Roll Your Eyes, Change Your World
Thursday, November 19, 2015
by: Ilona Fried

Section: Vision

Imagine yourself as a complex switchboard of circuitry. Over time, as you’ve developed certain habits, particular wires have been connected to specific jacks in the board. Some connections might be looser than others, and we can easily replug those wires into new jacks. As I discovered during my Feldenkrais® training, it turns out I can quite comfortably use utensils with my non-dominant hand, despite believing I could not.

Since the training began, we’ve done several Awareness Through Movement
® lessons that involve moving the eyes in unfamiliar ways and differentiating their movements from those of the head. In brief, this means moving the eyes and the head in opposite or different directions, starting from various positions, rolling the eyes in their sockets, or attempting to move each eye independently of the other to create new neural pathways. As Moshe Feldenkrais said, “The body reflects the attitudes of the mind. Improve the function of the body and you must improve the state of the mind. The movements are nothing. They’re an idiotic thing. What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains.

Moving my eyes in unfamiliar, if not awkward ways, seemed like trying to remove an old wire that had rusted into the switchboard. I noticed that my eye muscles began to tire, unaccustomed to the effort. By the end, however, my eyes felt very large, as if I had become a reptile or bird with astonishing peripheral vision, able to take in perhaps thirty percent more of my environment without having to turn or lift my head. Moving my eyes also rearranged other aspects of my being I had believed were fixed. I’ve spent much of the last decade either designing jewelry with tiny beads, selecting and distinguishing colors, textures and shapes for mosaic art, composing photographs, or proofreading my writing. Yet, for a day and a half following that particular eye exercise, I had zero desire to read, write, or otherwise train my focus on a narrow area.

The absence of any urge to zero in on details or detect nuances or inconsistencies made it seem as if I had been handed a different personality, if not an entirely new sense of self. The expansion and softening of my vision lifted my spirits and even straightened my spine (the eyes often direct the movement of the rest of the body). For the next 36 hours, this introvert experienced what I imagine it’s like to be an extrovert, someone whose attention is effortlessly and eagerly drawn to the external world rather than internal experience, taking in the bigger picture rather than the details. The change was so striking, and freeing, that the day following the exercise I mentioned to my fellow trainees that it felt like some fundamental pathway had been severed.

“That’s strong language,” said Alan Questel, director of the training.

At the time, ‘severed’ seemed appropriate, given the starkness of the contrast, obtained in after sixty minutes of subtle movement. The deeply felt experience of using my eyes differently made me realize that I had become so identified with having a “good eye” that I unwittingly brought that habit with me everywhere, even to situations where it was either irrelevant or perhaps counterproductive (even when keeping my observations to myself, visual disturbances alone often had a negative impact on my experience). My ability to quickly notice aesthetic discrepancies was so automatic that it was more of a compulsion than a conscious choice to direct my attention in that particular way at specific times. I now had my own example of what Moshe Feldenkrais referenced in the preface to The Elusive Obvious, "We often make mistakes. We carry over from one activity to another attitudes of mind that do not make life what it could be…Somehow we behave as if good habits are always good. We think or rather feel that we need not bother about behaving otherwise. It is not so obvious that good habits can make us unhappy. It is an elusive truth.”

In hindsight, perhaps those wires connecting my eye movements to my self-image had not been permanently cut, but temporarily disconnected and hooked into different jacks. Composing this article, my eyes no longer feel as wide and huge as they did last week. But neither am I staring intently at the screen or narrowing my gaze to aid concentration. There will likely be many situations where keen, discerning vision will benefit myself, or others. For the rest of the time, I now have an experiential reference for a different way to use my eyes: sometimes life is more enjoyable when situations and people are first met with a soft, broad gaze.

Ilona Fried is a writer and a student in a Feldenkrais Professional Training Program. You can find more of her writing about the Feldenkrais Method at
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Comments (3)
Deborah Elizabeth Lotus
1/30/2016 1:35:56 AM
Good article, as always, Ilona, and timely for me, having been without my glasses for almost 2 years now, I am noticing some things in my eyes, or rather vision, improving and some deteriorating, and realize I need much more self exploration in vision, on a more conscious/aware level. I'll be interested in whether you see this comment or not! as per FPAW, and agree with what you said there, also.

meredith rose
12/1/2015 5:56:37 PM
Thanks for your thoughtfulness. This is what is superb about FM-these subtleties that are below the conventional radar that open up a personal life -the plus factor of awareness.....I enjoyed your heartfulness.

Dorothy Remy
12/1/2015 12:49:31 PM
I greatly benefited from your clear description of the power of even temporarily unplugging a tightly focused gaze. I am in the process of preparing a manuscript for behavioral optometrists using case material and my understanding of Feldenkriais to make the wider point about vision and thinking as balance to a more narrowly focused "fix-it" approach in the field. I was one of Alan's students during my training (finished 1998). Say hi to him. I would enjoy a conversation...

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