Change how you see and you change how you feel. Change how you feel and you change your experience of the world.
Research into the technique began with trying to understand what it was that caused athletes to experience “flow” or “peak experience”, the ability to “see the whole court.”
John Brodie, who was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers some 25 years ago, has talked enthusiastically and knowledgeably about flow, perhaps encouraged by his friend, Michael Murphy, founder of Esalen Institute. He once recalled how in the midst of a game his level of play would suddenly jump to a higher plane. Though huge lineman crashed in on him, he was in perfect control as he calmly stepped back, set up, and threw. Brodie described how the football appeared to travel on a "wire of will" that connected him to his receiver, usually the peerless Gene Washington. He claimed that he had seen defensive backs cut in front of Washington to intercept the ball, but it had hopped over their fingertips and into the pass catcher's hands. It seemed inevitable that the play be completed.
It was soon discovered that the same technique was used in swordsmanship.
In The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary swordsman of 16th century Japan, implies that he fought his greatest duels with his eyes crossed, and goes into considerable detail about developing and using this strange ability. He writes somewhat mysteriously about a state he entered while so engaged. He also refers to the two types of sight which he calls Ken and Kan. Ken registers the movements of surface phenomena; it's the observation of superficial appearance. Kan is the examination of the essence of things, seeing through or into. For Musashi, Ken is seeing with the eyes, Kan is seeing with the mind, a difference paralleling that between style and substance. He gives instructions for developing Kan sight: "It is important to observe both sides without moving the eyes. It is no good trying to learn this kind of thing in great haste. Always be watchful in this manner and under no circumstances alter your point of concentration."
Moreover, it is utilized by Tibetan Lung-gom-pas (spiritual walkers).
The walker must neither speak, nor look from side to side. He must keep his eyes fixed on a single distant object and never allow his attention to be attracted by anything else. When the trance has been reached, though normal consciousness is for the greater part suppressed, it remains sufficiently alive to keep the man aware of the obstacles in his way, and mindful of his direction and goal. Any clear night is deemed good for the training of beginners, but strong starlight is especially favorable. One is often advised to keep the eyes fixed on a particular star. This appears connected with hypnotic effects, and we have been told that among novices who train themselves in that way, some stop walking when "their" star sinks below the skyline or rises above their head. Others, on the contrary, do not notice its disappearance because by the time that the star has passed out of sight, they have formed a subjective image of it which remains fixed before them. Some initiates in the secret lore also assert that, as a result of long years of practice, after he has travelled over a certain distance, the feet of the lung-gom-pa no longer touch the ground, and that he glides on the air with an extreme celerity.
Not to be outdone, it is also utilized by Apache stalkers (they called it Owl Vision).
NightWalking is based upon these basic aspects of vision:
- Cones have a one-to-one correlation with nerve fibers while many rods may connect a single nerve fiber. - Cones are sensitive to color while rods primarily register the intensity of light. - Rods are much more sensitive to light than cones. - Rods are much more sensitive to the detection of movement than cones. - The cones and rods are parts of separate neurological systems and are processed separately. In fact, there is much speculation on just where information from these two systems intersects in the brain.
The idea is, you have two separate vision systems: central (cones) and peripheral (rods). By focusing your eyes on a fixed point in front of you and not moving them, you can, in effect, shut down your central vision system. Though it may seem that by doing this you’re actually hindering your senses, it’s proposed that by “seeing with your mind”, you are able to see more, yet with fewer distractions. Doing this while walking, one is able to see and manuever around all obstacles – without even thinking about it. In the dark, your cones are rarely used at all. Thus, walking at night extends the separation between rods and cones. NightWalking.
Not only were we learning to travel freely in the dark; it was becoming apparent that this capability connected us more directly to a nonconscious part of our brains that seems devoted to our safety and general security. Far from being a storehouse of fear, we found the nonconscious--or at least the aspect of it that is accessed through the state of peripheral awareness--to be a trustworthy protector that not only leads us around rocks, away from cliffs and back to the truck, but perhaps also serves as a guide to some natural state, to some most basic part of ourselves. In the peripheral state we felt comfortable, alert, relaxed, open, happy and very alive. Feelings of fear, anger, worry, doubt, and lust seem antithetical to the state, as if the neural wiring, whatever it is, for these such strong emotions, is bypassed. Benign accurately describes the feeling of NightWalking.
By switching to peripheral vision, all other senses switch to peripheral as well, bringing about a state of peripheral awareness. As described by Tony Hiss:
We can experience any place because we've all received, as part of the structure of our attention, a mechanism that drinks in whatever it can from our surroundings. This underlying awareness--we call it simultaneous perception--seems to operate continuously, at least during waking hours, even when our concentration seems altogether engrossed in something else entirely. While normal waking consciousness works to simplify perception, allowing us to act quickly and flexibly by helping us remain seemingly oblivious to almost everything except the task in front of us, simultaneous perception is more like an extra, or a sixth, sense: it broadens and diffuses the beam of attention evenhandedly across all the senses so we can take in whatever is around us--which means sensations of touch and balance, for instance, in addition to all sights, sounds, and smells. Anytime we make conscious use of simultaneous perception, we can add on to our thinking. "One sees both close up and for miles, with the focus equal everywhere," as art critic Robert Hughes has said of landscape drawings by nineteenth-century German Romantic painters. With the help of this extra sense, the familiar hard-and-fast boundary between ourselves and our surroundings seems softened, expanding our sense of the space occupied by "here" and the time taken up by "now," and uncovering normally ignored patterns of relationships that make us part of larger groups and events. It's simultaneous perception that allows any of us a direct sense of continuing membership in our communities, and our regions, and the fellowship of all living creatures . . . .
“The whole secret to mastering peripheral awareness is keeping one’s visual attention independent from focused vision.”
NightWalking successfully brings one from water to air, bringing about a “pronounced calm”.
Walking while relying on peripheral vision requires that the conscious mind trust the nonconscious, and this inter-mind trust might be the essence of relaxation itself.
Perhaps unbeknownst to us, this is a state we all enter at some point. I often find myself “zoning out” in order to concentrate. Though my vision is no longer focused, I feel my sense elevated in this non-ordinary state of reality.