On Keeping the Eyes Still

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Seeing Anew: Exploring Perception

On Keeping One's Eyes Still & Tongue Relaxed

Reading about Zen and then the writings of J. Krishnamurti first alerted me to the drawbacks of thought and the potential value of meditation for becoming more aware of thought's limitations..

Brainwave biofeedback research led me to the work of University of Chicago Experimental Psychologist, Edmund Jacobson, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Jacobson asserted and demonstrated in his laboratory that it is impossible for human subjects to think verbally without subtly activating the muscles of the speech mechanism.

He showed also that it is impossible for human subjects to think in visual images without subtle eye movements. In short, Dr. Jacobson proved in the laboratory, that thinking is a measurable muscular activity.

"Close your eyes and think about any matter. If skilled, you can notice (1) visual pictures, called images, but also (2) eye tensions to look at what you see in Imagination. In thinking, also, you are likely to use your speech mechanism to form words, but these are not spoken aloud. Electrical measurements disclose that you use the same muscles as you use in saying the same words aloud."

"However, you should discover for yourself that the tension signals and the image signals are delicate, fleeting and greatly abbreviated. Otherwise, in visual imagination you look at the objects you think about, turning your eyes in the same way as if you were looking at real objects."

"Thus imagination is a shorthand, a telescopic reproduction in which you use your muscles just as you do in reality when you see objects or persons and speak aloud. However, in mental activity the tensions are miniscule." SELF-INSTRUCTION MANUAL, PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION by Edmund Jacobson, M.D.,PH.D. & F.J. McGuigan, PH.D.

Jacobson also noted in his book, YOU MUST RELAX, that Charles Darwin had observed that the knitting of brows during stressful thinking is not limited to human behavior. Darwin noted that the animal which frowns or contracts its brows is meeting difficulty.

REM, rapid eye movement sleep, is but an extreme and obvious example of the relationship that exists between visual thinking and eye movements.

Dr. Jacobson, through his work, which he named Progressive Relaxation, taught subjects, through prescribed tensing and releasing of particular muscle groups, to become more aware of these subtle tensions of the speech mechanism and eye muscles that accompany both verbal and visual thinking respectively.

A special few subjects became so adept at recognizing and releasing these subtle muscular tensions that they were able to experience brief periods of blank mind, or no thinking.

In exploration of the connection between quieting the eyes and slowing or stilling thinking, I did a CD-Rom search of the Krishnamurti texts on eye(s), see(ing) and look(ing).

From this search I determined that Krishnamurti made several references to the importance of keeping the eyes still both in meditation and when otherwise observing with the eyes open.

"What is observation? You observe through the eye, don't you? Now, can you observe without moving the eye? Because, if you move the eye, the whole operation of the thinking brain comes into being. I won't go into this because you'll turn it into some kind of mystical, nonsensical thing mysterious and you know all the rest of that. And, in inquiring, can you observe without any movement of the eye? Because the eye has an effect on the brain." (The Wholeness of Life, p.218)

Krishnamurti also pointed out, as he did to the students at Rishi Valley, that we can also see more with our eyes open by looking straight ahead without moving our eyes around.

"The brain and the eye which observe only partially do not comprehend the total seeing. They must be alive completely but still."

"But, on the other hand, you can do nothing and meditate, in the bus or when you are driving it is the most extraordinary thing, that you can meditate while you are driving, be careful, I mean this. The body has its own intelligence, which thought has destroyed." (Beyond Violence, p. 92)

"Meditation can, however, take place when the eyes are open and one is surrounded by objects of every kind. But then these objects have no importance at all; one sees them but there is no process of recognition, which means there is no experiencing." (Meditations 1969, p.4)

The different kind of seeing that Krishnamurti is pointing to is not to be confused with staring. It is not about narrowing down, holding, which often accompanies a restricting and holding of the breath. It is instead, an expanding, opening process that invites the other senses' participation.

"Whole attention is observing, which means keeping your eyes still and looking."

He also asserted that there was a direct connection between thinking and moving the eyes.

"Look at something without moving one's eyes; how still the brain becomes."

In another reference, he spoke of being visited by an owl in his room, and of not startling it by remaining completely still. "Even a movement of the eyes, would have sent it frightened back out into the night."

American Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, gives attention to the importance of keeping the whole body still when meditating. She also mentions in her book, NOTHING SPECIAL: LIVING ZEN, … "When we want to think, our eyeballs will move."

Prior to my Krishnamurti search, back in the early seventies, I came across a reference by De Ropp in his book entitled THE MASTER GAME in which he asserted that the wheel of the imagination was the hardest and last wheel that one learned to still in one's spiritual development.

Around 1997 I came across the work of Anna Wise in her book, The High Performance Mind: which explores the correlation between meditation and brainwaves.

Ms. Wise has some very interesting information in her book including her exploration of the connection between thinking and relaxing the tongue. This seems to be the outcome of releasing verbal thinking through releasing the tongue, a natural extension of the Jacobson progressive relaxation work.

A psyhchaitrist friend, a former colleague of my wife's, when I was sharing my research with him about stilling the eyes to quiet thought, told me that he recalled in an instructional videotape on acting, by the English actor Michael Caine, that Mr. Caine advocated the importance of not blinking if you want people to perceive what you are saying as true.

I wonder if noticeable eye blinking is an important component of security screeners' profiling at borders and airports?

Interestingly, U.G. Krishnamurti, not to be confused with J. Krishnamurti, mentions in his writings that his dramatic transformational process included a spontaneous absence of blinking, which he also warned should not be adopted by others attempting to replicate such a state of mind.

Dr. William H. Bates, M.D. creator of the Bates method of seeing without glasses, advocated relaxed blinking as an antedote to staring. Many Bates teachers, consequently, advocate a relaxed blinking to their vision students. One Bates inspired teacher, Paul Anderson, however does not advocate blinking, and regards blinking as generally stresss inducing and counter indicated for clear seeing.

A friend who worked with an approach that helps you to repattern certain thinking and behavior patterns worked extensively with a couples' approach that centers around looking into each other's eyes for prolonged periods of time without blinking.

I was giving a talk on some of my research and exploration on seeing, and one of the audience members reminded me that Carlos Castaneda wrote quite a bit about seeing.

Carlos explained in one passage that don Juan explained to him that he had a tendency, like most people, to look at something and then think about what he was looking at and then think about what he was thinking about, and then was no longer seeing

Carlos's teacher, don Juan, also emphasized the importance of stopping our internal chatter. He called it, 'stopping the world'. Anna Wise's emphasis on relaxing the tongue to stop talking to oneself might very well be applicable here.

But why didn't Krishnamurti talk about relaxing the tongue to stop thinking?

Mario Pizalini, a master Alexander Technique teacher, offered a possible explanation. Mario pointed out that the eyes tend to look where the body is headed. That the eyes actually often lead movement. He asserted that the eyes constellate movement in the rest of the body. Consequently, he posited, if your release the eyes, you are leading the way for release throughout the body. Mario also noted that with the Alexander Technique 'Eyes free to go apart' direction that he worked with "the eyes do not move with this direction."

Perhaps, Krishnamurti was so adept at releasing his eyes, that the tongue went right along with them, as Mario suggested often happens?

On another internet search I found the vision instruction work of Captain Hagman, and he had several exercises that featured keeping the eyes still.

At a workshop with Anna Wise at Esalen Institute, another workshop participant told me that a meditation teacher in Santa Cruz had told her that the eyes were the last and hardest area to bring full release to.

Contrarily, a Tai Chi teacher told me it was in the middle of the lower back that was considered to be the hardest place to bring full awareness to. Which is a place virtually impossible for anyone to see. As is the back of the head. And other parts of the back.

In one of Carlos Castandeda's adventures with don Juan, Carlos learns that only by looking at the eyes can one tell if something is alive.

There is a book entitled, ON HAVING NO HEAD: ZEN AND THE RE-DISCOVERY OF THE OBVIOUS by D.E. Harding. In this book Harding advocates a sense of headlessness, which I believe promotes a diminishing of effortful, self-centered seeing and more seeing with a centered, steady eye.

If stilling the eyes promotes a different kind of seeing, what of the rapid eye movements found in dreaming and advocated in some of the new treatments of Post traumatic stress syndrome and the painfull re-experincing of traumatic events by the sufferers of this conditon?

Eye movement desensitization may be a way of releasing painfull memories as it releases the habitual re-experiencing of these past traumatic events. Eye movement desensitization may allow subjects to return to a more relaxed state of mind, by releasing the ingrained patterns of stressful eye movements that allow the events to be played out over and over again by the sufferers of this condition. It's about learning how to stop playing horror movies in the video mode of the mind.

For more on stilling the eyes click on the link to The Quiet Eye Sports Vision Research of Joan Vickers,PH.D>

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