Tom Brown Jr. & Splatter Vision

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Seeing Anew: Exploring Perception

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My first conscious introduction to the importance of opening one's seeing, of using peripheral vision more expansively, was from Tom Brown, Jr. 

Tom Brown Jr. is a tracker and wilderness arts teacher. As a young boy he studied with an Apache Indian stalker named Stalking Wolf. In his books TRACKER and THE SEARCH, he writes about how it was virtually impossible to ever sneak up on his mentor, Stalking Wolf, and that when you were in his presence it was very hard to distract Stalking Wolf and get him to pay attention to you exclusively. 

Stalking Wolf was always aware of what was going on all around him. In the trees and in the background wherever he was out in nature, he would notice wildlife that someone else might easily overlook. Tom Brown called this kind of seeing splatter-vision. It's a kind of seeing natural to most wild animals. 

In the mid-1980's, a person I know took an intensive wilderness skills course with Tom Brown, Jr. at his training site in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. 

DEER STALKING 
My friend came back with a game he had learned at the wilderness skills course called: Deer Stalking. In this game the instructor gets down on all fours about l0 to 15 yards in front of a line of "stalkers." 

The stalkers are instructed to try and get as close to the "deer" as possible while it is "grazing on grass". The stalkers are advised that the deer will be using its peripheral vision which is especially sensitive to quick sudden movement. 

The stalkers are cautioned to move slowly and carefully and to completely freeze all movement the instant the deer stops eating grass and looks up directly at them. 

The stalkers are informed also, that humans are the only animal that walk upright on two legs with their arms swinging beside their torso. Just as we have an instinctual alertness to snake-like forms, animals in the wild have learned to be alert to humans' distinctive, arm swinging, upright movement. 

Consequently, stalkers are advised to keep their hands clasped together in front of them, or less preferably behind them, but either way not hanging and swinging freely of the torso and advertising one's humanness. 

Additionally, a special narrow walk with the weight first coming on the outside of the foot, called the fox walk helps one to feel the ground under one better and helps to minimize the noise made from crunching branches and other natural objects under foot. This is a well-centered kind of walking that is relatively easy to freeze in mid-motion when required. 

The fox walk also allows you to not have to look directly down at the ground as you walk, and allows you to watch the deer, so that you can freeze your movement and avoid detection whenever the deer starts to look up. It also allows you to start moving slowly closer to the deer the moment its direct gaze is turned back towards grazing. 

Rushing the deer is discouraged, as this will simply scare the deer into the next county. If a student is noticed moving towards the deer, the student is pointed to and must take two steps back before the game is continued. 

Rapid quick movements stand out to the player who is the deer and the rusher gets immediate feedback as to the ineffectiveness of anything other than very subtle movements, and then only when the deer is slightly preoccupied by its grazing. 

I often point out to students that they can not only stalk deer with these skills, but birds, ground squirrels and lizards, as well. One camper wrote me when I use to direct an outdoor education program, that, 'I even stalked my father while he was reading the newspaper out on the patio.' 

I have talked with students years later from our time out on the trail together, and many fondly remember the deer stalking game 

One student now in design school in New York City told me that when he gets off by himself he likes to let his focus open up and widen like he learned to do in deer stalking. 

BOBCAT ENCOUNTER 

Still stalking, also known as Seton Sitting after the famous naturalist writer Ernest Thompson Seton, involves finding a place out in nature and getting as still as possible and seeing what reveals itself around you. 

A most memorable experience with still stalking happened to me on a very hot summer's afternoon in Matilija Canyon. I found a slight clearing in fairly dense, chaparal brush under an oak tree. 

It was a hot, buggy day, and the small, biting, black, 'elbow biter' flies were swarming around my face and any available skin. 

I had on a long sleeved- shirt and I had tucked my pants into my socks to limit the insects access to unexposed flesh. 

I also had on a green jungle helmet with nylon mesh which kept the bugs from biting me, but not from buzzing. My bare hands were also getting landed on when I kept them still, and I was having trouble figuring out how to protect them from the black flies' assaults. 

I was fidgeting about as I sat under the tree, trying to quiet down to see what might happen with some still stalking. 

Finally, I let go of whether my hands would be bitten or not and got relatively still, when suddenly I notice out of the corner of my eye to the left something was moving, and then to my amazement I saw it was some kind of cat, brown and yellow. 

At first I thought it might only be a feral, really large tomcat, but then I saw it had very long tufts of hair extending out the tips of its ears. 

It's back legs appeared larger than its front giving it a forward leaning rake something like a hot rod. 

It's tail was short, explaining its name probably shortened from bob-tailed cat. It's tail was twitching nervously, almost as if it was using it as a sensing organ. 

The bobcat came closer and closer to being directly in front of me though at about the same distance from me as it first appeared from behind a tree maybe only 10 yards away. 

Suddenly it perceived me, and jumped back startled disappearing from my view behind the scrub oak tree from which it had just appeared. 

But then only moments later it stuck its head back out looking in my direction, quizzically, seemingly demonstrating the curiosity for which the cat family is famous. 

I must have appeared quite strange to the bobcat, sitting there in my drab clothing with the net headgear hiding my face, not moving, probably barely able to keep from holding my breath, I was thrilled to be so close to a wild bobcat. 

Finally, having apparently taken in enough, it seemed to shake its head and disappeared back into the growth from which it came. I felt like I had hit a slot machine jackpot with my first quarter. 

I would have many opportunities to open up my vision and connect more with nature while I directed the Matilija Environmental Science Area, MESA, outdoor education site during much of the 1980's. 

I would later adopt the deer stalking splatter vision when I was out on nature walks in Matilija Canyon. I would extend my hands out to my side as I walked along the trail, gently wiggling my fingers to try and keep my peripheral vision alive as I walked along the trail. 

Sometimes I would teach this peripheral vision to friends, and we would walk separately with maybe twenty or thirty yards separating us, as we silently walked along seeing how much we could keep aware of a bigger picture than normal with our peripheral vision fully engaged. 

It was often a frustrating exercise for me, as my ability to stay wide in my seeing was quite limited. I found that inevitably my attempt to keep my view open would collapse into narrowed, thought-encumbered seeing.
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