Eyes free and wide to see from the point of vision — Countess Kitty Wielopolska
Sometimes, the Alexander Technique eye direction is described as a Zen Koan. What is the point of vision? No one knows. I imagine that the point of vision is the occipital cortex, the location in the back of the brain that does the job of seeing. Knowing that my brain can work helps me to relax my eyes. Sure, the optic muscles have plenty to do in terms of focusing and orienting, but it helps to remember that the eyes are light receptors, and it’s the visual cortex that sees.
A little history: The eye direction was originated by Countess Kitty Wielopolska, an American who attended FM Alexander’s first training courses. To say that Kitty lead an interesting life is an undersatement. She left the Alexander training course due to a schizophrenic break and spent time an institution. Her illness remitted, she became a nurse and eventually married Count Wieloplska. Later in life, Kitty completed her training as an Alexander Technique Teacher. She mastered the schizophrenic voices that still spoke to her by using the Alexandrian process of inhibition. When she heard voices, she was able to inhibit an automatic response to believe or obey them. For anyone who remembers, “A Beautiful Mind,” the story of the Nobel prize winning mathematician John Nash, this conscious route to self-healing will sound remarkably familiar. Kitty created the “eye order,” as a creative response to her sister’s narrowing vision from cataracts. Kitty observed that directing the eyes seemed to have a global effect on her quality of attention and freedom.
The direction, “Eyes wide to go apart,” frees the forehead, lips, tongue, shoulders, neck and even hips. For anyone familiar with modern research into the polyvagal theory, the connection between calm relaxed attention and freeing of key structures associated with head orientation and communication should be no surprise. Kitty and her collaborators surmised that the eye order seemed to signal her nervous system to come to a state of openness.
No doubt that what we do with our eyes and face has a lot to do with social signalling. Often we tighten our eyes to indicate that we are listening, paying attention, or even putting on our compassion face (you know what I mean). You can probably name the myriad of “faces” you wear to be liked and accepted by the tribe. Sometimes it’s a good idea to check in and ask if social signaling is replacing genuine felt emotion, and what the cost might be to your use. By “use” I mean the total sum of your mental, emotional and physical responses to life.
An expanded visual field is conducive to psychological openness. It’s trite but true to say that with open awareness we are more likely to see more than one side to a problem. In contrast, narrow vision is correlated to problem solving and heightened vigilance (aka stress). Obviously, concentration is necessary in the short term, but when employed unremittingly, as we do in our small screen culture, it will effect the quality of our use – and perhaps our cultural behavior.
I could write more about this, and probably will, but for now, play a bit with thinking, “Eyes free to go wide”. What happens to your seeing, your breathing, your state of mind and state of heart?
To support this, here’s a practice to relax the facial muscles:
Relax Your Face, Elevate Your Mood
This book, by Kitty and interviewer Joe Armstrong is a fascinating catalog of Kitty’s life and one of the rare explorations of the relationship between the FM Alexander Technique and mental illness Never Ask Why, by Kitty Wielopolska