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The eyesight of a beginner rock climber is less acute than that one of an experienced climber. When I started climbing I was often fascinated by the intuition of the other climbers to find the ascent lines on walls that seemed impossible to climb. An experienced climber sees what others can not see. Why is there such a difference in the quality between the view of a neophyte and an experienced climber? Can we practice actively to improve our vision?

This is the second article dedicated to eyesight (Techniques to develop the art of seeing in rock climbing: how the vision works), here you'll find: The fundamental principle of the practice of any artVision and MemoryVoluntary and involuntary attentionThe relaxation of the eyes.

The fundamental principle of the practice of any art

Human activities in appearance are very different: what could have in common music and sports? Or what could possibly have in common a strong chess player with a good chef? Aldus Huxley realized that these activities have something in common (All parts in italics in this article are from the book "The Art of Seeing " by Aldus Huxley):

How can we be sure, it may be asked, that this is the correct technique? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the first and most convincing test of the system is that it works. Moreover, the nature of the training is such that we should expect it to work. For the Bates Method is based upon precisely the same principles as those which underlie every successful system ever devised for the teaching of psycho-physical skill. Whatever the art you may wish to learn—whether it be acrobatics or violin playing, mental prayer or golf, acting, singing, dancing or what you will—there is one thing that every good teacher will always say: Learn to combine relaxation with activity; learn to do what you have to do without strain; work hard, but never under tension.
To speak of combining activity with relaxation may seem paradoxical ; but in fact it is not. For relaxation is of two kinds, passive and dynamic. Passive relaxation is achieved in a state of complete repose, by a process of consciously ' letting go.' As an antidote to fatigue, as a method of temporarily relieving excessive muscular tensions, together with the psychological tensions that always accompany them, passive relaxation is excellent. But it can never, in the nature of things, be enough. We cannot spend our whole lives at rest, consequently cannot be always passively relaxing. But there is also something to which it is legitimate to give the name of dynamic relaxation. Dynamic relaxation is that state of the body and mind which is associated with normal and natural functioning. In the case of what I have called the fundamental or primary psycho-physical skills, normal and natural functioning of the organs involved may sometimes be lost. But having been lost, it may subsequently be consciously re-acquired by anyone who has learnt the suitable techniques. When it has been re-acquired, the strain associated with impaired functioning disappears and the organs involved do their work in a condition of dynamic relaxation.

Relaxing is not just to lie on the beach. Who cultivates a passion, know this very well: if you spent a day doing actively what is your passion, you'll feel relaxed and satisfied. This type of relaxation is called active relaxation. When we work hard on a project that interests us, is natural to do it without big efforts. Unfortunately, our ego is always looking for challenges and difficult things, so you tend to create work and effort even where they are not needed. The challenges, the tension are the worst enemies of relaxation.

Vision and Memory

The memory and experience are crucial in climbing: the memory help you to improve the ability to perceive, to see things similar to those that have already been useful in the past. Many of the techniques described in the Huxley's book are focusing on memory, here's why:

The experienced microscopist will see certain details on a slide; the novice will fail to see them. Walking through a wood, a city dweller will be blind to a multitude of things which the trained naturalist will see without difficulty. At sea, the sailor will detect distant objects which, for the landsman, are simply not there at all. And so on, indefinitely. In all such cases improved sensing and seeing are the result of heightened powers of perceiving, themselves due to the memory of similar situations in the past.

Sensing is not the same as perceiving. The eyes and nervous system do the sensing, the mind does the perceiving. The faculty of perceiving is related to the individual's accumulated experiences, in other words, to memory. Clear seeing is the product of accurate sensing and correct perceiving. Any improvement in the power of perceiving tends to be accompanied by an improvement in the power of sensing and of that product of sensing and perceiving which is seeing.

Voluntary and involuntary attention

Attention is essentially a process of discrimination an act of separating and isolating one particular thing or thought from all the other things in the sense-field and thoughts in the mind. In the total process of seeing, attention is closely associated with selection; indeed, it is almost identical with that activity. The various kinds and degrees of attention may be classified in a number of different ways. So far as seeing is concerned, the most significant classification is that which divides all acts of attention into the two main classes of spontaneous attention and voluntary attention.
Spontaneous attention is the kind of attention we share with the higher animals - the unforced act of selective awareness which is determined by the biological necessities of keeping alive and reproducing the species, or by the exigencies of our second nature, in other words, of our habits and established patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour. This kind of attention involves no effort when it is shifting and transitory and not much effort when it is prolonged for spontaneous attention may be prolonged, even in the animals. (The cat lying in wait beside a mouse hole is an obvious example.)
Voluntary attention is, so to speak, the cultivated variety of the wild, spontaneous growth. It is found only in man, and in animals subjected by human beings to some form of training. It is the attention associated with intrinsically difficult tasks, or with tasks which we have to perform, even though we don't particularly want to. A small boy studying algebra exhibits voluntary attention—that is, if he exhibits any attention at all. The same boy playing a game exhibits spontaneous attention. Voluntary attention is always associated with effort, and tends more or less rapidly to produce fatigue.

The relaxation of the eyes

In the book of Huxley will find many techniques that are focused on relaxation, both for the eyes and for the whole body. Relaxation is essential for the practice of any art and it is even more for climbing, because of the strong psychological pressure caused by height. Climbing is a practice particularly emotional, and negative emotions disturb the capacity of observation.

Relaxation, as we have seen, is of two kinds, passive and dynamic. The art of seeing includes techniques for producing either kind—passive relaxation of the visual organs during periods of rest, and dynamic relaxation, through normal and natural functioning in times of activity. Where the organs of vision are concerned, complete passive relaxation can be achieved, but is less beneficial than a mixed state, combining elements of both kinds of relaxation. The most important of these techniques of (predominantly) passive relaxation is the process which Dr. Bates called 'palming.' In palming the eyes are closed and covered with the palms of the hands. To avoid exerting any pressure upon the eyeballs (which should never be pressed, rubbed, massaged or otherwise handled) the lower part of the palms should rest upon the cheek bones, the fingers upon the forehead. In this way light can be completely excluded from the eyes, even though the eyeballs remain untouched. Palming can be done most satisfactorily when one is seated with the elbows resting upon a table, or upon a large, solidly stuffed cushion laid across the knees. When the eyes are closed and all light has been excluded by the hands, people with relaxed organs of vision find their sense-field uniformly filled with blackness. This is not the case with those whose visual functioning is abnormal. Instead of blackness, these people may see moving grey clouds, darkness streaked with light, patches of colour, all in an endless variety of permutations and combinations. With the achievement of passive relaxation of the eyes and the mind associated with them, these illusions of movement, light and colour tend to disappear, and are replaced by uniform blackness.

Relaxation, memory and attention are the elements on which you can take action to improve the quality of your vision in climbing and other fields.
To improve your eyesight you will need to learn how to eliminate tension, to relax during climbing.
A novice climber is always looking for hand holds, if you observe a beginner climber you'll see that he never looks at his feet, he does not look for footholds. The reason for this is the lack of experience in the memory of a beginner. A big part of footholds have no meaning for a newcomer climber, and he consider them unusable. The memory is developed with the experience, but this is not enough. Proust said that the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes (see the article on the observation: The power of observation skills in rock climbing). You can climb kilometers of rock without being curious and alert. Then you will not be able to develop a good vision. On the contrary, even when climbing the same routes you can develop a good observation skills if you climb without repeating the movements from memory. Did you notice that when repeating many times the same route, at some point you will notice a hold that you had not seen before. Yet you have repeated that climb dozens of times! How did you not notice it before? Attention is also crucial when repeating the routes you already know. If you continue to repeat movements from memory you'll lose your time, and you will lose the opportunity to develop attention and observation skills.


Ivo Buda