A colleague recently dropped off one of the Magic Eye books. It is filled with stereograms. When focusing one’s vision in just the right way, heretofore “invisible” images are revealed in three dimensions. They are really cool to look at. If one practices divergent (parallel) viewing and focuses into the distance (through the page) the image seems to have 3-D depth that opens out away from the viewer. If one looks at the image cross-eyed (that is, focusing on a spot in front of the page), the image seems to come towards the viewer.

I have found viewing these images to be quite engaging. Not only does seeing them in 3-D require a steady visual and mental focus, it also exercises my left-side awareness.

After my stroke, I had a fair amount of left-side deprivation. I lost virtually all left-side tactile sensation. I also lost some auditory sensation. Early on, while rehabbing at Spaulding, I learned to shut out hospital noise by sleeping on my right side, so that my right ear was against the pillow. My left ear was open to the noise, but my brain mostly failed to perceive it.

Vision was also affected. While other stroke patients with whom I have spoken experience visual deficits much worse than my own, I did have difficulty seeing and making sense of (and also imagining) left-side images. It was nearly two years before I stopped smacking into door frames with my left side.

Seeing the stereogram hidden images is rewarding, but holding them for an extended length of time is more so. That’s because maintaining the image requires relaxed mental attention and clarity.

I have been playing with the book’s images (and ones I found on the internet) for about three weeks. I have also been paying increased attention to the way I focus on things in the “real” world. When on morning walks I work to notice not only the things upon which I am directly focusing, but also upon things in the foreground or in the distance. I sometimes feel like a photographer tinkering with depth of field.

Years ago, while I was studying kenpo, the teacher tried to get the class to spar without focusing our vision on any particular spot. He wanted us to scan our opponents with our minds so as to develop sensitivity to a range of depths and angles simultaneously. He wanted us to experience a broad depth of field, to be mentally focused without narrowly focusing our vision.

Similarly, in one of his Don Juan books (I don’t remember which one or the actual language used), Carlos Castaneda wrote about learning to perceive the “real” world through unfocused perception. Fictional character or not, Castaneda’s Don Juan offered some terrific insights.

Visual focus may bring clarity to a particular spot, but doing so may also interfere with other possibilities.

Right now, I am sitting at my desk in my third-floor office. If I look out the window, I see the house across the street. If I hold up a finger in front of the house, as long as I keep my focus on the house I seem to see right through the finger. The finger becomes solid only when I focus on it specifically, at which point I lose track of the house details.

How important is finding a proper focus/perspective in stroke recovery?