by Becky Smith
I’d been thinking of finding a Bates practitioner for at least five years before I finally managed it. And it was at much the same time that I first started wearing glasses. I hated them. But I couldn’t find any alternative to using them. Once I found myself unable to read maps, especially at night, and to be holding text at arm’s length, and still not being able to see it clearly, I felt something had to be done.
After one or two abortive attempts, I located Patrick Mahoney close to where we had recently come to live. My first session was during January, when the dark days were making it even harder to see clearly.
In the early sessions, the stress was mainly on diagnosis and demonstration. I found it exhilarating to be shown beyond doubt precisely what was going on in my eyes. In addition, I could relate vividly to the way in which sight and perception are connected to life experience, emotion, and personality. Patrick quite quickly homed in on my working life, which is very much tied in with the written word, and the need to be aware of each small mark on the page.
I enjoyed proving to myself the discrepancies between my two eyes, the blurring of the astigmatism, the simple everyday exercises, using fingers, pens, string, bright coloured objects - nothing complicated or hard to obtain. I was more and more convinced that the solution was in my own hands, and, at the same time the main key to improvement was to relax into it, stop straining after clarity but let myself believe in the gentle process of seeing better.
Between sessions I sometimes felt I should be doing more exercises than I was, but running counter to that was the discovery that there was not going to be an exam at the end, or any kind of pass/fail situation. I could just let it happen in its own time. I knew that the real homework was to change the way I approached the whole business of eyesight. This gave me permission to be lazy, to use my glasses if I felt like it, but to celebrate those days when I left them on the bedside table.
With great delicacy, Patrick drew my attention to those aspects of my character that seemed to be impeding the process. He never used the word 'rigidity’, but I recognised it as a relevant factor. The muscles of the eye are like all muscles, they flex and change and respond. But one’s own expectations and assumptions can hold them in a pattern than feels permanently stuck. This called for some inner work that is likely to be ongoing for a long time to come.
The session that involved swaying around Patrick’s house, observing the way everything exists in three dimensions was life-altering. It felt like being given a great gift, and I was profoundly grateful. The whole world changed, and was suddenly available to me in a new deeper way. I fell in love with winter trees, seeing them as chalices, globes, works of art, with light and space threading through them. That alone has made the sessions worthwhile.
My glasses are now an irritation. I feel them on my face like a foreign body that has attached itself to me. But I do use them when I want to read something quickly. The pinhole spectacles that Patrick supplied are not any easier to accept, although they might yet find a role as transitional aides.
As I write this, I am wearing my glasses, because I also feel happier using them for computer-based work at times. And it's twilight, which is a time when I see less well. Out in the sunshine, I can read easily without them, If I was prepared to be slow and painstaking, to change gear and not want everything to be done instantly, I could manage without them more often. But that’s another life change that’s still ahead of me.
Diary of a Day
The first thing I see every morning is the mountain a mile away, and the sky above it. Today the light is very bright and clear. I can see a yellow JCB in a field close to a farm. All the farm buildings are quite clear. This is all about a mile and a half distant.
Before getting up, I read a few pages of a novel. The type isn’t completely clear, but it is readable. It’s an exciting book, which helps.
Outside I feed my sheep and cattle. Every hair on each animal is clearly visible. I pick a few stray shreds from the fleece of a sheep, and run my hand over a lamb's back, noticing how his coat is growing.
I have to go out early, driving to Abergavenny. Dandelions grow everywhere, in fields, along the road verges. I can distinguish them from celandines -just - as I drive past. Road signs, other vehicles, whatever occurs on the road are all now quite easy to see. I used to wear glasses for driving routinely.
The parking machine won’t give me a ticket. I write a note and leave it inside the windscreen. I visit Building Society and shops. I can only just find the lightly printed writing on the slip I have to sign. Seeing prices on items in shops isn't always easy. Finding the right change in my purse can also be difficult. One penny looks like fivepence, other coins get confused. Foreign money is even worse.
The faces of people in the street are clear. They’re mostly delighting in the fine weather, and exchange casual cheerful greetings. There’s nobody 1 know.
I drive one of my farm customers, parking at the top of his drive. He has black eyes, and a bump on his head - inflicted by a cow. I can see it all quite vividly.
Home again, I spend an hour or two on office work. Reindexing a book, locating references which need new page numbers - impossible without glasses, even if I were to sit out in bright sunshine. Then keying in farm data on the laptop computer. I can’t see anything on the screen without glasses. It would be too awkward to get close enough to it, unlike the bigger computer.
The rest of the day is spent alternating outside work (inspecting the bees, planting seedlings out) and indoor paper-based activity. The glasses go on for the latter which overflows into the evening, and is mainly done on the computer. Although I can see the screen if I lean forward, it’s easier with glasses.
The general pattern tends to be to start the day without the glasses, and not to take them with me when I go out. Something about a fresh day means I can start again with clear sight. As the tasks accumulate, speed becomes a factor, and I think it might turn out to be too difficult to break this habitual link. A real challenge will come when I go back to the milk recording, and have to read callibrations on misty jars, as well as the laptop in poor light.
The old expectations of seeing more clearly at a distance withered away after only two or three Bates sessions. It is now much less of an issue, and holding a book or picture close to my eyes is not a problem.
It’s obvious to me that many old habits still need to be changed. But I don’t feel any need or desire to significantly change my lifestyle. I want to do a lot of reading, including meticulous proofreading, and computer work. I also want to work outside a lot, gardening, beekeeping, keeping livestock. Plus needle work - often very fine - and a variety of activities needing clear vision. Maintaining a relaxed pace would be useful, and a good mixture of indoor and outdoor activities.
The Bates philosophy calls for trust and insight, I think. It needs to be internalised and motivation has to be high, to wean oneself away from glasses. Anything can be done, and there are regular surprises and breakthroughs which sustain the process. I do find myself wishing I had a checklist, or something to remind me of the most useful exercises, when it all seems to be going wrong. The one I go back to usually is finding a tiny full stop in the smallest print on the test sheet. That seems to make it easier to read print generally.
I think this is a lesson I’ve absorbed, for the most part. My work area is very cluttered with shapes and colours, with movement outside the window and a habit of looking around myself every little while.
Compared to a year ago, my vision is greatly improved, and dependence on glasses reduced to a particular mood or situation - which I can to a great extent control and understand. My intention is not to buy any further pairs of glasses, and progressively give them up. So when I eventually break or lose them, I’ll be like the child learning to ride a bike, not noticing when the steadying hand is removed.
Becky Smith 2001