Resurgence No. 216 January/February 2003
Healing Vision Without Spectacles,
Contact Lenses or Refractive Surgery:
A Personal Journey of Healing Vision
HOLISTIC SCIENCE: ANNA BAMBRIDGE
Integrating Science and Experience
I sat in the big black chair in the optometrist�s cubicle. On the wall in front of me was a projected letter chart. I was wearing no glasses (although I had used them for years) and was looking at the chart with my naked eyes. I had specifically asked for this test as I had been trying to improve my vision and wanted to see how I would get on in a clinical situation. At first hesitantly, and then with increasing certainty, I voiced the names of the letters facing me.
"I don�t know how you are doing that; you shouldn�t be able to do that!" the optometrist exclaimed. "You shouldn�t be able to see that much. Why don�t you put your glasses back on?" Whether I should or shouldn�t be able to read the chart, I just had. I told him that he was wrong to tell me to put my glasses back on; I told him that I never would, and that I would continue to improve my vision. This encounter was indicative of the fact that my personal healing experience and my academic research were contradictory.
I had worn glasses for myopia since the age of three. Every time I returned to the optometrist the prescription of my glasses increased, until at the age of twenty-two I had trouble reading the largest letter on a test chart when it was half a metre from me. That year, I went to an optometrist who was different. He told me my glasses were too strong and gave me weaker ones. He also prescribed relaxation and co-ordination exercises. When I left his office for the first time with my new weaker glasses I thought, "I can�t see!" It was the opposite experience to getting stronger glasses in the past, when all the leaves on the trees were perfectly crisp and I could see blades of grass and people far away down the street. This time, all was blurry.
However, my new optometrist came by good recommendation and I liked him, so I faithfully followed through with all that he told me to do including full body relaxation, a diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, splashing cold water on my eyes and practising looking at an eye chart. As a test of my vision I would stand outside my home and look at the signs on the other side of the street. At first they were invisible to me in the blur and then day by day the letters and words became sharp and clear. After a month, my glasses were once again made weaker and the blur that I saw kept on clearing.
As I continued I became more and more aware of the holistic nature of my healing. By this I mean that I could not ignore other changes that were happening alongside my clearing vision: changes which I eased and encouraged with various practices including the Bates vision improvement method, the Alexander technique, cranio-sacral therapy, massage and counselling. Long-standing tension in my back, shoulders, neck and hips started releasing and the circulation to my hands and feet improved. I also had an increased awareness of colour, movement and context and had never felt so smoothly integrated into my environment. I felt less clumsy and was much more spacially and emotionally aware.
Three years after starting to improve my vision I stopped wearing glasses altogether. Implicit in this decision was an acknowledgement that I grew up wearing them so all the senses that I was developing was for the first time. This involved a responsibility to nurture these new senses if I was actually going to see well and not just take off my glasses and have a blur. Alongside these changes that were taking place in me was also a growing disquiet because I did not quite understand them.
My academic background is in physics and I had learnt about optics and had a textbook understanding of the workings of the eye and myopia. This understanding, and everything that any professional in the field had ever told me about my eyes (before I started improving my sight) was contradictory to what I was experiencing. I was an exception to all the rules that I knew on the subject and I craved explanations.
The experience of seeing my vision change and my intellectual curiosity about these changes, led me to research natural vision techniques at university. The overwhelming culture of the academic department I was in contained a deep assumption that poor vision that required glasses for correction was inevitable, and that once glasses were prescribed they would be needed for life. There were a few books describing attempts to use therapy to try to change myopia but all concluded that any improvements observed were too small to provide any evidence that it was possible to treat myopia in any way other than with glasses, contact lenses, or surgery.
I decided to set up a clinical trial of vision therapy with twenty-five volunteers who were all myopic and wore glasses. This trial showed some small individual changes in sight but the results were not conclusive enough to make any definitive statement about the efficacy of vision therapy.
The double nature of my life during my time researching became more and more apparent and less bearable, for while my academic work seemed, by looking at the numerical data, to be saying that vision therapy had little effect, my own vision was changing profoundly every day using the same techniques.
At the start of my research I tried to talk to my optometry colleagues about what I was experiencing with my own vision. Each time, however, I felt as if I were talking into a vacuum. The replies that came back were not relevant to what I had actually said. There was no acknowledgement, no argument, no discussion. Spending time in pseudo-conversation like this would start spirals of doubt in my mind. Why am I doing this? It isn�t possible. But every time I opened my eyes my visual world was malleable and flexible and I could see and feel the changes taking place. And I had to pretend professionally that none of this was happening and remain sceptical about it in order to investigate it.
I was working within the professional discipline of optometry, the main function of which is the prescribing of glasses or contact lenses. My research involved taking glasses off and was so dramatically different from the framework of the discipline that there was little room for the discussion of such possibilities. I wanted to do research into what I was experiencing, but that there even existed a phenomenon to research was doubted. I was trying to prove what I was seeing every day with my own eyes, but there was no theoretical framework in which to conduct any research that was intelligible to my experience. Any work that would be academically acceptable had to be built in a framework in which I was a logical impossibility.
Once I realised this and the force of assumption I was confronting, I had to make a decision to stay or to leave. I chose to stay and finish my work with all the compromises that entailed. Although my thesis does not say as much as I had hoped at the beginning, it does open the debate for the possibilities of change and for the exploration of a holistic scientific approach to vision and healing.
Paying attention to how I looked and saw was transformative and also transformed the way in which I approach science. Even though the objective data in my study was saying one thing I had a conviction and feeling from my own experience which questioned these results. Having another way of interpreting what was happening with a much wider perspective completely altered the interpretation of the results. This change in view entails a change in methodology for future work to take into account the personal nature of all aspects of health and to recognise the importance and impact of context and relationships.
My commitment to natural healing and natural vision continues to be strong and my vision is still improving, inspiring me with amazement and delight at what I can see. I also now have the confidence to believe my eyes and no longer ever visit an optometrist.
Anna Bambridge is a researcher of holistic vision.