This article from Dr. William H. Bates' Better Eyesight Magazines was originally titled "Concentration".
It includes two wonderful examples of Dr. Bates' patients suddenly "getting it", that concentration with an
immobilized stare makes the vision and everything else function more poorly. This kind of
breakthrough in understanding is a great help to improving the eyesight. - gm
Concentration - Strain on the Mind, Bad for Vision
By William H. Bates, M.D.
THE dictionary defines concentration to be an effort to keep the mind fixed on a point continuously. It can be demonstrated that this is impossible for any great length of time, a few seconds or part of a minute. All persons with imperfect sight whether due to nearsightedness, astigmatism, cataract or glaucoma try to concentrate. Since concentration is impossible, trying to do the impossible is a strain. It does a patient no good to tell him that concentration or trying to concentrate is an injury. To obtain real benefit he must prove the facts, experimenting on his own eyes.
Most people can look at the notch at the top of the letter C at ten or fifteen feet and try to keep their minds fixed on one point of the notch continuously. After some seconds all patients demonstrate that an effort is required and that the longer the point is fixed, the greater becomes the effort. The eyes, and the mind become tired from the effort and sooner or later the eyes move away from the notch or the vision becomes blurred. This seems like a simple demonstration, but it may fail with individuals who have the ability to imagine erroneously that they are concentrating successfully and continuously, while unconsciously failing by closing the eyes or blinking or by shifting to some other point. These cases are difficult to manage and usually require a great deal of patience and ingenuity before the patient becomes able to demonstrate the facts.
With the eyes closed the patient may be able to re-member a letter C with its notch, continuously, and demonstrate that the eyes are moving from one point of the C to another. If the patient is directed to keep the mind fixed on one point of the notch continuously and endeavor to keep the point stationary, after a few seconds or longer the notch or the point are not remembered. If one looks to the right of the notch the notch is always to the left of where one appears to be looking with the eyes closed. Still with the eyes closed, if one imagines they are looking to the left of the notch, the notch is to the right. Every time the eyes or the mind look to the right, the notch in the C moves to the left. Every time the eyes or mind move to the left the notch moves to the right and by alternating, looking from one side to another, one can imagine the notch of the C moving from side to side in the opposite direction a short or a longer distance. This movement or swing prevents concentration and the memory, imagination or visiotrrusually improve.
The normal eye when it has normal sight does not try to concentrate. If one consciously tries to concentrate the vision always becomes imperfect.
One day a professor of Psychology called at the office to consult me about his eyes. His first remark was: "Doctor, I have lost the power of concentration. My eyes are very bad and so far I have not been able to ob-tain glasses which could help me. I am so fatigued most of the time that I find it exceedingly difficult and often impossible to deliver my lectures. I have no appetite; I do not sleep well and feel quite miserable generally."
His vision with each eye was normal, 15/10 and although only 40 years of age he was not able to read the newspapers. The first thing I asked him to do was to try and keep his eyes on the left hand side of the small letter O, 15/15. After a part of a minute I asked him how he was getting along. He replied: "Badly. I lost the letter O. The harder I try and with all the efforts that I make it is impossible for me to bring back that letter O and, in fact, it seems to me that the harder I try the less I see."
I said to him. "When I try to concentrate on the left hand side of that letter O my vision soon fails, just like yours did."
He jumped out of his chair and said:
"Wait a moment, Doctor," and went out into the waiting room and brought back with him a friend who was apparently perfectly well and who had normal sight. He asked his friend to try to keep his eyes and mind con-centrated on one point of the left hand side of the small letter O. In a few seconds the friend looked away and said to the patient:
"Don't ask me to do that again."
The patient asked: "Why?"
The friend replied: "Because it spoilt my sight and worse than that it gave me a pain and a headache and I don't like it."
The patient smiled and motioned to his friend to retire to the waiting room again.
"Pardon the confirmation," the patient said and asked this question:
"If I avoid looking at a point continuously will that help me?"
I answered: "Yes it will help you and if you always avoid concentration you will always be relieved of your eye and nerve trouble."
I suggested that he close his eyes and demonstrate the facts that it was just as impossible for him to concen-trate on the memory or a mental picture of a point on one side of the letter O, and that when he tried to do it he lost the memory of the O and the effort to concen-trate, while it interfered with his memory, also made him uncomfortable.
I asked him if he had demonstrated sufficiently to be convinced that one cannot concentrate for any length of time when one looks at a point or when one remembers a point with their eyes closed.
He replied: "I am convinced. I wrote a book once on concentration and it had quite a sale. I have been teaching concentration for years and I have many friends who are also teaching it."
My answer was this: "Let me remonstrate with you and with all people who advocate concentration. In the first place you do not know what concentration is, what you are doing, or that you are teaching people to ruin their eyesight and their general health. It is the effort, the concentration which is always present with imperfect sight, with pain, fatigue of the eyes and the body generally. You can demonstrate that with the help of trying to concentrate pain can be produced and other symptoms of disease. It is not possible to improve the eyesight without eliminating concentration or the stare. One cannot see, remember or imagine when concentration is practiced or an effort made to practice concentration."
I taught the patient to shift, to keep looking from one place to another because it prevented concentration. I taught him how to imagine things moving which also prevented concentration. Palming also helped him very much. The swing and the blinking at the same time gave him the greatest relief and I kept him practicing the long swing and the blinking for a considerable time, an hour or longer, when he declared that he felt perfectly well and not only could see the Snellen Test Card with normal sight continuously but he also became able to read the newspaper without any difficulty and also diamond type at six inches or less.
What became of him? I received a letter recently from the gentleman in which he said among other things: "Thank you very much for your inquiry. I have changed my occupation and no longer teach concentration. I feel perfectly well and happy and am full of gratitude for what you did for me."
One day a lady came to see me with a child about four years old suffering, from an alternating squint. Sometimes the right eye turned in, at other times the left eye turned in. His mother said the child was quite nervous and had not been strong or well for some time. With the mother standing and facing me I took hold of both her hands and had her sway in unison with me from side to side. The child was interested. I then took the child in the circle, the mother holding one hand and I the other and we all three swayed from side to side. The child was delighted and enjoyed it very much.
I said to him: "Keep looking up at the ceiling," which he did while swinging. The color came into his face, he smiled and laughed and best of all the eyes were per. fectly straight. I advised the mother after her return home to encourage the child to laugh, sing, to play, to dance and to have a good time generally and that she should spend some hours daily playing with the patient.
She said: "I don't know any games."
I answered: "I will teach you a few," and I placed the mother in one comer, the little boy in another, while I stood in the third. When she tried to run from one corner to another, I ran after her and tried to get there first. The child sought another corner and got it, while I tried unsuccessfully to beat him to it. It was not very long before the child was laughing and screaming with delight. We kept this game up for quite a while and some of the patients in the waiting room came and looked in at the open door to see what was going on. The more the child laughed, the more he screamed, the more he ran, the straighter became his eyes.
The mother said: "That is easy to do."
My reply was: "I am not so sure of that. You have many duties and I am afraid you will neglect the child." She answered: "Oh, no, I promise you."
I requested her to write to me and let me know how he was getting along at the end of a week. At the end of the week instead of writing she called and when the little boy saw me he ran to me, threw himself in my arms and held up his face to be kissed. I was quite willing to kiss him because his eyes were perfectly straight.