By DOUG MARSH
One, two, buckle my shoe
Three, four, knock at the door
Five, six, pick up sticks …And so the nursery rhyme goes. Preschool kids learn to count in many fun ways to give them a head start in arithmetic. Once they enter the formalised school system, the subject matter eventually takes on a more serious “measure.” As the grades advance, the material progresses into more complex and diverse subjects, such as geometry, trigonometry, algebra and calculus.The focus of formalised mathematical education is all about quantity, for numeracy is as important as literacy in our Western world of clocks, commerce and computers. This type of calculation, although very pragmatic, is really only half the equation. The educational system is usually devoid of any reference to the quality of numbers. The ancient traditions of “sacred number” and “sacred geometry” have been largely snuffed out over time. The deeper spiritual aspect – studying the repeating shapes, forms, symbols and patterns in nature – is all but lost in our work-a-day world. We need to bring these esoteric traditions back into view, and what better way to begin than with vision itself.Number OneOne touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
The spiritual side of the computational equation starts at the same point – literally. The ancient Greek mathematical philosophers viewed the number one as unity, a wholeness that provides a divine order to the cosmos. The circle, which is constructed from a central point, is the sacred geometric representation of this wholeness, the One that forms the Many. There exists one unique pattern of the circle, of which all circles share the same principles. But no two circles that arise from the One are identical.
Circular shapes abound in nature. Of particular significance is the circular shape of the human eyeball, the organ of our most valuable sense of sight. Ralph Waldo Emmerson recognised the first sacred shape in the human form when he wrote, “The eye is the first circle, the horizon which it forms is the second.” Other circles immediately apparent in the eye are the iris, the coloured portion, and the pupil, the black area which dilates and contracts in response to changing light stimuli.
Deep within the eye, unbeknownst to an observer, the point and the circle play an important role in how we visually perceive the outside world. The inside back portion of the eye (the “retina”) contains numerous light receptors called “cones.” The cones are distributed in such a way that the highest concentration is packed in a very small centre area called the “fovea centralis.” The cones gradually diminish in density as the distance increases from the fovea centralis. The cones are virtually non-existent at the outer periphery, or circumference, of the retina.
Contrary to what some may believe, we do not see equally clearly within the entire circle of our visual field. The focus is different than that captured on photographic film by a camera. The distribution of cones in the eye means that we see the clearest in the central point of our sight. Objects in the periphery are less clear. Because the cone distribution in the retina follows a geometric pattern similar to the energy distribution in a concentric wave, I call it “concentric focus.”
Also within the retina are receptors called “rods.” It is believed that the rods sense movement in our peripheral field. The distribution of the rods is essentially the opposite of the cones. The rods are non-existent in the centre and gradually increase in density towards the periphery. That’s why something moving in your peripheral field of vision can abruptly grab your attention.
Another principle of the circle is the continuous rotary motion of cycles and rhythms. With eyesight, oscillating rhythms are manifest in several ways. One of the most obvious is the continuous blink reflex. Our eyes also respond in cycles by closing at night and opening in the day. During sleep, the eyes have an alternating motion called rapid eye movement (REM), and when awake, they have numerous subconscious micro-movements – some vibrating at the frequency of a strummed guitar string – to key in on objects and maintain focus. The motion is contrary to that of a still camera, for without the continuous rhythmic activity, objects would quickly fade into blur.
Dr. William Bates was a New York ophthalmologist who pioneered the concept of natural vision improvement almost a century ago. He discovered that the most common types of blurred eyesight, for which glasses are usually prescribed, are actually responses to stress in our environment. The habitual pattern of strained looking causes the eyeball’s natural circular shape to go out of round. By removing strained vision habits, a person can gradually improve one’s eyesight and return to the purity of the One.
The ancient philosophers considered a true mathematical point within the circle as symbolic. It emerges from the immaterial realm and has no dimensions. Dr. Bates related this concept when he said, “The part seen best when the sight is normal is extremely small… the nearer the point of maximum vision approaches a mathematical point, which has no area, the better the sight.” The idea of concentric focus is a fundamental fact that must be truly appreciated when improving eyesight naturally.
Tao gives birth to one,
One gives birth to two
– Lao Tzu
If the number one represents unity and wholeness, how does a second separate number emerge? The root word for “nature” means “to be born,” and the number two emerges through a birth-like process. Symbolically speaking, this process begins as the circle divides and replicates itself – just as a living cell does. The geometric representation of this replication is two circles of the same diameter each having their centre points touching the circumference of the other. The One projects forth as a reflection of itself and a “true” mathematical line is created from point to point.
The sacred principle of number two is polarity, whereby the line forms a tensile link between opposite poles. Paradoxically, there is both a separation and an attraction that binds the two, yearning once again for wholeness. It’s the yin/yang principle of Taoist thought, the perpetual rhythmic alternation of all life and the universe. The human body has a left side and a right side, a feminine side and a masculine side, an intuitive side and intellectual side, and so on. The modern left brain/right brain theory suggests the eyes are extensions of the brain’s two hemispheres. Although each eye sees things from a slightly different angle, they must work together seamlessly.
The concept of “two” in eyesight has further spiritual significance beyond the apparent. In Plato’s Timaeus, eyesight is described as a two-way process; the eye mediates between the inner realm and the external world of objects. The fire of the soul was said to emit a gentle light from within, flow through the eye and meet the outer daylight. Like falls upon like, coalesces and forms the perception of sight. In this philosophical view, the eye acts as a portal, the proverbial “window of the soul.”
The portal is actually a symbol that arises geometrically from one circle beginning to replicate into two. The fish-shaped vesica piscis is the area of overlap between the linked circles. It has been venerated throughout history by various cultures and nations and dates back to pagan and mystical religions. The early Christians considered it the link between heaven and earth, a bridge between spirit and form. Consequently, much medieval art symbolically depicts Christ within the fish-shaped area. In ancient architecture, particularly in cathedrals and holy temples, the vesica piscis was used extensively in the design of doorways. They were portals which permitted entry from the mundane world of reality into spiritual space.
Applying the metaphor of a portal to the eyes, one is immediately drawn to the distinct vesica piscis shape which the upper and lower eyelids produce. Within the eye itself, the same pointed oval shape is found when studying the anatomy of the lens from a side view. The lens is the part of the eye where light rays emitted from an external object refract in such a way to form an image on the retina.
Dr. Bates discovered that visual perception is more than simply a biomechanical process of camera-like parts in the body. The inner and outer aspects of eyesight are linked, as the mind and emotions have a great impact on how well we see external objects. During thirty years of clinical observation, he studied various ways in which people strained to see. He concluded that imagination, memory and sight coincide, and that when one is imperfect, all are imperfect. He encouraged visualisation as a healing technique long before it became in vogue. Perhaps a good mental image is to imagine the gentle light of your soul meeting the external light in the vesica piscis of your eyes.
The Western, scientific mindset artificially separates objective reality and subjective reality. This creates a tendency to overemphasise the external world of objects, freezing them into a supposed condition of permanence. Greek philosopher Heraclitus apparently equated such an unbalanced view as being stung by a scorpion. This “scorpion vision” paralyses us from seeing the eternal rhythm.
In a related vein, Dr. Bates cautioned against the forced concentration of staring, claiming it is an attempt to imagine things as stationary. The forced attention of staring immobilises the natural, healthy movements of the eye, and this straining actually has a boomerang effect. Instead of objects coming in more clearly, the objects become more blurred. An essential habit of healthy vision, therefore, is to maintain relaxed seeing by continuously shifting.
But every tension of opposites culminates in a release, out of which comes the “third,” In the third, the tension is resolved and lost unity is restored.
– Carl Jung
When our two eyes work together in harmony to fuse a single image, our visual perception restores the “lost unity.” An outcome of this reunion is the emergence of a new number; three dimensional (3D) vision is born. The technical term for 3D vision is “stereopsis,” which is derived from stere, New Latin for “solid,” and opsis, Greek for “vision.” A stereoscopic image is, thus, solid sight that gives us a sense of volume. 3D vision provides depth to our world view, a level of understanding that goes beyond a two dimensional (2D) flat surface.
The sacred geometrical representation of number three is the triangle, which takes shape from the vesica piscis. An object in our sight is the third point midway between the eyes, the vertex that balances the opposing views of each eye’s unique perspective. The ancient philosophers valued the triad, assigning it qualities such as piety, friendship, harmony, peace, justice, temperance and virtue. It is the symbol of wisdom, for living prudently in the present requires learning from the past and planning for the future.
In addition to the physical concept of 3D vision, there is another principle of the triad in vision, but in a metaphysical sense. Mystics throughout the ages have spoken of a “third eye” between the brows that is the seat of the spirit. Renowned spiritual scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner described humans as a three-fold constitution – body, soul and spirit. Seers have supposedly awakened the eye of the spirit, the highest of the three levels, resulting in clairvoyant vision. The third eye, which remains dormant for the majority of people, may also be responsible for triggering hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. The pinecone shaped pineal gland, about the size of a pea and located between the brain’s two hemispheres, is claimed by some to be the location of the mysterious third eye.
Awakening the third eye may be highly elusive, but re-awakening a diminished sense of 3D vision is more easily attainable. Lenses prescribed to compensate for blurred vision are a compromise solution. Dr. Bates noted that glasses do provide immediate artificial clarity, but they don’t restore eyesight to a normal state. The lenses, although curved to help light rays converge properly inside the eye for better acuity, act as a barrier. Colours are less intense through the glass and objects are distorted in size. For people wearing glasses for distant viewing, the lenses diminish 3D perception, flattening it almost to the point of 2D vision for those with high strength prescriptions. The condition is reversible, for people who improve their eyesight by natural means invariably notice a marked improvement in their ability to see 3D again.
Mathematics and geometry are applied with efficient precision in our technological era. A prime example is the science of optics, where good vision is reduced to purely a numerical term, 20/20. Ironically, as the vision industry has grown and prospered, we’re collectively seeing worse, not better. The incidence of vision difficulties in North America signifies the imbalance. Fewer than three percent of children are born with visual defects yet, as they reach adulthood, nearly two thirds will become dependent on prescription eyewear. Non-industrialised nations are virtually free of such widespread vision problems. To help restore a quality outcome, perhaps it’s time we return to the spiritual teachings of sacred number and sacred geometry to understand what really “counts.”
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DOUG MARSH, a professional engineer and vision education advocate, has extensively studied natural vision improvement and the mind/body interface as it relates to eyesight. He is the author of Restoring Your Eyesight: A Taoist Approach. The natural Taoist approach has greatly reduced his nearsightedness while also relieving the symptoms of a TMJ/inner-ear disorder. Most days he experiences brief, spontaneous “flashes” of near 20/20 eyesight, an encouraging sign that his vision continues to heal. He lives in Canada and his website is www.taosight.com.
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 111 (Nov-Dec 2008).
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