What Are You Looking at?

Picture the black eyes of the shark, seemingly uninterested until something tasty swims past. I sometimes think of this animal and its blank stare when I’m lost in work at the computer. I’m dimly aware of what I am seeing, my world reduced to a glowing computer screen.

In my experience, stress, anxiety and depression can reduce our visual vividness, our sense of being in the world outside ourselves. Our worries and chronic pain can lead to a tuning out of sensory input to be replaced by an intensification of our thoughts, fears, or imagination. In modern parlay, we live mainly in our head.

I teach students to cultivate a “global awareness” where they take in not only what they are seeing in front, but also including peripheral vision and a sense of space above and behind them as well. Try this global awareness practice: as you’re reading the computer screen also allow yourself to include what is to the sides of the screen and imagine the space above and beh


ind you. If your response is anything like mine, I feel my nervous system calm slightly and the muscles that store tension in my brow and jaw loosen a bit.

The Ancient Greeks theorized that our mind would go out into the world to ‘grab’ the objects we were looking at.

Current thinking makes the case that light particles filter into our eyes and are

translated near the back of our brain.

modern visual conception

These paradigm differences, I would argue, make a real difference in terms of stress control. Notice how in the more modern conception, one can just control India vision to come into the eyes without needing to effort in the eyeball or brow. Often, I find students are working too hard and focusing too tightly on what they’re seeing which can lead to headaches and all sorts of strains.

It’s my speculation that many of my students experience relaxation and an energizing effect from global awareness because in our earlier context as human beings, we would’ve needed to have this global awareness to track predator and prey. This is actually how we are wired – not to tune out our sensory input. Somewhere along the way however, we start to prioritize much more the world in our head than the world out there.

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