Our Eyes Lead the Brain

gazing-downThe body has great power to lead the mind. In Richard Wiseman’s interesting book, As If Principle, he lines up a large quantity of recent studies showing how a change of muscle tone, posture, and other seemingly small adjustments to the body produce large changes in mental status. Changing eye positions can also yield large changes in our states of mind.

Eye Position 1: Gazing Off Into Space – We don’t often admit it but we all stare off into space (or television, or computer screen) from time-to-time. Our conscious minds flip off and our self identity is gone for at least those staring moments.

The next time you snap out of staring, stop and notice where you have been staring.  Was it downward?  To the left, right, straight on?  Later, when you have some downtime, let your gaze return to this spot and see if you find yourself drifting quickly inward or if at least, see if your mental chatter falls off.

Eye Position 2: Story Telling Gaze Spot – When we get going, recounting some event or story to a friend, we switch our gazing around.  Sometimes it is to the eyes of the listener but frequently we start gazing downward at the floor or a point some distance away.  This is especially true if we have to switch inward and recover memories and memories of our feelings or deeper thinking about what we are talking about.  It is as though we have to shut down the stimuli coming into our minds by staring off at some unremarkable point and this allows us to drop into our memory and thinking processes. The next time you are telling such a story, notice where you eyes fix. Bring that observation up when you wish to do some solitary deep thinking and fix your eyes in the same position and see if this pulls you more deeply within.

Eye Position 3: Eyes-Closed, Looking Straight Ahead Sharper Mind Gaze – When we close our eyes to go inward, we let our eyes drift to the same location they follow when we are falling asleep. In stage 1 of sleep our eyes are dropped and almost “crossed”. As we go deeper into this stage our eyes move in an asychronous manner. When doing imagination work, try breaking out of this position by keeping your eyes closed but bring your eyes up to the central position you would use if you were looking at someone straight on when your eyes are open. Notice any change in mental clarity. Usually this position has a waking effect that might be useful to bring greater clarity to your visualizations and related work.

Eye Positions 4 to 9: Eyes-Closed, NLP Gazes – After highly detailed study of the work of innovative hypnotist Milton Erickson, researchers discovered that people assume a variety of eye positions as they turn inward. When trying to remember a visual, auditory, or body memory people will look to the left. When trying construct a visual, auditory, or body imaginative experience, people look to the right. The chart below show the NLP gazes in greater detail.

nlpeye positions

Experiment: Now for putting those gazes to work. With eyes closed and in a good state of relaxation, move your eyes into one of the positions and let them rest there. Note if images or other sensory impressions come up or not. Move slowly from each position to position, explore as you go.

Experiment: Some find that mind chatter falls away by moving the eyes into the looking right positions. Going right means we are trying to construct images which may be a powerful counter to mind chatter focused on the past such as guilt, shame, or faulting for taking action or lack of action in the past.  If we are troubled by future concerns such as worry, perhaps looking left, towards memory might silent the construction-ability that is part of worry (worry is a constructed view of the future). This is especially helpful during those times when troubling images or inner talk is pressing down on us.
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How to Stare Your Imagination Awake

There is a long history of staring to activate the imagination.

From the new book, Caves and the Ancient Mind, we learn of the importance to Greek philosophers, proto-scientists, poetics, and mystics of the supreme darkness of caves and underground chambers. Prolonged looking into the darkness lit minds that shaped Western thought for centuries.

Leonardo da Vinci advised in his notebook, Treatise on Painting, to look closely at a random stain until it becomes alive:

“This is the case if you cast your glance on any walls dirty with such stains or walls made up of rock formations of different types.  If you have to invent some scenes, you will be able to discover them there in diverse forms,  in diverse landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, extensive plains, valleys, and hills. You can even see different battle scenes and movements made up of unusual figures,  faces with strange expressions,  and myriad things which you can  transform into a complete and proper form constituting part of similar walls and rocks.

Don’t underestimate this idea of mine, which calls to mind that it would not be too much of an effort to pause sometimes to look into these stains on walls,  the ashes from the fire,  the clouds,  the mud, or other similar places.  If these are well contemplated, you will find fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like. These will do you well because they will awaken genius with this jumble of things.”

John Dee, an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator,  and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century, would stare into an obsidian stone from Mexico. Dee was following the long tradition of mirror scyring  (also known as mirror gazing) to obtain visions of the future and of universal ideas.

Raymond Moody, the famous collector of near-death experiences and author, uses a similar process today for people to see and converse with departed loved ones. He places the person in a darken room that he calls The Psychomantuem, seated in a recliner and they stare at a mirror that is tilted towards dark curtains, providing a blank canvas for their imagination to roam (see book).

Hermann Hesse revealed another form of staring, fire watching, in his book Demian. When his naive major character meets with a mysterious new friend, he is shown how to stare into a fireplace: “With rigid eyes I stared at the fire as I sank into dreams and stillness, recognized figures in the smoke and pictures in the ashes. Once I was startled. My companion threw a piece of resin into the embers: a slim flame shoot up and I recognized the bird with the yellow sparrow hawk’s head. In the dying embers, red and gold threads ran together into nets, letters of the alphabet appeared, memories of faces, animals, plants, worms, and snakes.” (Demian, Harper & Row, 1965, p. 106).

More recently, in the 1960s and 1970s, sensory deprivation was studied for its ability to open access to the imagination. John Lilly, plumbed the depths of flotation chambers that were closed off to light, sound, and changes in air. Water in the chamber was heated to match normal body temperature which caused awareness of the body to drop away (the body seemed to merge with the water).  What was left was a mind free to fly off into detailed imagery.

A more modest approach to sensory deprivation is the Ganzfeld effect (article). Special eye pieces can be made from one ping pong ball by cutting it in half. These are placed over the eyes as a person reclines. Staring into this blank field along with wearing sound blocking headphones, will cause the mind to zone out and eventually images of all sorts will start to pour forth for the person who has properly practiced this technique.

Why it works
The mind hates a vacumn. Staring into darkness, an unchanging dark mirror, the white fog of ping pong ball eyelids, or the play of color/light/shadow, the mind gets impatient and seeks to pick up the pace. To do so, it pours out imagistic commentary on what it thinks it is seeing as well. It strives to find patterns. Along with these images come unique imagery from the mind. This imagery is probably the content of the day that churns below the surface reacting to what is going on in our lives at the moment and working on problems we are having or will have around the corner.

How to Do It
Pick an approach that appeals to you from the examples above (there are gazing mirrors available and the ping pong ball Ganzfeld setup just takes minutes to make).  Expect this to be a slow process so don’t rush it. Also, it is likely you will have to make this a dedicated practice to release its full potential. Try 10 to 15 minutes every day for awhile. As you stare, relax your body, and keep checking in to find any tension that may have popped up. Relax again. Wait. Let your focus become fuzzy and give that approach a try. Switch back to a sharper focus if you find that more productive. Go with any hints of imagery that comes up before your eyes, in your thoughts, feelings in your heart, or sensations in your body.

Stare, let go, wait, and imagine…dreaming with eyes-wide-open.