In the wake of making a few brain-fart-style mistakes on an editing assessment that had me in self-frustrated tears on the drive home from really great publishing company, I had an epiphany.  Well, Mom had a strange comment, and it forced my epiphany while I sniffled and stir-fried the fajitas for supper. 

“I am so sick of hearing about genetics!” she exclaimed. 

“What?” I said. 

“I’m tired of people saying that, because of my genes, I’m doomed to this or that.” 

Well, I thought, the makeup of our bodies do rule certain things about us.  Take, for example, today, when low blood sugar combined with an anxiolytic in my blood stream combined with the draining effects of mensus (TMI?  Too bad. I’m fertile. Deal with it; I have to!). I just wasn’t on the top of my game.  I’m hoping against hope that I still managed to at least score high enough on the assessment to get a callback, but I noticed during the exam that feeling queasy and anemic wasn’t helping my concentration at all. 

 Was I doomed just by the confluence of being hungry and being a girl at the mercy of the lunar cycle—the disappointing sum of biology plus genetics plus astrology?  What about the sheer force of my will? You know, mind over matter?  Shouldn’t that trump circumstance?  What about all those prayers people have been saying for me and those that I’ve spoken into the night?  Is God in this, outside of this, or all over this? 

It all led me to thinking, what guides fate?  

Personally, I think God works in mysterious ways. He pulls from circumstance, like body stasis, from temperament, from our own natures, and yes, even our genes and physical features to place us in the right state at the right time to (he hopes) make the right choice.  

I could type about determinism vs. voluntarism until my wrists fall apart and you decide to go check your Facebook rather than read this post.   Instead, I’ve decided to avoid discussing Calvinism and boring you all to death (because Calvinism bores me to death by recycling the same scripture verses as “proof” that God determines our eternal fates, all while ignoring the many other verses that discuss God’s wish that man will make good choices concerning his own eternal destiny. Bleh.).  If you all’re game, I’d like to play with a weird theory that has been running around in my head like a mouse on the loose in a grain silo.  (And, as always, I also want to hear your theories about what elements contribute to our “fate,” or our path—or our lack thereof!) 

Maybe I’m too much of a Victorian, and therefore put too much irrational stock in physiognomy and even, to some extent, phrenology.  But I’m honestly fascinated by how physical features sometimes reflect what goes on behind someone’s face.  I often wonder if our looks reflect our personalities, our outlooks, and maybe even–like a talent or a predilection–point us to some kind of future interest or destiny. 

In a curious, information-collecting mood, I discovered that I have what are known to the Japanese as “sanpaku” eyes (san-bai-ku: three-white-eye, by my Chinese rendering).  I ran across the word in a physiognomy treatise, Googled it, and came up with some articles on Wikipedia and the crack-pot of fun called that explain the concept this way:  

Sanpaku references the belief held by some that the visibility of the white of the eye between the iris and the lower eyelid is a sign of physical and spiritual imbalance. Some societies consider Sanpaku (San Pacu) eyes to denote physical and mental superiority, also beauty. By all accounts it is a very rare and significant physical characteristic, envied and admired by some, but misunderstood, resented, and feared by others. Some representations of certain gods and heroes are shown with this characteristic.”1 

Sanpaku eyes are strange because they’re apparently out of our natural alignment. 

“When a baby is born, the iris, or colored part of the eye, is usually beautifully balanced between the upper and lower eye lids. It touches the upper and lower lids, so that no white, or sclera, shows above or below. The sclera is visible only to the left and right of the iris. This indicates a balanced and healthy nervous system. . . . When a person dies, the iris rises so that it partially disappears under the upper eyelid. The white sclera shows below. In Oriental Medicine, we call such an appearance sanpaku, which means “three whites” showing. Three whites, or sanpaku, is common among those who are ill or exhausted. It is most severe among those who are gravely ill and approaching death.”2 

Raw Mahdiyah, author of the article, argues that there are two kinds of sanpaku eyes:  yin and yang, appropriately.  Yin is the most common.  In the yin sanpaku eye, the iris rests above the natural center line of the eye and reveals the “third white” in a sliver of sclera below the iris, even when the person is looking straight ahead.  Yang sanpaku has the opposite effect on a person’s gaze: the iris floats towards the bottom of the eye, revealing more of the white above the iris.  

According to Mahdiyah, each type of sanpaku comes with a distinct set of problems.  Yin sanpakus apparently draw in danger “from outside. A person with yin sanpaku eyes will place himself or herself in dangerous or threatening situations unwittingly—and may not survive.”  Mahdiyah adds that yin sanpaku can be caused by an excess of “yin substances, such as sugar, refined grains, alcohol, and medical drugs.”  Yin, of course, is also associated in Chinese medicine with strong feminine energy.  No wonder it’s linked to an excess of carbs and sweet stuff like chocolate. 

Mahdiyah goes on to explain that yang sanpakus, rather than drawing danger to themselves from the outside, are flippin’ dangerous to others. Charles Manson  (pictured below right) apparently had a startling yang sanpaku gaze.  A yang sanpaku’s menace manifests itself in impulsive violence, and his diet, according to Eastern Medicine tradition, is excessive in meat, hard cheeses, and salt.  Yang is the masculine force of the Dao in Chinese tradition.  Apparently, this kind of gaze reflects an over-machismo’d inside. 

Charles Manson, showing some major "yang" above his irises. Scary.

Sounds kinda silly, doesn’t it?  Like a fortune cookie for the face.  Still, I had time on my hands, so I got curious and looked up the famous sanpakus that the Wikipedia article mentioned, including JFK and Abe Lincoln (both pictured on the Wiki), Princess Di,  Marilyn Monroe, and Robert Pattinson (I’ve thrown in picspam of the last, because he practically makes his living off of his exotic-looking eyes). 

Rob Pattinson's obvious yin sanpaku shows up on the red carpet, not just in "Twilight."

 These folks all were, or are, intelligent, magnetic, and slightly unstable yin sanpakus. Most of them were considered beautiful—even sex symbols—innovative, daring, unique, or in many ways simply other-worldly.  Many of them have been given roles of leadership, whether in a film or in the Oval Office.  Most of them have met an untimely death, often by drugs or violence or bizarre accident. 

Robert Pattinson, showing off his trademark yin sanpaku eyes in profile this time, as well as showing off a lot of other pretty parts of his face.

As a fellow yin sanpaku, I should, perhaps, be a little more worried. I think that the coincidence is uncanny, but the theory behind it smells strongly of superstitious speculation—the result of Asians that have become far too fascinated with the diversity of the large-eyed Caucasian gaze, the size of which naturally opens up the possibility for more visible sanpaku traits than an Asiatic eye. 


Young actor Ronald Reagan displays an extreme yin sanpaku.

I kept swallowing grains of salt while I read along and smiled to myself.  But I confess I still felt intrigued. I wracked my brain to think of some other sanpakus, just to see if they matched the personality types, too.  I came up with Johnny Depp—a yin sanpaku most prominently on his right eye—and the strongly-yin Ronald Reagan (pictured here as a young man in one of the rare pictures where he’s not smiling). Personality-wise, they’re both magnetic. Both actors, at least at one time in Reagan’s career, anyway, and both clearly creative individuals. In terms of expressing any yin-type danger, I had to dig a little deeper.  Depp is, of course, in good (heck, super-fine) health, but he’s revealed a near-suicide attempt in the past (weird story involving Tim Burton’s intervention), and Reagan was almost assassinated while he was in office.  Hmmm. 

 Johnny Depp's black-eyed, one-sided, yin-sanpaku stare.

Johnny Depp's devastating black-eyed, one-sided, yin-sanpaku stare.

I dug a little further and found that some folks on obscure discussion boards have suggested that Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. also share yin sanpaku features.  A sign of future danger for the president?  Maybe.  

Creepy?  Just a little bit. 

Anyway, I’m now reconsidering the old adage, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Is there wisdom in it? 

And if so, am I running to the end of a short expiration date?  If I am, I’m hoping I at least get a chance to leave a mark with the loved ones I leave behind . . .  And, I suppose, even if I’m not going to die young and leave a pretty corpse, I will at least continue to try to leave a positive impact on the world.  So here I go, tossing out some strange, deep thoughts to get you all thinking about God and your faces, your insides and your outsides. 

I hope you all have fun staring at yourselves in the mirror and trying to figure out if you have sanpaku eyes. 

Marilyn Monroe, with another telling yin sanpaku stare.

Marilyn Monroe, with another telling yin sanpaku stare.

Sources (salt not included): 

  1. “Sanpaku.” Wikipedia.  <>
  2. Mahdiyah, Raw. “Sanpaku Eyes.” <>.

 Images: Google.  I got lazy. 

Interesting side note: 

Macrobiotic diet guru George Ohsawa wrote a book entitled, You Are All Sanpaku (1963) and dedicated it to JFK and Lincoln, warning JFK specifically that he had “too much sanpaku” and was in danger.  The book was given to Kennedy just a few months before he was assassinated.