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April 1929

                                          Blinking – Illusions - Negative After-Images – Stories From The Clinic; 110. Mental Strain by Emily A. Bates – Questions and Answers



APRIL, 1929


Blinking is one of the best methods that may be employed to obtain relaxation or rest. When rest is obtained by blinking, the vision is improved, not only for one letter or part of one letter, but for all the letters of a page, which may be seen some parts best, other parts not so well. This is called central fixation and one cannot see anything clearly without it. In order to maintain central fixation there should be continuous opening and closing of the eyes by blinking which makes it easier for the vision to improve. When the eye discontinues to blink, it usually stares, strains, and tries to see. Blinking is beneficial only when practiced in the right way.
What is the right way? The question may be answered almost as briefly as it is asked. Blinking when done properly is slow, short, and easy. One may open and close the eyes an innumerable number of times in one second, and do so unconsciously.
Lord Macaulay was able to rend a page of print in one second, and blinked for every letter. In order to read perfectly, he had to see each side of every letter by central fixation. We know that he acquired or had a perfect memory, because it was only with a perfect memory that he could recite the pages of any book which he had read many years before.
A casual observer would not be able to determine the number of times Lord Macaulay blinked, as it was done so quickly and easily, without any effort on his part. While most of us will not be able to blink without effort as frequently as Lord Macaulay did, it is well to practice his methods as well as we can. Those with imperfect sight who do not blink sufficiently should watch someone with normal eyes blink unconsciously and then imitate him.


By W. H. Bates, M.D.

Many people who know little or nothing about physiological optics have the habit of criticizing adversely anyone who has the courage, or who is foolish enough, to announce discoveries which do not meet with the favor of people who theorize. In order to bring about quick and lasting cures of myopia, hypermetropia, astigmatism, and many other causes of imperfect sight, one needs to know a great deal about illusions.
Many years ago a student of the eye, a man of great authority, after studying the illusions of perfect sight and comparing these illusions with those of imperfect sight, was very much upset because the more facts he obtained, the greater became the illusions. He finally made the statement that “seeing is deceiving.” By this he meant that no one could understand the physiology of the eye without going to a great deal of trouble to prove that somebody else was deceiving the scientific world. He admitted that he was very much discouraged himself by the large number of illusions which were imagined or seen. To correct most diseases of the eyes it is absolutely necessary that one should learn by repeated experimental work something about illusions.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, this man was persecuted by his friends to such an extent that it ceased to be a joke and became a matter of great importance. It was hard for him even with all his “backbone,” which was considerable, to keep on studying illusions when these studies were so very unpopular.
It may be a shock to some people who have not studied the illusions of vision to find that imperfect sight is difficult. In fact it is so difficult that the majority of people in this world dodge the illusions of imperfect sight because these illusions are usually so disagreeable or painful. Perfect sight can only be obtained easily without staring or straining to see. When the eye is normal, any effort to improve it always makes it worse.
It has been proven over and over again that with perfect sight the eyes are completely at rest. The movement that they always have is necessary in order to prevent the stare and other efforts to see which are difficult, painful, disagreeable, and cause fatigue. But when the eye with normal sight is permitted to move sufficiently to prevent the stare or the strain, the head and eyes do not make any effort. To make an effort requires that the eye should be kept stationary. When the eye stares it is always stationary; when the eye stares, it is always trying to be immovable unconsciously. The stare is only possible when a mental effort is made, consciously or unconsciously, to imagine that everything is stationary.
The normal movements of the eyes are passive. As soon as they become active and the eye is made to move by a strain, or stare, then the movement of the eye is no longer passive, it is active and it is this active movement of the eyes done consciously or even unconsciously which causes so much trouble. This is why shifting is practiced in a relaxed, easy, effortless way, with the goal of it becoming a automatic normal eye function, habit, occurring on its own, a subconscious function, just as the heart and lungs beat, breathe automatically. Practice the Bates method, shifting, central fixation… then ‘take a break’, ‘don’t practice’, forget about the eyes and let the eyes shift… on their own. Return to practice if blur, strain, squinting, staring occurs in order to remove these incorrect functions and reinforce correct function.
This question is often asked: “What is the evidence that the normal eye is permitted to stare and strain unconsciously?” This is the answer. Many people can stare or strain as much during sleep as when they are awake. If the active strain is practiced, a patient may awake in the morning with pain in the eyes, head or in other parts of the body or they may feel a sense of great fatigue. The vision is always worse. When the passive movement of the eyes occurs, the movement may be imagined passively. The active movement requires the stare, strain, or an effort to remember, imagine, or see. This can often be recognized in myopia. The retinoscope is a great help in discovering the active swinging of the eyes. When the patient is asleep and straining the eyes unconsciously, the stare or strain is recognized with the aid of the retinoscope.

NEGATIVE AFTER-IMAGES: When a person with good sight regards a white Snellen test card which has black letters and does so with his eyes open, he may see the truth, that the white card appears white and the black letters appear black. When the eyes are closed an illusion is sometimes evident: the white card when remembered appears black and the black letters appear white. This illusion is promptly corrected with the aid of central fixation. One patient, a teacher of mental science, was able to see a white pillow perfectly white with his eyes open, but when he closed his eyes an illusion was seen or imagined at once - the white pillow appeared to turn into a black one. This was a great surprise to the professor. The illusion was prevented when the eyes were closed, by remembering or imagining each part in turn of the pillow best. He was then recommended to see two corners at the same time. The illusion returned, but it required a strain in order to bring it back.
The patient’s memory was improved by practicing central fixation with the eyes closed, seeing, imagining, or remembering one corner of a pillow at a time best and the rest of it worse. It was all done so quickly that the patient was not able quickly to remember, imagine, or see by central fixation. When he became able to produce the illusion or to prevent the illusion, his memory, imagination, and sight were very much improved.
He had worn glasses for the relief of headache for more than fifty years. It was a new and pleasant sensation for him to discard his glasses without suffering, as he had previously, with frightful headaches. The correction of various illusions of the sight are one of the best methods we have for the cure of imperfect sight without the use of glasses. If we correct the illusion, the eyesight may be improved.
One time I happened to be in the office of a well known professor of astronomy. With me was a high school girl, one of my patients, who wanted to learn something about astronomy. The professor asked us what we would like to see and with the naked eye I looked up toward the center of the sky where one could see the moon about the size of a nickel. I spoke to the professor and told him that I had so often seen the moon appear as big as a house and instead of being a dull gray it was usually a fiery red. I told him that I would be very much obliged if he would explain to me why the moon looked so much larger on the horizon than it did overhead. The professor said that there was a change in the density of the atmosphere when the moon was viewed low down on the horizon, which was entirely different from the air overhead. This, of course, is an illusion, not of imperfect sight, but of perfect sight, caused by conditions over which we have no control.
A man interested in the illusions of imperfect sight reported the following facts. One morning when he entered the bathroom he was surprised to observe that the tiles composing the floor had changed their colors. All the blue tiles had become pink and all the pink tiles had changed to blue. The illusion was very vivid. “What can I do” he asked, “to prevent this illusion, because it is maintained with a strain or effort to see which lowers my vision?” He was advised to practice central fixation which prevented or relieved the illusion very promptly.
Illusions are not harmless, as many people may think. They are always one cause of pain with imperfect sight. It is interesting to observe that when an illusion causes imperfect sight it also causes the stare, strain to see, or an imperfect memory (imagination) with poor vision.
Illusions which are beneficial do not cause pain, dizziness, fatigue, or any discomfort whatever. Beneficial illusions always improve the sight. For example: The thin, white line below the bottom of a line of letters is an illusion because there is no white line there. When it can be imagined, the vision is improved and this illusion is so important, even necessary, that one cannot read small letters or the newspaper unless the thin white line is imagined. The thin white line helps to improve the imagination of the black letters so that they can be read in a dim light. Other beneficial illusions are: white halos, glow around and inside letters, white glow on a blue sky above trees, mountains.., the illusion of oppositional movement ‘the swing’.
The same man described the illusions he had when a headache bothered him in the morning soon after opening his eyes. In one illusion there seemed to be a thin white transparent curtain floating up to the ceiling and then slowly dropping downwards toward the bed. It surprised him very much to observe that when the illusion of the floating curtain was manifestly at its height that the headaches became worse and a severe pain was felt in his eyes, head, and in other parts of the body. The illusion lasted about fifteen minutes and slowly disappeared. In this case also, central fixation was a great help in correcting or preventing the illusion.

A well known surgeon of the city of New York came to me for treatment of illusions. He had so many of them that the available space of this magazine is too small to describe them all. Among his many illusions was the fact that at irregular intervals while walking along the street, he would suddenly become totally blind and unable to see the light of the sun even when he looked straight at it. The blindness would continue for about a minute, usually less. The frequency of these attacks increased.
In the beginning he had three or four in a week, but after some months he had a partial or complete attack of blindness more frequently. The attacks made him very despondent; he was afraid that he might have one in the midst of a surgical operation.

Double Vision – How to Produce and Cure It.
While he was being treated, an illusion of double vision became almost constant and interfered very much with his vision for the Snellen test card. The illusions of double vision were corrected by teaching him how consciously to produce them rapidly and in any form. That is to say, he could imagine two lights, one directly above the other, at an angle of 90 degrees or when he strained sufficiently the two lights would be seen on a horizontal plane. With the help of the stare, strain, or trying to see better, he saw the two images at an angle of 45 degrees, 60 degrees, or 75 degrees. In short, he became able, after some instruction, to produce double images close together or double images farther apart and at any angle he desired. During the many months of treatment he demonstrated without knowing himself that he was able to produce illusions at will. Furthermore, he was able to produce illusions which lowered his vision and illusions which improved his sight. To produce double images, one above the other, he looked at a light about ten feet away and strained to see a small letter just below it at an angle of 90 degrees. To obtain double vision at an angle of 90 degrees required an effort.
I called this doctor’s attention to the fact that in order to produce an illusion of letters of the Snellen test card or to produce double vision required a stare or strain. I asked him this question: “Would you like to learn how to produce double vision of the Snellen test card?” He answered, “I do not see how you can do it, but the matter is so interesting I am willing that you should produce or show me how to produce double vision.” He was taught how to produce double vision consciously and this pleased him very much. Finally the day came when he was getting so restless that I thought I was justified in helping him to get rid of the double vision by teaching him how to produce the blindness consciously. He objected very much at first but more of the nerve specialists tried to convince him that he was incurable and that if he had let the matter go untreated he would have attacks of double vision almost continuously and be compelled to give up his work. The patient was told how to produce all kinds of illusions and that in order to produce illusions of double vision he would have to go to considerable trouble to accomplish it. He was finally persuaded or convinced that if my methods failed there was no help for him and so we began.

Creates and Cures Blindness
I had a very hard time in making this patient blind consciously. The strain was terrible and he did not take it calmly, but he finally made himself totally blind so that he could look straight at the sun without being able to see light. The blindness continued for about five minutes when it suddenly disappeared and the sight was just as good as it ever was. He finally came to me less frequently than every day. Eventually he became able consciously to increase the length of time of the blindness, and while still blind he could, with the help of central fixation and other methods, obtain his previous normal vision. Some of my other patients out of curiosity made themselves totally blind by the same methods practiced by him. When war was declared between Germany and France he enlisted in the medical department of the French Army; he never had a single relapse; he knew the cause of his double vision and how it was produced and was therefore able to avoid it.

Mental Strain

By Emily A. Bates

Children who are nearsighted are suffering from a mental strain. Children who are cross-eyed are also suffering from mental strain. Eyes that have been injured, as by a foreign body entering the inside of the eyeball, even after it has been removed, may be responsible for a mental strain. This strain is different from that caused by nearsightedness or cross eyes.
Mental strain is only evident in these cases when symptoms are present. Children who are nearsighted are not always conscious of it. Therefore, at such times mental strain and the myopic condition are less, and the retinoscope has proved this in every case examined by Dr. Bates. What is true of children is also true of adults. After an attack of whooping cough or fever, such as measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, malaria, hay fever, or other conditions, some patients have acquired cross eyes. Sometimes the right eye turns in while the left eye is straight, or the reverse may be observed. The eye which turns in usually has imperfect sight, while the eye which is straight may have normal vision for distant objects and for near objects. These cases can always be benefited. Strain, which is evident in cases of cross eyes may be relieved, but never cured, by wearing eyeglasses. All such cases under my observation have proved this to be true. Some patients have told me that they feel a sense of relief when they remove their glasses. It is the mental strain that is relieved and not the eyestrain.
When a child is placed under my care for the cure of squint or cross eyes, before I test the sight I hold a short conversation with the child to find out his mental attitude. It helps me to treat the child successfully and it helps my young patient to become acquainted with me. It is always best to have the guardian or parent in the room during the treatment given the child so that they can help in the home treatment, but sometimes I wish that I could be alone with my patient. I can do better work. This desire only comes when an anxious mother continually nags her child to do as I wish. Repeating to my patient that he or she must be good, must sit still, or must do as I say, is only a waste of time and does not help.
Some children troubled with cross eyes have very sensitive minds and constant or frequent nagging or scolding only causes more mental strain. While I was assisting Dr. Bates at the Harlem Hospital Clinic I was able to study the child mind. I found in cases of squint or cross eyes, which is the same thing, that children who were fortunate enough to have parents who loved them and helped them were cured of this trouble much quicker than those who were less fortunate. Sometimes I would send for the school teacher when a case was hard for me to benefit and with her help at school, encouraging the child to practice with the test card, with the aid of palming and the long swing, in due time the eyes would become perfectly straight and the vision normal.
In the early days of our work together, we gave test cards away to our clinic patients so that they would surely practice at home or at school or elsewhere. For the child of the clinic there was no alternative. They could not afford glasses; they must be cured without. A short while ago a little woman came to our office and with her was a girl twelve years old who was just a head taller than the woman. She asked to see me and when she stood before me she smilingly asked if I didn’t remember her. This question is asked of me quite often by patients I have not seen for a few years and I do not always remember. When she smiled and spoke in her usual slow way, I recognized her. I said, “Of course, I remember you and this big girl is Ruth whom I treated for cross eyes at the hospital clinic nine years ago.”
She apologized for taking up my time but said that Ruth was anxious to see me again because she had forgotten how I looked and she did want me to see how straight her eyes were. Indeed I was glad to see my little patient all grown up and I like to boast of my work being so well done. The mother also deserves credit for the cure of Ruth’s eyes. Every day before the school hour the child practiced reading the test card letters with her mother to help her if she made a mistake. Immediately after school she practiced again. When her test cards became soiled she sent for new ones. Her efforts and mine were all worthwhile because Ruth can read all letters of any test card with either eye.
There is always a mental strain while glasses are worn. Sometimes patients are not conscious of it until they are informed that their glasses must be changed for a stronger pair. During the absence of Dr. Bates, I have been called upon to take care of his practice. At such a time I remember a patient placing on my desk four pairs of glasses which she wore at different times of the day. One pair was worn while she was reading or sewing, another pair for the movies or theatre, another pair, amber colored, to wear in the bright sunlight and the strongest pair she was advised to wear early in the morning at which time she suffered most pain and discomfort. She did not realize that she strained during sleep, which explained the pain and discomfort she had in the morning. I did not help her until after I had corrected the mental strain. After that it did not take me long to give her normal vision. The patient helped me by following my directions, practicing at home and elsewhere those things which helped her the most.
For many years she had avoided the bright sunlight, so during her first treatment I placed her near a window where the sun was shining. While her eyes were closed and shaded with the palm of her hand, I led her to the window. I used my sun glass, focusing it quickly on her closed eyelids, first on one eye and then on the other. Sometimes this treatment when it is first given causes a tearing of the eyes which is only temporary, but this patient had no such trouble. She enjoyed it so much that she asked for more of it. When there was no sun, a strong electric light was used with benefit. After the patient had had a few treatments, her vision improved for the near point and for the distance. After she had been doing well for some days she suddenly had a relapse and her vision was lowered. I asked her if she had put on her glasses again and she admitted that she had done so. In her case this was the worst thing she could do. It retarded her cure and made my task more difficult. I felt keenly her mental strain and proved without a doubt that imperfect sight is contagious, for I suffered with her mentally. Long ago, Dr. Bates trained my mind so that I would not lose patience with those who were under treatment for their eyes, but just the same neither he nor I are immune to their suffering or mental strain. We give each other the same treatment we give our patients sometimes when the day is almost done, so that we can enjoy the remainder of the day without any strain or discomfort. It requires only a few minutes to relieve the mind of strain when you know how to do it.

Questions And Answers

Q - Which is the best method of obtaining relaxation?
A - The object of all the methods I recommend is relaxation. Some patients obtain more benefit from the practice of one method than another.

Q - When palming and remembering black, is it advisable to keep the image stationary and to keep the same image, or is it just as good to shift from one object to another?
A - When palming and remembering black, one should imagine everything remembered to be moving and not stationary. It is necessary to shift from one image or from one object to another.

Q - How long is it necessary to read the test card before obtaining benefit?
A - Some patients by palming and resting their eyes have obtained benefits in a few minutes.

Q - What is most helpful when one is dreadfully nearsighted and finds it almost impossible to see without glasses?
A - Practice palming as frequently as possible every day. Keeping the eyes closed whenever convenient for five minutes ten times a day is also helpful.

Q - I have noticed when I palm that my eyeballs hurt from the pressure. When I loosen this tension the light filters in.
A - Palming is done correctly with the fingers closed and laid gently over each eye, using the palms like a cup. If this is done properly there is no pressure and the light is shut out.

Q - Is there a possibility of palming wrong? I can obtain some benefit, but later I feel strained.
A - Palming may be done properly or it may be done wrong. Read the chapter on palming in my book.

Q - Should children read microscopic type?
A - Yes. Reading microscopic type is a benefit to the eyes of both children and adults.

Q - Dr. Bates says that in reading fine print one should look between the lines. Is this not contrary to the principles of central fixation? To see the print best, should one not look directly at it?
A - One can look between the lines and shift to the black letters with central fixation. Look directly at the letters when reading them.

Q - When I look at an object and blink, it appears to jump with each blink. Would this be considered the short swing?
A - Yes. You unconsciously look from one side to the other of the object when blinking.

Q - After palming for ten minutes or longer, my eyes are rested, but I feel sleepy.
A - The palming is not perfect. Try imagining stationary objects to be moving when you palm.
       Shift on the objects in the imagination.

Q - My eyes feel fine after I palm and let my mind drift on various black objects. However, the period is more difficult.
A - Perfect mental pictures of ordinary objects means a perfect mental picture of a period. To try to see is an effort or strain, and produces defective vision. Shift on the period in the imagination.

Q - Should I think only of a black period when palming? Should I imagine my body swaying and the period moving?
A - If it requires an effort for you to think of a period, you should not try to do so. It is just as beneficial to let your mind drift from one pleasant thought to another. When one remembers a period, it should be imagined to be moving from side to side. (as the eyes, mental visual attention is shifting on it.)

Q - Should one always imagine stationary objects to be moving in the opposite direction?
A - When one is riding in a train, one should imagine that telegraph poles and other stationary objects are moving in the opposite direction. When one is walking on the street, he can imagine when looking down, that the pavement is coming toward him; when he looks to the right or left, he can imagine that objects on either side are moving opposite. The object of this is to avoid the stare.

Q - Will you please describe the long swing?
A - The long swing is accomplished as follows: Stand with the feet about one foot apart, turn the body to the right - at the same time lifting the heel of the left foot. The head and eyes move with the body. Now place the left heel on the floor, turn the body to the left, raising the heel of the right foot. Alternate.

Q - How do you practice the variable swing?
A - Hold the forefinger of one hand six inches from the right eye and about the same distance to the right, look straight ahead and move the head a short distance from side to side. The finger appears to move.

Q - What is central fixation?
A - Central fixation is seeing best where you are looking, and worse where you are not looking. That is, when you look at a chair, for instance, do not try to see the whole object at once, look first at the back of it, seeing that part best and other parts worse. Remember to blink as you quickly shift your glance from the back to the seat and legs, seeing each part best in turn.

Q - How much time should I devote to palming each day?
A - The more time one devotes to palming, the quicker will results be obtained, provided one practices correctly. Palming should be practiced for five, ten, fifteen minutes or longer at a time. Some patients obtain more benefits from practicing palming for short periods of time at more frequent intervals.