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view on the ocean with waves

Seneca said, no wind is favorable for the sailor who does not know which port to land.
When you do not know where to go, when you do not know which way to go, do not expect a good wind in your favor: there is no favorable wind for a sailor who does not know where to go. Maybe the sailor has found a wind that could take him far away, but how this can help him if he do not know which direction to take? But the wind is also a metaphor to say that the sailor could have a great boat, precise instruments and favorable weather conditions. But all this is of little use if he do not know which place to go.

As for the sailors also for those who climb there are no favorable conditions for climbers who do not know where to go. Maybe you bought the shoes that you have seen on the best climber of the moment, you trained for months and now you can hold even very tiny holds. This, however, will do little, if you do not know the direction of your climb, wich holds to use.

And if you do not see, how could you know where to go? First you need to see: in climbing as in all the arts. This is the reason that inspired me to start my series of articles talking about the vision and the art of seeing, a subject that seems alien to the climbers.

If we look at the world through the images we know that our perception of the world will be very distorted. To understand what surrounds us we need to move, crossing places, observe from different points of view. The movement is so crucial. In climbing if we observe a beginner we'll see that he tends to be attached to the rock. When you are too close to the rock your field of view is limited. To see we must move, move a little away from the wall to see better what is around us.

This is the third article dedicated to eyesight (Techniques to develop the art of seeing in rock climbing: how the vision works and relaxation and attention), here you'll find: The movement and the vision, Swinging, Unconscious vision, Analytical looking, The Mental Side of Seeing.


(All parts in italics in this article are from the book "The Art of Seeing " by Aldus Huxley):

The movement and the vision

For, as the mind shifts its attention to a given part of the regarded object, the eyes are moved automatically and unconsciously, so that the part being attended to shall be the part most clearly sensed - or, to put the matter in physiological terms, so that the light rays reflected from the part that is being attended to shall fall directly upon the macula and fovea centralis. When this happens we are said to be sensing with central fixation. In order to sense every part of an object with central fixation, or in other words, with maximum clarity, the eye must make an enormous number of minute and rapid shifts from point to point. When it fails to shift, it fails to see all parts of the object with central fixation and therefore with maximum clarity. 

You can never step twice into the same water of the river: everything flows, new waters are always flowing, all life is in motion, is transformed. In Eastern disciplines is normal that everything is in motion, the static things are considered to be cause of misunderstandings. If a sound is constant it is not perceived, if the hand is resting motionless on something, after a while you will no longer feel any sensation, if the eye is fixed on something after a while you can't see it anymore. The movement is necessary for perception. But unfortunately in our society we are used to think in static terms, we need and we desire things to be immutable, eternal.

In climbing seems normal to constantly look for "fixed points", to look for the "security". Most inexperienced climbers find the illusion of security by repeating the movements exactly from memory. But things change, even your body changes, it is sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger. The problems on the rock then must be overcome in different ways, you will need to use different holds. If you want to climb well your eyes have to get used to the mutation and moving around. Try to observe an expert climber, he is always in motion, continuously moves on his feet, movements are small, but they help him to see, to analyze the environment in which he is moving. You have to consciously relax, to change your point of view and stop fighting with the rock. 



The exercises to train and improve the sight may be practiced by those who have difficulty with the view, as I had, but also by those interested in understanding and improving their vision. Personally I practiced these exercises when I was between 20 and 25 years old, and I had a huge benefit, since even now I do not wear glasses. Until I was 20 years I regularly wore glasses and had my driver's license with the request to drive with lenses. The benefit was not only that of a sharper vision, but also a better ability to analyze everything around me.

I'll describe some of the techniques described in the book by Aldus Huxley:

The first exercise is the "short swing". The short swing is an exercise that automatically produces attention to the shift of the objects. As a result it makes the mind aware of the movement. Standing still with your feet apart you should swing your body, regularly, gently and slowly, from side to side: in short you'll familiarize with the perception of movement. You can invent endless variations of this exercise, instead of the window also a doorway will work, or if it seems too easy you can test it with the edge of an overhang! The important thing is to look from a near object to another object further away. As one object swings to the right, the near-by object will appear to move to the left across the more distant object. As one swings to the left, it will appear to move to the right.
The "long swing" is similar to the previous exercise, but instead a limited movement, move the whole upper part of your body twisting the hips. When you see the objects moving try to be indifferent, do not make the attempt to perceive what is moving.
In the "ball exercise" , throw a ball up with your right hand and grab it on the fly with the left. Try to follow the ball with your eyes from the moment the ball is launched to the moment when the trajectory reaches its peak, and then, as it descends, to the moment in which it is grasped by your left hand.


Unconscious vision

The vision is not only conscious vision. The world is full of objects, but our attention is directed only to some of them. We select what "we are interested in", we overlook everything else. What we are not "interested in," simply is not perceived, seems not to exist. Sometimes when we admire a painting of an artist, with a view familiar to us, we see some things that we had not seen before. The artists have the ability to capture the very things that are beyond the common interest (see the article The power of observation skills in rock climbing). This type of vision, however, is almost never conscious. Most of the time the unconscious vision is awakened from danger.

Our ability to see, depends not only on conscious processes, but also by mechanisms related to the sphere of reflections. The vision in this case is reduced to unconscious reflection, is rudimental but also more immediate. When going in the mountains rock faces are constantly swept by falling stones, which may be possible to dodge. These actions are definitely not related to a conscious vision. You can not look at a falling rock and think now I move, there is no time to think, you have to act with an unconscious reflex!

Several studies have shown that some reptiles mainly exploit this type of vision. Surely the non-conscious vision is a kind of primordial vision that we are not using in everyday life, but takes action in case of danger.

But the most shocking fact which concerns the unconscious vision is the phenomenon called blind-sight: people who are completely blind due to injury in the cerebral cortex are able to avoid obstacles along a path without knowing it. During one of these experiments, one patient reported the researchers to have walked in a natural way, without being aware of the presence of obstacles along the way: "I walk that way spontaneously, I did not realize that there were obstacles ".

But what does all this mean for climbing? It means that we are able to even see what is not seen, that the instinct and feelings can be of great help when it comes to "see" the rock. When you climb you need to move, get used to cast quick glances to the rock, and then also take that information derived from the feelings.


Analytical looking

Analytical vision and unconscious vision are not two opposites, but they are complementaries with each other. Analytical vision takes time, it is a conscious activity. Our vision runs along the objects, analyzes the different parts separately, it is a very intense mental process.

In climbing not always there is time to analyze the wall in the smallest details. A mistake that many climbers do, is not to analyze when they have the possibility to do so, when they can rest. On the contrary, many climbers begin to analyze when they shouldn't do it, when they should just follow their instincts.

Do not try to see the whole wall at the same time. Instead, try to analyze it in portions, one at a time observing all the more significant parts. The habit of constant movement must be cultivated at all times, even during normal daily activity.


The Mental Side of Seeing

The eyes provide us with the raw material of view, the mind takes this material, processes it, and creates the vision. When emotions are involved as fear, worry, anger and ambition, then the mind will suffer and thus the body and the view. To demonstrate that negative emotions lower the visual acuity just do a test: think of something unpleasant and the quality of your view will change, try closing your eyes, try to think of something nice, then open them again and you will feel the benefit.

Negative emotions impair vision, partly through direct action upon the nervous, glandular and circulatory systems, partly by lowering the efficiency of the mind. It is literally true that people become 'blind with rage'; that fear may make the world 'go black' or 'swim before the eyes'; that worry can be so 'numbing' that people cease to be able to see or hear properly, and are therefore frequently involved in serious accidents. Nor are the effects of such negative emotions merely transient and temporary. If they are intense enough and sufficiently protracted, negative feelings such as worry, disappointed love and competitiveness, can produce in their victims serious organic derangements—for example, gastric ulcer, tuberculosis and coronary disease. They can also produce lasting mal-functioning of the seeing organs, mental and physical—mal-functioning that manifests itself in mental strain, nervous muscular tension and errors of refraction. Anybody who wants normal vision should therefore do everything possible to avoid or get rid of these pernicious negative emotions, and in the meanwhile should learn the art of seeing, by means of which the disastrous effects of such emotions upon the eyes and mind can be completely or partially undone.

What our eyes send to the mind is only part of the visual process. In this process our mind takes over with emotions, memories of past experiences and the knowledge gained through study. A strong influence of emotions and of our knowledge will lead to a less objective vision.

Just before touching the wall, you can already start with the game of rock climbing, just with the observation of the route. This process of seeing is so basic that it probably makes no sense to focus on other factors such as the strength or agility until you develop a good ability to see. Seeing the rock means seeing the route, holds and rest-points even before you climb them, have the analytical capacity to understand where you can go where you can get around the difficulty, where you can rest. See the rock also means having the ability to keep our vision clear when the tiredness and fatigue starts to show up.

Three mountain climbers are having a rest at the top of the wall and talk about their friend who was predicted to have only nine months of life:
"What would you do if your doctor told you, that you have only nine months to live?"
The first said, "I would give all my possessions to the Church, and say my prayers regularly."
The second said, "I would sell everything to go climbing around the world!"
And finally, the third said, "Me? I would see another doctor"


Ivo Buda