THIS is a practice in which the hands are used to softly cover the eyes. The cheek bones rest on the heels of the hands, and the fingers cross above the eyes, with the eyes resting softly on the palms. The hands shut out all light. It is difficult to carry out this practice with a satisfactory result unless the elbows rest on a table in such a manner that all the muscles of the body are relaxed. The further effect is that such a deliberate and unusual gesture impresses the mind. To complete the procedure it is necessary to engage the mind continuously in some specific line of thought and not let it wander as it usually does.
Even with all light shut out, there will be the appearance of lights and colors and fragments, which seem to be seen by the eyes. These are illusions. They are produced in the visual center of the brain itself. To put it more simply, it is just imagination, since there is no light admitted to the eyes. Sometimes these appearances are persistent. Occasionally they are quite vivid. In other cases they are not pronounced, and they may fade promptly. When there is no least stimulation of the optic nerve by light rays, the visual center of the brain should show no reaction, and there should be a perfect blackness.
When there is no tension in the mind, the field will be black. One can command the mind by keeping it attentive to the field that appears, and expecting the blackness to come, which is proof that the mind is in a normal condition of relaxation. If one has an urge to eliminate the fragments in the field, the effect is to prevent relaxation. But there must be a firm, earnest confidence, and a specific desire which keeps the mind intent.
The more habitual tension there is in the mechanism of vision, the more intense will be the illusions which appear and persist. When there is some unusual disturbance of mind or body at the moment, there is even more difficulty in securing the required relaxation. It is true, however, that some persons, even with extreme abnormal conditions of vision, secure a most satisfactory relaxation quite easily. That is because they occupy the mind so completely with the practice they are carrying out, that all other thoughts are thus prevented from intruding and distracting. Want of success is always caused by the fixed habits of the mind. Consciously or unconsciously the patient is allowing an intrusion of thoughts to distract the attention. This distraction is a direct interference. If the mind is earnest enough in purpose, it will become conscious of the interference and brush it aside.
One sees a perfect black only when the mind is completely at rest. The more at rest the mind is, the deeper the black. When one sees an area of black in the field, it is likely to in crease. With proper technique one may improve the blackness until the field is completely black. There may be floating spots of pure black. There may be dull gray areas. There may appear different colors instead of black—just the fancy of the mind. If one continues to see red, or yellow, or other colors sharply marked, it is better to be satisfied with these colors as they come, instead of combating that picture, and to keep the mind occupied watching the different colors. A good plan is to imagine in the field a small patch of white, such as a piece of white paper. If such a white patch is seen, when secured intentionally, the background of the field will probably show quite black. Proceeding further, one may imagine in the white spot a black letter, for instance, an O. When one can imagine a black letter in a white spot already imagined, the letter will be blacker than the background on which one imagines the white spot.
When there is special difficulty in clearing the field which is seen when the eyes are covered, some other practice will probably be helpful in attaining the degree of relaxation necessary in order to see a black field. For instance, one may use the memory of a black object to assist. Blink softly at some familiar black object placed where the color is most pronounced, then close the eyes and watch for the image to appear. By looking at the object for some minutes, and then keeping the mind on it for some minutes with the eyes closed, alternately, sooner or later the object will appear clearly when the eyes are closed. This is called an after-image. The successful outcome may take quite a while, or it may develop promptly; the result depends upon the exactness with which the mind carries on the process. When the object is seen, black and clear, with the eyes closed, one may proceed to palm as directed above, and the field will probably appear black.
There are two factors operating in such a practice. There is the impression of black on the mind, and the relaxation which has been secured by the game one has played with the black spot. It will hasten the success if one uses what is called central fixation, and imagines one spot on the black object to be blacker than the rest of the surface, ignoring with the mind the remainder of the object, One can practice changing the spot on the object to another area, or even changing the contemplation from one black object to another black object. To change is sometimes a relief from monotony; but the longer one practices with the same spot, or the same object, without losing an alert interest, the more vivid the reaction, that is, the more perfect the after-image. This is true of any practice in this method. To continue the technique longer, if it is properly carried out, will develop a progressive increase in the degree of the result.
This technique, or practice, called palming, is one of the clearest and most impressive illustrations of the mechanism and the value of this method for relieving the abnormal condition commonly called eyestrain. One must realize that palming consists essentially of an attitude of mind, and that the details of the procedure are simply expedients which facilitate the shutting out of distractions from the mind.
It becomes more than a negative procedure as soon as one calls upon the mind to imagine, or make believe, the various conceptions which can be used in the practice. It is a very simple idea to impress upon the mind that one wants to see a small white patch. In the technique of psychologists it is a common practice to persuade a patient to develop in a muscle a sensation of soft languor, and then to have a feeling that the arm is so heavy it cannot be lifted. It is just as easy to have the same mind order the vision center to picture a patch of white, and then to make believe that there is a black O on the white spot. A designer of dresses, an architect, an artist, a leader in any field, is seeing things in his mind, just as literally, as a common habit.
A patient whose eyes were almost useless because of three different types of defects in vision, was distressed by the prospect of inability to retain his position. The developing cataracts were the culminating interference with his vision. He had been told there could be no relief until they were what is called "ripe" enough to be removed, and his lenses replaced by glass tenses. Having been instructed how to palm, he practiced it intensively for many hours with little interruption. His earnestness and persistence so influenced the condition of his mind that his sight became a very good normal in twenty-four hours, and continued normal. This case reported by Dr. Bates, was unusual, but I can report many cases of improvement that are equivalent. The commonest difficulty is the want of a vivid conception of the simple mechanism of the process involved, and the next in order, perhaps, is a lack of the fine determination that constrained that man to keep on demanding success, hour after hour, until his courage and patience were rewarded.
The practice of palming was designed by Dr. Bates as an expedient which is simple and easily carried out, and has a direct effect on the vision center in the brain. He believed it to be, perhaps, the most effective of all the techniques he suggested. I have found that even children can understand what it is necessary to do, and they often have fine success in seeing a very black field when their eyes are closed. Dr. Bates even suggested that the measure and the degree of the blackness which is imagined when the eyes are closed may be used as a test of the degree of relaxation secured.
When a sufficient degree of relaxation has been secured, it will be found that the eyesight has been improved accordingly. There may be flashes of clear vision which are replaced by the same old want of sight, or there may be a progressive improvement in the conduct of the eyes. I have personally experienced some fine thrills when lines of letters have appeared with a vivid clearness that was startling. Others have reported being astonished by the same revelations of power in their eyes, which they could not have imagined. Letters and words appeared blacker than the ink, and they stood out with a vividness never realized before.
There is nothing unreal or unnatural or miraculous in such an experience. It is simply the result of interesting the active and sympathetic attention and cooperation of that part of the brain which has charge of the mechanism of vision. There can be no doubt that millions have a constant power and vividness of eyesight that is unknown to most of us. This is true of the savage, and the plainsman, and the man of the sea, who see plainly what most of us cannot see at all. The same is true of the artist who reads the lines of the face and the form, and the color and beauty of the picture which his sight enables him to reproduce so the rest of us can be helped to imagine something of that which to him, is an open book.
In the practice of palming, several factors serve to assist the endeavor to secure a special condition of mind. We speak of the condition as a relaxation. It is, however, a positive mental attitude. But it must be impersonal and objective some pleasant contemplation which enlists the interested attention so completely that one forgets self entirely and becomes absorbed in the subject. This unusual gesture facilitates, as well as the darkness; but the paramount element is the complete domination of the mind by the idea in charge.
Each mind finds its own natural line of thought, and some will try very different imaginary pictures. Since the vital element in the techniques is the degree of exclusive attention which is given to the specific idea that is to occupy the mind, it is imperative that no other thought be allowed to merge into the process. It is easy to think that one is giving complete and undivided attention, when actually the mind is only half-hearted in its effort, and the greater part of the opportunity is lost.
Suppose we undertake to make believe we are swinging in a hammock. I have questioned some who agreed to that expedient, and found they could not tell a detail of the proceeding. They could answer only that they just made believe they were swinging in a hammock. Those who really do it, can describe the hammock, the short rope that held it to the house at one end and the long rope that held it to the tree some feet away. They can describe the pillow, and the cord they pulled on to keep up the slow swinging which produced the soft drowsiness that was so restful. I have even been told how they climbed into the hammock, and how they later woke up and were amused to find that they had fallen asleep.
Suppose we imagine, make believe, we are going to drift down the stream in a canoe. Let us begin at the float by looking the canoe over and deciding just how we will lie. Let us then carry out the proceeding by stepping carefully into the canoe, with the same deliberate care one should always use. No one familiar with the conduct of a canoe would share the close attention necessary to every move, with any other thought. I have seen a few incidents where even one familiar with the requirements of balance and movement have failed to give the attention the canoe demands, and have demonstrated their carelessness by a spill.
Now let us lie quietly and float lightly down the stream. If the mind forgets the canoe, and wanders to some other subject, at that moment it stops carrying out instructions. The conscious part of the mind, I mean, stops obeying instructions and allows itself to be misled; and right then it forfeits the advantage of having the subconscious part of the mind help in the proceeding, instead of hindering, as it commonly does. But if one watches the water, and the shore, and the sky, one keeps the mind intent and active on the side of the endeavor. One imagines the details of the scenery, observing specifically a house, a boat, a rock, a tree, the hill, the sky, the turn in the stream, the opposite end of the canoe. If one answers that it is not possible to do this, I know that one has not really tried. One has not held the idea. One has not been earnest enough in purpose. One has not learned what his own mind will do for him, even in his first efforts. If the feeling is strong enough to persist continuously for thirty minutes, with a quiet determination, the subconscious part of the mind will become interested in the new adventure, and will reveal to the adventurer something of its power. I have explored a little into that new country myself, and others who went farther and found more, have confided in me. As long as one keeps the conscious mired occupied with any impersonal, objective idea, the unconscious mind is at the command of the purpose implied in the idea.
It is a great help to remember the way a little girl plays alone with her dolls. As well as she knows that it is all make-believe, her conversation proves how perfectly the autosuggestion works. Her mind is not hampered with confirmed mental habits. It is simple and direct. With a strong, primitive impulse she gives her whole mind to the idea, and no hampering doubts or reminders interfere with what she is doing. That is the subtle meaning in the sentence: "Unless ye come as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." The cures I have seen occur in a few minutes have all been accomplished by a profound and positive conviction acting on the control center in the mind.
It is necessary to forget the eyes entirely, or to think of them objectively, as one thinks, for instance, of a sprained ankle, or a cut finger. There are no mental reservations with those. We think of them as we would of some other person's cut finger, or somebody else's sprained ankle—just do this or do that with it, as one does this or does that with any other predicament.
There are many different lines of thought with which one can interest the mind in an endeavor to secure an abstract condition of mental relaxation. Each mind has its own predispositions and aptitudes. As illustrations, the following practices may encourage original ideas better suited, perhaps, to individual students.
While palming, imagine the soft rolls of water lapping the sand on the seashore. When the water is seen, picture a large rubber ball, black or red, bobbing on the rippling rolls. Always in motion, the ball will slowly recede from the shore. As you see it in your mind, it must recede farther and grow smaller, until finally it is lost in the hollows of the swells, and you do not see it any more. If the mind is given with feeling to this interesting experiment, the ball will seem very real, and all other thoughts will be excluded from the field.
Imagine a dog romping and swerving on a large lawn. See him stand, with head up, facing you, asking you what you think of his speed and grace. Make believe a fly is crawling over a large pane of glass in front of you, reaching a corner and starting over again to find a path with no obstruction. Picture a cat racing up a tree trunk to a low limb, and standing there with back and tail and hair raised, daring the dog to come up and see which eye she will put her claws into. Look from the cat to the fool dog, trying to stand on his hind legs, and yelping "coward" at the cat for not staying on the ground, even if he is four times as big as she is.
If any of these suggested techniques, practices, efforts of the imagination, are to be of value, they must be carried out with a will to win. Beginning with a conscious feeling of soft relaxation in all the muscles, put into them by the will of the mind, the same purpose must pay close attention to each detail in the procedure, and not be satisfied until some specific success rewards the close devotion and enthusiastic expectation which will be aroused if the spirit is right. When one really works that way, the conscious mind is actually demanding, and it will secure, the help of the inner mind. All these simple requests, the ceaseless activity of that inner mind can grant in marvelous fullness, if only the spirit of the worker dominates the mechanism.