pattern awareness

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

unpolished thoughts 1/21/2019

Patterns are everywhere if you look for them.

Or even if you don’t.

There are all kinds of patterns we miss completely, quite often including the patterns that reveal how we live our lives.

One pattern I’ve always noticed is the one I see when I close my eyes. Ever since I was a little boy, it’s been the same. The dark is there, but there is also a bright checkerboard of primary colors, all the little squares swimming like television static.

I was amazed the first time I was introduced to the processes Moshe Feldenkrais created for working with eye movements, and how this can change what happens behind my eyelids.

As far as I understand it, the activity you perceive behind closed eyes is a reflection of the activity of your optic nerve, which is involved with an immense proportion of the overall activity of your brain. (We humans are highly reliant on our eyes to orient and know ourselves in the world.)

So when you spend time slowly and gently moving your eyes and observing how you do it, it’s possible to calm down the optic nerve and create a new kind of vision in the dark. If I do this for even just five minutes, when I look behind my eyelids again, the image is just a little darker and there is a little more stillness. If I spend more time, the change becomes even more pronounced.

When I open my eyes again, I find I’m taking in more of the world. My relationship to the space around me is also different.

[See the end of this post for a link to a guided Feldenkrais process for the eyes]

Growing awareness of your eyes and how you use them is about much more than just how you see. Your eyes are deeply bound up in your overall use of your attention.

A couple of experiences during my first Feldenkrais training drove this home for me.

One day, my trainer, David Zemach-Bersin was leading us through a body scan. This is a process that begins many Awareness Through Movement lessons and can take many forms, but essentially means lying in stillness and observing your body. This is done so you can notice details of your experience which may shift during the lesson.

That day, David was leading a fairly traditional scan, asking us to notice one part of the body and then another, but then he added something new to me.

“When you think of your left heel, what do you with your eyes?”

I realized in that moment that my eyes were directed down and to the left as if to see my heel.

As the scan continued, David continued to ask me about what I was doing with my eyes. He quickly made it clear that even without seeing, the use of my eyes was intimately tied into how I was using my attention.

Another trainer, Paris Kern, later taught an ATM lesson that consists almost entirely of a highly detailed body scan. The lesson, first taught by Feldenkrais at the Esalen Institute, is called “Measuring Body Distances & Lengths of Parts by Thoughts & Perception.

As the title suggests, much of the activity of the lesson involves sensing distances between different landmarks in the body. But as the lesson unfolded, I realized that I was doing something else in addition to what I was being asked to do.

Paris would ask, for example, that I pay attention to the distance from my wrist to my elbow. I would – but I would also notice the distance from my elbow to my eyes. Paris would ask me pay attention to the distance from my right big toe to my right heel. I would – but I would also notice the distance from my right foot to my eyes.

On and on it went like this.

In a discussion later in the training, I asked a question about the experience and came to understand that while what I was doing may not have been necessary, differentiating the use of my eyes from the use of my attention would not be an easy task. That association goes very deep.

You probably aren’t thinking about your left pinky finger right now – except now that I called your attention to it, you probably are.

Did you shift your eyes?

Either way, close your eyes and sense that finger, directing your eyes as if to look at it.

Then try to sense that finger with your closed eyes looking up and to the right.

Can you still sense it as clearly?

Maybe there is a more fundamental question here that you would like to ask:

Why does this matter anyways?!

I will give an answer that might be as unsatisfying as it is incomplete, but maybe you will still see what I mean.

It matters because the way we use our eyes is deeply embedded into the patterns of how we move through the world.

When we begin to reveal something to ourselves that we didn’t previously know about these patterns, suddenly we find we are a little more aware of what we are doing . When that happens, we can also be a little more capable of being intentional in each thing that we do.

As Feldenkrais so often said, “If you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.”

We humans are complex. But if you are the kind of person to be fascinated by patterns, it might be a joy to discover your own beautiful web of patterns.

And there is no need to figure everything out.

But maybe you can begin to appreciate more deeply what a wondrous creature you are, and become a little more curious about your nearly limitless potential.


If you would like to try a guided process to discover something new about the way you use your eyes, you might enjoy this 10 minute video.

You could add something:

Before you begin, spend a few moments with closed eyes, covering your eyes with your palms to block out as much light as possible. Observe what you “see” – are there shapes, colors, light, flashes, movement?

After you complete the process in the video, repeat this procedure to see if you “see” something different.


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