Gazing vs. Focusing: Rods vs. Cones


Employing the Whole Eye to Capture the Light

Master Ni: Importance of Blending Inner & Outer Lights

Master Ni regularly stressed the importance of merging the inner and outer lights. For instance:


Ni: “Unite jing, chi, shên as One. Then blend lights, internal and external, with integrated energy. This is the Way.”

Me: “External light important?”

Ni: “Very. This is why must have eyes open when meditating. Lets light in.”

Me: “Suck the external light in?”

Ni: “No. Just open eyes. Happens naturally. Without effort.”


On another occasion:

Ni: “External light of Summer Solstice very good for energy, especially the weeks before and after.”

Me: “How do we tap into the light energy?”

Ni: “Let it in.”


What did Master Ni mean? Was he referring to some indefinable spiritual phenomenon? Or does his suggestion have some physiological roots? Many times the ancient Chinese wisdom is rooted in the body. The subsequent essay addresses the potential biological basis for his guidance.

Excerpted and changed: from Restaurant Essays: WM12: Ch18A: Pride, Wide Soak and the Middle Way

Wide Soak vs. Tunnel Vision

Frequently we humans get so focused that we lose track of the greater picture. All we see are the details rather than the magnificent environment that we are part of. Focusing with the center of our eye aggravates this tendency. We deem this Tunnel Vision. Gazing with our whole eye combats this tendency. We deem this Wide Soak. This has physical roots. Our eyes have two types of sensors, Rods and Cones. Rods gaze while Cones focus.

Rods: holistic vision & motion sensors – Wide Soak

Rods are spread uniformly over the surface of the retina. They impart the ability to see everything at once. They are the motion detectors - able to detect minuscule motion against the background. Rods are also incredibly light sensitive - easily able to see in dim light. To employ the Rods it is necessary to relax our brows. This triggers the pupils of our eyes to dilate. As such Rods are associated with contemplation and meditation. The gaze of the Rods is also called Wide Soak.

Rods/Right Brain complex earlier

All vertebrates have Rods. These nerve endings provide the ability to detect movement to procure food or to avoid becoming the prey. The Rods are much older than the Cones, just as the Right Brain preceded the Left Brain. The Rods are employed to perceive holistically. As such, they have a parallel function to the Right Brain, the original processing system of Animals.

Cones/Left Brain complex more recent – only predators

Conversely the Cones, like the Left Brain, are a more recent evolutionary development. This is paralleled after birth. Rods are employed within days, while it takes months for infants to begin using their Cones. Like the Left Brain, they are the exclusive domain of only a few animals - all predators - birds of prey and predatory mammals, including humans. Predators need Cones to survive because Cones enable them to focus upon detail, through the intensification of clarity and the use of color.

Cones: definition & color – Tunnel Vision

Cones are only located in the center of the retina, called the macula, but they are especially concentrated in the center of this region, called the fovea centralis. To focus the vision the eyebrows furrow, which causes the eyes to squint. This limits the light, which constricts the pupil, further cutting off the flow of light, which simultaneously shuts off the holistic Rods. Because of this inhibiting factor some call this Cone sight, Tunnel Vision.

Cones: Time & Desire

The Cones allow the predator to scrutinize his prey - determining where it was, where it is, and then to observe where it is going next. Because of the sequential nature of their perception the Cones convey a sense of time. Along with the Cones’ ability to perceive sequentially came the Left Brain’s ability to analyze and predict the future. With the notion of time comes the ability to be in the future and the past, rather the present. This unusual talent enables desires – just as the hunter craves his prey. Consequently Cones are associated with a sense of time and the fulfillment of desire. Conversely the Rods are firmly located in the Moment, unable to focus on anything but the entire background. Practicing Wide Soak via the Rods neutralizes desire.

Balance of Rods & Cones

Obviously Humans need both Rods and Cones to operate efficiently. Ideally we employ our holistic Rods to attend to the whole environment, and then use our Cones to focus upon the necessary details that stand out from the background. We employ our innate sense of order to determine what is out of balance - what needs to be straightened up, cleaned or attended to. The Focus of the Cones serves the Gaze of the Rods rather than dominating it. Employing Rods to perceive and Cones to refine serves us well.

Serious consequences of out-of-balance Focus

However when Cone vision dominates, this harmony is disturbed. Locked into the intense scrutiny of the Cones, which only employ the center of their retina, instead of its full range, there is a tendency to focus upon irrelevant details at the expense of the grander experience. Lost in insignificant trivia members of our unfortunate species become serious and tense - unable to appreciate the splendor. Cone focus feeds the Brain with mental junk food, which evoke misguided schemes that foul everything up for the rest of us. For instance our political leaders lead us into wars of mass carnage and property destruction over the misconceptions derived from too much focus.

Cone judgment to capture prey: Rod relaxation for appreciation

Cones evolved to capture prey – fulfilling the desire for food. As such Cone consciousness evaluates and judges. Further it is tense, as survival depends on success. Cone focus activates the sense of Time, obliterating the Present. With tense muscles and constricted pupils petty details overwhelm the holistic perspective. Obsessed with Form we lose track of Essence – rushing through the experience with no appreciation. When we are in a safe environment with nothing to hunt it behooves us to employ our Rods to appreciate the whole picture without judgment. Relax those brows and dilate the pupils to gain perspective and enjoy what life has to offer.

Activate Rods and Suppress Cones to sip the light

So what does Master Ni mean when he counsels us to allow the light in? Could it be that activating the holistic vision of our Rods and suppressing the intense focus of our Cones enables the light to energize and nourish us?


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