In the early seventies I was introduced to the Aikido concept of soft eyes. It was presented as an alternative
to hard, narrowed seeing, a kind of softer focusing that took in more with an easier, less judgmental viewpoint.
the most part, soft eyes remained mostly a concept for me.I did see an Aikido demonstration in a large San Francisco hall
where a very exonerated Aikido Master dispatched simulated attack after attack, from all directions by his students.
the ability to not over focus, to stay calmly aware of all of one's surroundings was aptly demonstrated that evening by this
revered Aikido Master.
In a book entitled, THE ZEN DRIVING BOOK, the author mentions something called no-seeing and
mentions that Samurai warriors learned to cultivate a complete 360 degree field of awareness.
There are also stories
of Tai Chi masters successfully discharging rear attacks without ever facing their opponents. A friend of mine, who teaches
Tai Chi Chi, refers to more peripheral-based seeing as 'wide-angle seeing'.
Bruce Fertman, a master Alexander Techniuqe
teacher and Martial Artist, tells the story of the great Tai Chi teacher who was once asked by a student, "What percentage
of awareness should be given to the inner and what percentage to the outer?"
The master replied, "Yes, one hundred
percent inner, one hundred percent outer."
"When I concentrate on something I usually do what I was
taught in Aikido. What we would do is use what we simply call "soft eyes." That is where you look at your target object and
then just let your eyes blur the edges, making the object "soft". The sensation is almost like that of crossing your eyes,
but to a lesser extent."
"This reduces the effect of getting tunnel vision when you concentrate on one particular
object, and allows you to utilize your periphery much more effectively. In a martial situation this is worth more than gold
as you direct and initiate movement against multiple opponents due to your relaxed focus on only one person."
THE COURAGE TO TEACH: EXPLORING THE INNER LANDSCAPE OF A TEACHER'S LIFE by Parker Palmer
"In the Japanese art of Aikido
there is a practice called "soft eyes" - it means to widen one's periphery to take in more of the world. If a stimulus is
introduced to an unprepared person, his eyes narrow and filight/fight response takes over. If the same unexpected stimulus
comes to someone with "soft eyes" the natural reflex is transcended and a more authentic response takes its place - such as
thinking a new thought.
...I want to make a conscious effort to help myself and my students develop softer eyes when confronted
with something new. I believe it will allow all of us to have more authentic responses and "think" more "new" thoughts."
BY TOHEI SENSEI, 10th Degree Aikido Master
"The eyes are the windows to the soul. When we look at a person,
some times we can tell what they are thinking and how they are feeling. We take cues from people's expressions and body language.
Our own eyes and expressions show tension, anger, sadness, disappointment, relaxation, calmness, happiness, and confidence.
Some people believe that hard eyes create power and control. It is also a good way to get into a fight. But soft eyes can
show confidence and kindness. If you are relaxed enough to have softe eyes then you are extending Ki.
When you are
extending Ki you are relaxed and easy to get along with. When you are tense or upset the people around you tend to move away.
A smile always makes friends and this demonstrates that plus breeds plus. Being positive and having a smile on our face is
a choice we make. This is extending Ki, your intention, focus, goal."
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: SOFT
By Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren
"Sometimes the smallest changes we make can have the largest effects. One example
of this comes from what we can do with our eyes. How we look at someone, or at a group of people, can completely change how
We can think of how we use our eyes as being either hard or soft. Hard eyes are when we focus intently
on any one thing or point, as when we look at the tip of someone's nose or strain to read the writing on a far away street
sign. There is a certain tension, a narrowing of vision. Peripheral vision becomes lost. We may become caught up in whatever
it is we are looking at. Sometimes, hard eyes can be useful, as when we are putting a complex model together or trying to
get a splinter out of our child's finger.
Soft eyes happen when we relax the muscles around our eyes and let ourselves
see with our peripheral vision as well as with our central, focused vision. We see the individual in front of us, but we also
see the people to either side, the clock above his head, the lights on the ceiling and the pattern on the floor. We take in
everything and are distracted by nothing. Seeing in this way sends an entirely different set of signals to the brain from
seeing with hard eyes. As our eyes see more, somehow our brains become more open to the diversity of possibilities that always
surround us. Soft eyes also tend to have a calming effect on the people around us, and often on ourselves as well."
Windle and Suzanne Warren - Seeing the Big Picture: Soft Eyes)
is what we use to filter out unwanted sensory input. If your attention is too tight and concentrated (by focusing too hard
on one object in front of you), then you'll end up being oblivious to your peripheral vision.
...So, to develop our peripheral
vision, relax your eyes, and don't look *hard* at anything. Dilate your pupils, and keep a soft focus in the direction you're
looking. ...The idea isn't that you are developing your eyes especially for peripheral vision, but rather that you stop ignoring
your peripheral vision. Don't look at things, but look through them."
(Stephen Chan - Soft Eyes and Aiki Ju Jitsu)
George Leonard in his book, The Silent Pulse: A Search for the Perfect Rhythm That Exists In Each of Us, devotes
a major portion of his Appendix to Soft Eyes: "The visual mode I'm calling "soft eyes" provides an alternative. This mode
is receptive rather than positive, synthesizing rather than reaching out to bring it in. With soft eyes we tend to perceive
a whole field of vision in terms of the energy and motion that make it up, rather than perceiving the collection of discrete
objects that exist within it. There is less than the usual distinction between figure and ground. With soft eyes, peripheral
vision is enhanced, the depth of field appears to be greater, and colors seem remarkably vivid."
"Using soft eyes entails not just adopting an alternative visual mode, but also entering an altered state of being.
Once you've mastered the art of soft eyes, this state can be achieved in a split second."
The Silent Pulse by George Leonard
Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer
"Soft eyes, it seems to me is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred
reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes
wide with wonder we no longer need to resist or run when when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery."
Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Techer's Life)