A boy was born blind due to severe cataracts. Through advancement in medicine, doctors were able to operate on his eyes when he was nine years old, believing that he would be restored to full sight. Imagine their disappointment when, after a successful operation, the boy reported seeing only shadows and moving forms, but could not see the detail we all take for granted. In fact he had to learn to ‘see’, which was so laborious and stressful to him, that for a long time after, he continued to orient himself by touch, hearing and smell, just as he had when blind .
The operation had restored his eyes so that he could receive light correctly. But it had become clear, that ‘seeing’ involved far more than just physicality; it involved the interaction of light impulses with consciousness.
Seeing from outside the body: near-death experiences
Today, it is no longer unusual for people to be resuscitated and brought back from a near-death state, and be able to relate what they had experienced. There are some who report floating above their bodies and observing what was happening around them. They could recall details of discussions and activities the people in the room with them were engaged in, that, being unconscious, they should not have been able to do .
One young boy, after being involved in a serious accident, reported his experience as follows:
‘I was floating about one and a half metres above my body. I noticed that my eyes were closed. A man was trying to help me. I didn’t understand why people were getting upset, because I felt fine. I watched them take my body into the ambulance, and I kept trying to tell them I was fine. No one could hear me, but I could hear what they were saying: “Help him”, someone said, “I think he is dead, but try anyway”. The ambulance finally drove off, and I struggled to follow. I hovered over the ambulance and tried to keep up.’
Another reported case was of a woman who had been blind from birth, but could suddenly see during her near-death experience, which left her feeling completely overwhelmed.
Carl G. Jung had an out of body experience in 1944, when he had a heart attack. He described it as being able to perceive the world from a great height, a world bathed in a glorious blue light. The continents shimmered silver through this wonderful blue light. (We should remember that in 1944, photos of our planet from space did not yet exist).
The nature of the light body
To many people these reports sound too fantastic, as they cannot be explained by science, and challenge our purely material understanding of vision, light and consciousness. An esoteric view of these phenomena are touched upon by various authors such as Rudolf Steiner, Max Heindel and Jan van Rijckenborgh . They explain that the perceptive impulses are experienced in the more subtle, ‘sensory’ body of the human being. This sensory vehicle, which is of an extremely fine substance, and is not physical in nature, is known as the astral body, or light body as Plato named it.
This body can detach itself from the physical body, as it does every night during sleep, and is sometimes called the soul, or an aspect of the soul. During sleep however, we are normally not fully conscious in the astral body. During the near-death experience however, even though it may be slightly different for every individual, many report feeling fully aware, indicating that the normal consciousness appears to ‘awaken’ in the light body during this episode.
In the waking state, consciousness remains closely connected with the organs of perception; indeed, consciousness continually arises with their help. In the broadest sense, the mind is also an organ of perception. Whatever we direct our eyes towards, our consciousness is also drawn towards. Our eyes, as sense organs, help us to focus on specific things. Through the close contact of the optic nerves with the pituitary gland, the eyes have a strong connection to the consciousness, and hence to the head and heart. Thus, one can always observe how the nature of consciousness can be read through the eyes. This is why we have the saying: the eyes are the windows of the soul.
Our vision is limited
It is known that our eyes can only perceive a limited spectrum of vibration – approximately 400,000 to 800,000 GHz – which in simpler terms, is from the colours red through to violet. Any higher or lower vibrations that are outside of the eyes spectrum range, are basically invisible, and remain dark to our perception.
Mystics report that in this ‘darkness’ the highest and brightest Light shines. We can sense something of this when we look up into the night sky and feel it’s majesty. The 12th book of the Corpus Hermeticum states : ‘It is not possible that the earthly body could bear so bright a divine light of consciousness, nor can so glorious and pure power endure to be associated with a body subject to passion’.
What is clear is that light, Spirit and consciousness are inextricably linked. Rudolf Steiner explains : ‘If we penetrate to the pure doctrine of cognition, we must say that without the eye there is no light, therefore the world would exist only in our imagination. But without light there would also be no eye. It is no coincidence that the eye perceives light, for light is the creator of the eye – the eye was born from light. The objectification of light is the sun – the sun within the macrocosm corresponds to the eye within the microcosm.’
So our mechanistic view is in fact, limited and incomplete. But in order to understand the nature and relationship of light and seeing, we would have to take a more holistic approach to the concept of ‘seeing’. The near-death experiences which some people have relayed, are in fact a gift; a gift of being allowed to experience a small hint of the presence and activity of the highest light and pure Spirit. This highest experience of the intensity of light, corresponds to the highest radiation of consciousness. To our eyes it appears as darkness, like the velvet-black night sky.
A Sufi text describes it thus: Do you see the black, the light of the divine essence? The source of all life flows from this darkness.
 Eva-Maria Köpp: Licht am Ende des Lebens – Nahtoderfahrungen (Light at the End of Life - Near-Death Experiences). From: Symposium Bewusstsein und Todeserfahrung (Consciousness and Death Experience), Stiftung Rosenkreuz, Birnbach 2014.
 Eva-Maria Köpp: op. cit.
 Jan van Rijckenborgh: The Egyptian Arch-Gnosis, Vol. 2, Rozekruis-Pers, Haarlem 1962.
 Jan van Rijckenborgh: The Egyptian Arch-Gnosis, Vol. 3, Rozekruis-Pers, Haarlem 1966.
 Rudolf Steiner: Geistige Hierarchien und ihre Widerspiegelung in der physischen Welt (Spiritual Hierarchies and their Reflection in the Physical World), Lectures in Düsseldorf 1909 - Questions Answered (GA 110).