“Soft Eyes,” A Way of Seeing and Being – Quotes and Resources

I believe that “Soft Eyes” is an extremely important part of kendo and many areas of life.  It is a natural, tension-free way of seeing and being – which goes by many other names: Whole or Effortless Seeing, Soft or Open Focus, Wide-Angled, Peripheral or Panoramic Vision and “Enzan no Metsuke (a distant mountain gaze).”

Lake Elsinore, CA in Bloom, 2019

Soft Eyes has applications to a wide variety of areas including:  Horseback-riding [Albrough], Sports, Car-racing [Christianson LookingWide]*, Relationships [Noll], Parenting, Teaching [MrSoClassroom], Health-care [Robinson], Public speaking [Zimmer], Performance [Howard], Sleeping, Learning [Gillas], Martial Arts [Fink] [Christianson_AikidoSoftEyes]* and much more [Christianson SeeingAnew].*

Here’s a compilation of quotes and resources on “Soft Eyes” below.  The quotes describe, for example, what it is, what it feels like, how to have it and its benefits.

I’d like to acknowledge the authors and helpful articles cited below and, in particular,  John Christianson SeeingAnew.Tripod.com* for his kind permission to post many quotes from his articles (Thank you!).  Personally, “Soft Eyes” has been a Godsend and something I wish to make a habit of.  It helps me naturally shift to a place of calm and flow.

Finally, as also described in [KendoNotes_WhisperedAh], a simple and quick way of realizing “Soft Eyes” is to smile with the eyes. ^ ^

May you experience the flow!

* These links to John Christianson’s website SeeingAnew.Tripod.com may or may not work.  They are working as of Dec 9, 2020 but previously stopped working as of Nov 26, 2019.

Updates:  Added quotes from Cecile Raynor on Mar 5, 2022.  Added a quote from Henry D. Thoreau on Dec. 29 2021.  Added quotes from Loch Kelly on Aug, 7, 2020.


The quotes below are organized by authors as follows:

  • Lori Albrough
  • Wendy Murdoch
  • George Brett
  • George Gillas
  • George Vajda
  • John Christianson
  • John Christianson’s Quotes of Others:
    • Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3
  • Ben Howard
  • Parker Palmer
  • Stefan Verstappen
  • Chris McKenna
  • Loch Kelly
  • Cecile Raynor
  • Swordsmen, Kendo Teachers or Sayings
  • Meditation Teachers

Lori Albrough [Albrough]

  • To begin to understand soft eyes, we usually start by considering its opposite, which is hard eyes. When you are looking with hard eyes, you focus your vision intently on one thing, concentrating on its shape, form, and detail.
  • With soft eyes, you let your eyes physically relax. Instead of focusing on one thing, you allow that thing to be at the center of your gaze, while simultaneously taking in the largest possible expanse within your full field of vision.
  • By using soft eyes you increase your awareness of everything going on around you.
  • This hard eyes versus soft eyes dichotomy reminds me of a life philosophy, where our human nature is to fixate on one (usually negative!) thing to the exclusion of all else.
    • But, by doing this we miss out on the awareness and enjoyment of many other things in our lives.

Wendy Murdoch [Murdoch]

  • (O)ne of my corollaries to Hard Eyes vs. Soft Eyes is the concept of Intense vs. Intent.
    • When you are intense, things are strained, harsh, overbearing, demanding and unpleasant. The person who is intense is always trying to “make it happen” even when it is clear that it just isn’t right.  Kind of like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, the intense person often won’t let go of something until it has been broken or beaten to death.
    • Intent, on the other hand, implies that you know what you want to accomplish and you don’t feel the need to force it. … The person with intent will be able to sit back and relax as events occur, observing without reacting.  He will alter the program as required (to) make things easier.
  • The person who is intense often does not trust the process and anticipates or attempts to avert perceived failure.
    • Whereas the person who has intent is secure enough to know that they are going to succeed regardless of how long it might take or how much they will have to adapt to the situation.

George Brett

  • From George Brett, a baseball hall-of-famer, speaks about his vision training with Dr. Bill Harrison and soft-focus [Harrison_VisionTraining, 0:50 sec mark]:
    • He taught me how to do a hard focus and a soft focus at a very early age which I really believe helped me throughout my career. 

George Gillas from [Gillas]

  • Holding a state of peripheral vision … slows or stops the “chatter” so you can gain access to the things you know (but may not be able to access consciously). 
  • By shifting into peripheral vision your mind begins to process information differently.
    • When I first started utilizing peripheral vision on a regular basis I noticed that the world around me seemed to move just a bit more slowly and I was simultaneously aware of much more.
  • One of the steps is to “move your awareness into the periphery…”
  • Quoting Dr. Larry Lampert, a Optometric Physician, Boca Raton, FL:
    • Your peripheral vision goes into your brain 25 percent faster than your central vision.
    • (P)eripheral vision, “… slows the game down.  When you engage the power of your peripheral vision, you actually make the ball or puck appear bigger. The opposite is to ‘tunnel’ your vision.”
  • When you go into peripheral vision you maintain better control of your emotional state.
  • Using peripheral vision in a stressful situation will not change the situation; it will allow you to respond in a calm and centered manner rather than react with anxiety.

Peter Vajda from [Vajda]

  • “Soft eyes” … allows your “ego-mind” with its preconceived ideas, perceptions, premises, stories and beliefs to “take a short vacation.”
  • Often, viewing one’s environment with soft eyes will change the way you see it. And, when your view changes, so does the way you relate to it.  When you change the way you relate to it, the way you respond to it also changes.
  • When we view – people, places, circumstances and events – with “soft eyes, we move through a kind of transformation where we discover a reality that was always there, but which we missed.  We discover a reality that can shift the way we relate to people, solve problems, face challenges and live life – at work, at home, at play and in relationship.
  • When we step back, when we jettison our old, programmed, habitual ways of “seeing,” we open ourselves to possibilities, we come to situations with a new energy, we engage from, new perspectives, we shift our frame of reference, we become newly empowered, we redefine issues and discover new solutions.  In essence, we respond differently, we even see ourselves and our experiences differently.

John Christianson from a Transcription of his fascinating talk on “Whole Seeing…” [Christianson_WholeSeeing]

If this topic of Soft Eyes interests you, I highly recommend reading the transcription of John Christianson’s talk.  It has a wealth of insights.

  • Whole Seeing is a name that I’ve given to a kind of seeing that we are really hardwired to do as a human species. It’s an (antidote) to a concentrated, tight narrow focused kind of seeing.
  • One thing that seems to be indicative of that is our computer work. We’re narrowing in on that computer … with narrow focus … paying attention to our computer, what’s on that screen, what our task is, …  – ignoring that our shoulders are climbing up to our ears, that our back is aching, … until we feel terrible. 
    • We could also work at that computer in more open focus …where we’re aware of our shoulders getting tight, … our eyes are straining, get up, stretch, look out a window.
  • (H)e (Edmund Jacobson, inventor of Progressive Relaxation, an Experimental Psychologist) proved in the laboratory that it’s impossible to think in visual images in your mind without also moving and tensing the muscles of the eye, … without getting muscle firing in the muscles of the eyes.
    • He also found,… that it’s impossible to think verbally to oneself without activity in the speech mechanism, as if one was actually saying the words that you were thinking although on a more minuscule level.
  • He (Krishnamurti) suggested that in meditation,… when you are sitting,… “Don’t move your eyeballs.”  …because “when you move the eyeballs thought begins”(.) 
    • (T)he whole thought mechanism is engaged when you move the eyes.
  • (G)o peripheral…
  • Countess Katherine Willaposka (Alexander Technique teacher):
    • Eyes free to go apart.  Eyes free to go apart,… 
  • Mario Pizzara
    • If you have something that is releasing the eyes, you have something that has the potential to radiate to the rest of the body. As you release the eyes, they’re primary and you have the ability to release the rest of the organism with any release that you get going in the eyes.
  • There’s reportedly a Native American term, “Looking without looking.”
  • They (Stephen and Ondrea Levine) have a phrase, “Soft Belly.”… It invites peripheral seeing and peripheral seeing invites soft belly.

John Christianson’s Quotes of Others – Part 1 from [Christianson_EyesStill]

  • Eye movement desensitization may be a way of releasing painful memories as it releases the habitual re-experiencing of these past traumatic events. Eye movement desensitization may allow subjects to return to a more relaxed state of mind, by releasing the ingrained patterns of stressful eye movements that allow the events to be played out over and over again by the sufferers of this condition. It’s about learning how to stop playing horror movies in the video mode of the mind.
  • Note:  Christianson points to, “for more on stilling the eyes,… to The Quiet Eye Sports Vision Research of Joan Vickers, Ph.D.”

John Christianson’s Quotes of Others – Part 2 from [Christianson_BehindTheEyes]

  • [T]here was a seeing, not the superficial seeing with the eyes but seeing through the eyes from behind the head. – J. Krishnamurti
  • I will say to a student, “It’s not your job to control your head.  Then a deeper kind of support can come in.” It can break through … what is keeping you from sensing more effectively. – Bruce Fertman (Alexander Technique Teacher)

  • Gloria Ginn from Step 4 of “10 steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Eyesight”
    • (W)hen we have good vision we are not really conscious of our eyes, there is little effort involved and it is as if we were seeing from the back of our heads.
    • However, when we aren’t seeing well we are often straining with our eyes – almost as if to reach out and grab with our eyes.
  • I have found many people are able to recapture the experience of effortless seeing by pretending that they are seeing from the back of the head.  It is the sensation of making no effort to see.
  • Donna Farhi from The Breathing Book:
    • I imagine that I am looking from behind my eyes, receiving the images around me rather than projecting the eyes outward and retrieving the images.

  • The eyes should be softened, this improves peripheral vision but more importantly, if you allow it, can soften the whole body too.
    • Try it …  look ahead, even at these words, this screen, now slowly soften the gaze … do you not feel the wave of relaxation travelling through your body, are your shoulders not less tense? – from a Tai Ji  website “On Eyes”.

John Christianson’s Quotes of Others – Part 3 from [Christianson_AikidoSoftEyes]

  • Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren
    • Soft eyes happen when we relax the muscles around our eyes and let ourselves see with our peripheral vision as well as with our central, focused vision.  We see the individual in front of us, but we also see the people to either side, the clock above his head, the lights on the ceiling and the pattern on the floor. We take in everything and are distracted by nothing.
    • Sometimes the smallest changes we make can have the largest effects. One example of this comes from what we can do with our eyes. How we look at someone, or at a group of people, can completely change how we respond.
  • George Leonard, The Silent Pulse:
    • Using soft eyes entails not just adopting an alternative visual mode, but also entering an altered state of being. Once you’ve mastered the art of soft eyes, this state can be achieved in a split second.

Ben Howard from [Howard]

  • (R)elax your eyes, allowing your vision to soften. Letting your attention rest on (an) object, imagine that you are inviting and receiving it, just as it is, into your consciousness.  At the same time, allow your perspective to widen, noticing how other objects and movements, sensed or actually seen, emerge in your peripheral vision.
    • Open your hearing as well as your sight, and note the changes occurring in your body, your state of mind, and your general awareness.

Parker Palmer from [Palmer]

  • Normally when we are taken by surprise, there is a sudden narrowing of our visual periphery that exacerbates the fight or flight response — an intense, fearful, self-defensive focusing of the “gimlet eye” that is associated with both physical and intellectual combat.
    • But in the Japanese self-defense art of aikido, this visual narrowing is countered by a practice called “soft eyes”, in which one learns to widen one’s periphery, to take in more of the world.
  • If you introduce a sudden stimulus to an unprepared person, the eyes narrow and the fight or flight syndrome kicks in.
    • But if you train a person to practice soft eyes, then introduce that same stimulus, the reflex is often transcended.
    • This person will turn toward the stimulus, take it in, and then make a more authentic response — such as thinking a new thought.

Stefan Verstappen [Verstappen]

  • In combat, it is movement that you most need to see, the punch or kick heading your way.  The anatomy of the eye indicates that in order to better sense movement, the focus of the eye should be diffuse so that more light is directed to the periphery of the retina, the area more sensitive to movement, rather that the centre or focus point.
  • In Far Seeing the eyes focus through and beyond the object you are trying to track. By focusing far away, objects and events nearby will be slightly out of focus allowing more information from the peripheral sense field to be perceived. This improves your ability to track moving objects over a greater area.
  • In combat, the trick is not to look directly at your opponent, but to look through him.  Slightly un-focus your vision and become more aware of your peripheral field of vision.
  • Relaxation is a key ingredient to mastering this technique.
  • Ultimately the best way to develop and practice Far Seeing is to be outdoors more often. The modern urban lifestyle confine many of us to spend most of our lives indoors where the subjects of visual attention are always within a few feet. Over the years, these visual habits begin to atrophy the muscles used to focus on distant objects.

Chris McKenna

Chris McKenna has written a nice description of ways to release tension from the eyes (as well as the face, head and neck) [McKenna_Tension].  Here’s some excerpts:

  • (N)otice the tendency for the energy of the eyes to aggressively “grasp” at external reality. This feeling can also be described as constantly “going out to get” objects in the visual field rather than letting objects “come to you.”
  • Allow the muscles of the eyes to completely release.
  • (B)ecome attuned to the spaciousness of the visual field.  Appreciate that the eyes can take in information with absolutely no effort. You don’t need to do the seeing. Instead, your attention meets the visual field with soft awareness.
  • When you study the facial physiology of babies, the complete lack of excess tension, the “receptivity” in the facial tissues, and the general sense of equanimity are striking.

Loch Kelly

  • From [Kelly_ConsciousInterview]:
    • So I started to open up my peripheral vision and then open my awareness up. I found that, as soon as I just did that, I would drop in and feel connected. So I would do that before I played ice hockey, goalie. I started to feel like everything was very effortless.  I would watch a puck be shot and I’d lose it half way but my hand would go out, and there it was in the glove. I’d be like, ‘Wow!’

Cecile Raynor from [Raynor_AT]

  • (W)hen we choose to embrace peripheral vision, another world opens up to us, and suddenly we are
    no longer separate from our surroundings

Henry David Thoreau from [Christianson_Thoreau]

  • I must walk with more free senses. … I must let my senses wander as my thoughts, my eyes see without looking.  I have the habit of attention to such excess that my senses get no rest, but suffer from a constant strain.  Be not preoccupied with looking.  Go not to the object; let it come to you.

Swordsmen, Kendo Teachers or Sayings

  • See first with your mind, then with your eyes, and finally with your body. – Yagyu Munenori, Swordsman from the 16th Century
  • (K)eep a broad view and avoid fixated vision.
  • 遠山の目付け (enzan no metsuke) – Gaze to the distant mountain.

Meditation Teachers

  • When the eye is not set on one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. – Takuan Soho [Takuan, p.6].


There are many resources on Soft eyes:

  • Many are cited in the Quotes above and in the References below.
  • For a comprehensive overview, I’d recommend:
    • Visiting John Christianson’s site:  SeeingAnew.Tripod.com, a treasure trove of articles on this topic (no longer available) or
    • Reading a “How-to Guide” on Soft Eyes by George Gillas [Gillas_SoftEyes].
  • For more details on the physiology and the “how to” behind soft eyes, I’d recommend reading [Verstappen].  It also explains why we should not focus (in a “narrow” sense) in combat.


[Albrough] Lori Albrough, “Soft Eyes:  Tap Into the Power of Your Gaze,” BlueBirdLane.com. (for horse-riding).

[Christianson_SeeingAnew] Seeing Anew:  Exploring Perception, a Website by John Christianson (in general):

[Fink] Jeffrey Fink, “Kung Fu Tactics:  The Eyes Have It,” Kung Fu Mediation, June 2018.

[Gillas] George Gillas, “Soft Eyes, Still Mind, Laser Focus – A How-to Guide to Controlling How You Respond, Think, Solve, Relax, and More,… ,” June 2014 (PDF, 26 pages).

[Harrison_VisionTraining] “Sports Vision Training Dr. Bill Harrison,” SlowTheGameDown, Oct 1, 2010 (1:06 mins).

[Howard] Ben Howard, “Soft eyes,” One Time, One Meeting, Oct 1, 2015.

[Kelly_ConsciousInterview] “Loch Kelly – Falling Into Awake Awareness – Interview by Iain McNay,” Conscious.tv.

[KendoNotes_MushinQuotes] “Quotes on Mushin, Flow and Open-Focus – Overview,” KendoNotes.com, Dec. 13, 2017.

[KendoNotes_MushinResources] “Resources on Mushin-no-shin (the Mind of No Mind),” KendoNotes.com, Nov 21, 2017.

[KendoNotes_WhisperedAh] “The ‘Whispered Ah’ – for Calmness, Muscle Relaxation and the Posture,” KendoNotes.com, Dec. 4, 2019.

[McKenna_Tension] Chris McKenna, “Taking Tension Out of Attention,” Mindful.org, Feb 24, 2016.

[MrSoClassroom] “Soft Eyes” (parenting and children), MrSoClassroom.

[Murdoch] Wendy Murdoch, “Soft Eyes Get You Where You Want To Go,” MurdochMethod. (for horse-riding)

[Noll] Bernadette Noll, “Keep a Soft Eye,” Slow Family Living, April 2, 2012 (for relationships)

[Noma] Noma Hisashi (1910-1939), The Kendo Reader (PDF, 55 pages)

[Palmer] Parker Palmer, “The Practice of Soft Eyes,” Awakin.org, Aug 13, 2018.

[Raynor_AT] Cecile Raynor, “The Alexander Technique, Non-Doing, and Expanded Awareness,” AmSAT News / Summer 2010 / Issue No. 83 www.AmSATonline.org

[Robinson] Patricia Robinson, “Angry Patients and Soft Eyes:  Connecting with the Help-Rejecting Patient,” PatriciaRobinsonPhd.com. (PDF, 53 pages)

[Vajda] Peter G. Vajda, “Soft Eyes – Seeing True Reality,” True North Partnering, 2012 (PDF, 3 pages).

[Verstappen] Stefan Verstappen, “The Dragon’s Gaze – Why you should Not Focus in Combat, a Scientific Explanation,” ChinaStrategies.com, April 2009.

[Zimmer] Sandra Zimmer, “Soft Eye Contact Draws Audience Attention Magnetically,” The Self-Expression Center. (for public speaking)

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