by Kevin Wooding
It is now more than five years since Charlotte first experienced trouble with her eyesight. I rang the family recently to see how they were doing, and particularly how Charlotte, now at the age of 12, was getting along with her vision. It was very gratifying to learn that she is having no trouble with her eyesight at home or at school, and has truly learned the difference between using her eyes well and using them badly. In her mother's words: "She's doing brilliantly". According to the optician's original prognosis she should have been bound to glasses long ago - thus giving further evidence for our observation that glasses reward us in using our eyes badly, lock the habits in place, and truly create a need for themselves.
Charlotte first came to see me early in October 1995. Over the previous three or four months her parents had noticed that she was having increasing difficulty in seeing the television from a reasonable distance, and Charlotte was also saying that it was hard for her to see the blackboard at school.
Her mother took her to the optometrist and he gave her a prescription of about -3.50 dioptres in both eyes, and an astigmatism prescription of +1.50 in the right eye. As it seemed that this condition had come about in a matter of months, the optometrist said that her eyes were ‘very bad’, and that she would have to come every three months for ‘quite a while.’ He stressed that her sight would deteriorate a lot during this time and after three months it would be twice as bad as on the first visit. Therefore she would need stronger and stronger glasses each time she had an eye test.
Understandably, Charlotte’s parents felt upset about this, and doubly so when considering that neither of them had any sign of eye trouble themselves.
Charlotte’s mother had heard about the Bates Method, and after some enquiries ended up at my door. The fact that I was unshaved and wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown at four o'clock in the afternoon did not bode well for the lesson - however, a hasty explanation soon eased the situation: ‘Yes, yes, you have come to the right house, I’m sorry I’m like this, my first child was born last night and I’ve only just woken up!’ For Charlotte and Kate this was exactly the right way to break the ice!
My initial assessment of Charlotte was that she was indeed short sighted, but there were signs that her sight was still in a very flexible state. At the end of her assessment I was checking her vision on the Snellen Eye Chart and was unable to get a recordable reading, simply because she was unable to see any of the letters from only five feet. I didn’t want to push her at that moment as I sensed that she was experiencing considerable distress by having to look at the chart at all.
On an inspiration I turned the chart upside-down and Charlotte immediately said: ‘That’s much better!’ I guessed from this that her major difficulty in reading the chart was because she was trying to make sense of it. As adults we are usually familiar with the eye chart and what it is for, but a child who has just started to learn to read (under schooling conditions) will very likely be feeling unhappy when asked to read an incomprehensible collection of letters under the guise of an ‘eye test’. Many adults still feel an underlying sense of anxiety when looking at the Eye chart: not the best conditions under which to have your sight tested.
Lessons progressed weekly and fortnightly for about nine months. As I watched her learn and grow I often thought to myself; I wish all my adult pupils could see this. Charlotte absorbed every new technique and suggestion quite happily. It was never a case of her ‘throwing herself’ into a new part of the Method, but more just being herself while learning. As the elusive state of being oneself is profoundly useful for the improvement of vision, Charlotte, Kate and I had a wonderful time in watching Charlotte’s sight improve.
Here are some highlights of our lessons:
After about three months I found out that Charlotte felt unhappy about palming; it is quite hard for a young lass of seven to sit for any length of time in the dark. We had, however, on one occasion made up stories while palming. She remembered this as being rather fun, so we continued in this manner from then on, either I would read from a book, or we would make up something entirely on the spot.
Charlotte taught this game to a small circle of her classmates, who would spend their entire lunch hour at school, palming and telling stories to each other. Now that we were passing through the winter months of the year the cold and bitter days of the English winter drove more of the children inside, and the entire class of thirty ended up palming and telling stories through their lunch hour!
Another interesting episode involved throwing juggling balls to each other across the room. As we started out things were pretty ordinary: Charlotte worked hard to make sure she caught every ball I threw, and this was tending to increase her anxiety level.
I then introduced the idea of 'not reacting', and invited her to throw the ball to me and I would demonstrate. She threw the ball to me, which promptly hit me square in the forehead. Despite the subsequent hilarity, I managed to just let it happen: this was an adequate demonstration, and we spent the next few minutes not caring where the balls went, or if we missed a catch.
The result of this was a very considerable increase in the amount of ease with which Charlotte was catching the balls. The catching was simple because it no longer mattered if the catch didn't happen. Charlotte's lightening up on herself had good results in the next few moments: I said to Charlotte, "You see, things become easier when they matter less." Charlotte just smiled and continued to catch very comfortably. "Sometimes adults forget what it is like to be young and not know how to do something well, like catching a ball." Catch, catch, catch, catch. "I could pretend to be an adult who has forgotten right now. I could pretend to be an adult who thinks you should know everything perfectly already. Is that OK with you?" Catch, catch, "Yes", catch.
I threw the ball a little harder than normal and Charlotte missed it. Then I shouted: "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING! YOU MISSED THE BALL!" Charlotte took one look at me and burst into great peals of laughter. "You NEVER say that, you NEVER say that" she was shouting back. I didn't really realise how important this had been until I saw Charlotte's mother in the corner shaking her head and quietly saying so that I heard: "I'll never forget that."
Soon after this Charlotte's eyes were truly on the move. A few weeks later I received a phone call from Kate, saying that Charlotte's eyes were stinging, and Charlotte had had a peculiar headache all night. Apparently it had started a little after practising the Sway in her room at home. They were worried but I was able to reassure them that stinging and headaches can be a sign that tension was slowly releasing.
To be on the safe side I suggested that if the symptoms were still present after 24 hours, then it would be advisable to get checked at a hospital, although I stressed that this was unlikely to be necessary. It turned out that just the knowledge that it was part of the process was enough to allow it to ease, and by the time Kate brought Charlotte to see me later in the afternoon, the symptoms had almost entirely disappeared.
At this point I assessed her eyes for distance vision and found that Charlotte could comfortably read 20/40. Moreover, the astigmatism in the right eye had what I would call, 'come to the surface', that is, Charlotte was able to become aware of the vision that her astigmatism produced. When looking at the chart with her right eye only, she saw not one, but about ten images of the big 'C'.
Charlotte stayed at this level for about two months. Sometimes the lessons were not sessions of Bates but more like sessions of Charlotte being herself, and yet I sensed that she had got stuck somewhere. I again became aware that to truly choose to see can be one of the most difficult choices a person can make. I sat Charlotte down and said, "today you are going to do lots of long swings." She groaned a bit, but soon we got started, and we worked away in sets of thirty swings. We did both eyes together, left eye alone, right eye alone, both eyes together, and so on, thirty swings for each.
Somewhere in the middle Charlotte said to me, "I once did five hundred swings in one day but my eyes went funny and I thought I better not do that." I looked at her and said, "Maybe your eyes need to go funny." At the end of the lesson Charlotte had done one hundred and eighty swings, and, sure enough she said, "My eyes have gone funny." I just said it was OK, let them be funny.
She came back the following week, and her mother had glowing reports about Charlotte's sight: "Charlotte can see this, Charlotte can see that. I can't see those things!" I then checked her sight on the chart. Charlotte was reading 20/10 consistently, and there was very little sign left of the astigmatism in the right eye. I felt there was still room for improvement, but it seemed a good moment to stop the lessons for a while and let things settle. The family had been through quite a bit of change with young Charlotte re-learning to see with joy and love.
I would like to finish with a story that Charlotte wrote towards the end of her lessons. I feel these words sum up the process of learning to see as beautifully as anything I have read.
Bluebell Wood Stories
Chapter 1The Big Wind
A big wind suddenly came and frightened all the animals in bluebell wood So they went in their holes and looked through their windows and saw that there were little speckles of something but they could not see it enough So they went outside (because the big wind had stopped) and put the little things on then they asked the chief if he could tell them what they were So they went and saw that they were glasses so that they could not see properly So all of them put them on and they looked lovely. But the next morning they really hurt so they took them off but they were so used to wearing them that they had to put them back on. Now this really annoyed them so they went and told the wind can you please take these glasses away they hurt us. So the wind did so and then the animals felt so much better that they each loved each other and said all together "The End"