relaxation, and that in fact, attempting to do so could be counterproductive. But it's important to be attuned to physical and emotional feelings that arise.

A related issue is that as you let go of tension, anxieties arise that perhaps those strains had originally arisen in order to cover up. I don't completely understand the relationship between anxiety and tension, but have a strong suspicion that there's some kind of connection there. By tensing up and doing something to restore what feels right (e.g., blinking hard or tugging on something), you make yourself feel less anxious, but you prevent improvement. By consciously noticing the anxiety and noticing what you're tempted to do, you bring to light what you're doing that prevents improvement. In summary, you need to use both imagination and conscious attention to feelings and sensations. I think that not consciously noticing strains--and as a result, resisting it--is what causes so many people to fail.

Feel free to disagree with me again, but my approach is working for me, for what it's worth. My glasses are now 1.5 diopters weaker than when I started on this forum a few months ago, and I'm seeing better with them on a consistent basis than I was back then with the stronger glasses. Maybe we're talking about the same thing, just misunderstanding each other's language.

Also, I doubly agree with you about imagination needing to be as vivid as the actual experience. It's a different kind of thought process than thinking about abstract things--i.e., the difference between imagining a cat's tail versus the abstract notion of thinking about a cat's tail. The only additional comment I would make is that, at least in the beginning, your imagination will be very imperfect, because the strain makes it so. The key is not to worry about whether a particular image you see is vivid or not, but to immediately let it go and move on. With practice, the thoughts become more and more vivid of their own accord.

Best,
Sean
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#8
I've stayed away from here for almost a year -- now checking in with a progress report. I've made rapid progress in the past year just from frequent conscious practicing of attention-shifting. We can debate the semantics, but you could say I've just been applying "David's Method," with the assistance of imagination and accompanied by (very important) noticing oppositional movement and the universal swing. My "20/40" lenses are now -5 R, -3.5 L most times, down from -6 R, -4.5 L about a year ago (the prescription is a little deceptive because I find that as I continue making progress, my vision without glasses improves at a faster rate than my vision with glasses.) My vision is still far from clear, but the average progress from week to week is unmistakeable. There are so many layers of strain in my eyes, and every time I unwind one of those layers, it feels like a cool spring in my eyes.

One reason why I have so much faith in this stuff is that when I consciously practice shifting, my vision gets so dramatically better within two to three shifts, and if I keep practicing for about two minutes, the change is even more profound. In other words, the consequences of how I use my vision on the quality of my vision are very directly observable and unmistakeable. It's like I have the free will to decide at any moment whether to see clearly or with effort, and I just need to recognize and contest the unconsious beliefs that cause me to habitually choose the more effortful way much of the time.

One important factor is that I have an intense job requiring heavy computer use (about 36 hours per week out of my total work schedule). Because I haven't totally conditioned myself to use the computer without adding strain, yet, I end up undoing a lot of my progress while working, which I try to compensate for by taking frequent small breaks to practice. However, bit by bit, I'm deconditioning myself from the strained habits while working.

In posting, I'm temporarily suspending an important principle that's worked for me, namely: now that I've discovered what the root problem is and what works for me, to spend more time practicing and less time posting on the internet and worrying about others. However, I got excited because I've been making some especially rapid progress recently with some new things I noticed, which I'll post when I have a chance.
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