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Archive for November, 2007

Today I tried something new (for me) when I meditated. I put a lit candle a few feet in front of me upon which to fix my gaze. This is something I had read about when looking for insight into my eyes open or closed dilemma. I wear glasses and my lack of vision without them is extreme — the blurry, dancing candlelight did help me to focus my attention but ultimately it felt like it was really messing with my eyes.

As I’ve written in the previous post, I really get the idea of meditation as an AWAKE practice, and I also get that is a discipline in many ways, so that the easiest way to meditate or the most comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way. The mantra-based meditation group that I attend, is much more lax in their approach to meditation than more traditional (and even contemporary) Buddhist forms of meditation.

The other night the conversation turned to falling asleep during meditation. One of the group leaders said that if you fall asleep it’s okay, not to beat yourself up. If you fall asleep, he argued, this is what your body needs. When you wake back up, simply return to your meditation. I get the idea of not beating yourself up, as meditation is a practice of compassion and self-love and care. On the other hand, I don’t think falling asleep during meditation is something we should be totally okay with and permissive of. The thing is, I am never even close to falling asleep.

I used to meditate with my fountain running and with my eyes closed. I found that the combination of these (along with a mantra) kept me the most present, and I’m tempted to return to that. Now, eyes open or closed turns to ears opened or closed. My shiatsu practitioner recommends earplugs when meditating (especially if you have kids…, which I don’t, but also for anyone else who wants to hear his/her inner voice(s) more clearly). I haven’t tried this yet, though I’m not opposed. Then there are also people who listen to relaxing music, or maybe, like myself, might listen to the soothing sounds of running water.

Lastly, I’ll just comment quickly on how handy a mantra can be (this was also part of the conversation that was had at meditation group recently): A mantra is handy in traffic jams, while shopping, while doing dishes, etc. It is handy in situations that annoy you terribly. One woman told the story of shopping at Price Chopper and being overcharged for her items. She kept calm though. The group leader asked if she used her mantra, and she said no, but this certainly might have been additionally helpful to her in that situation (she just kept telling herself to stay calm).

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When I learned to meditate, which was a mantra-based meditation style, I was instructed to close my eyes. As I became a bit more familiar with Buddhist meditation, I learned that it is more common for one to keep their eyes half open/closed than having them closed all the way. This soon became an obsession of mine that took away (and continues to) from my meditation practice. Silly, I know. I know that gentleness and not getting so hooked the the precise nature of meditation is important, but I couldn’t stop getting caught up on the state of my eyes.

I tried to do Shambhala style meditation with my eyes gently open part-way, my gaze slightly out in front of me, and with a focus on my breath — letting go of the mantra. I found having my eyes open distracting, yet I told myself that this is part of the “training” that is meditation — exercising the ability to stay present despite distractions. I also completely understand the reasoning for keeping one’s eyes open — to stay awake. Meditation is a practice of being completely and most fully awake and present, so keeping one’s eyes open certainly seems key to doing that; however, I never come anywhere close to falling asleep when I have my eyes closed during meditation. I feel more comfortable with my eyes closed, as I am not worrying about gaze flitting here and there or about straining my eyes from being cross-eyed for so long. I am able to relax more deeply into the meditation when my eyes are closed, but I’m not relaxed to the point of a dream-like state at all. I recognize my thoughts more clearly with my eyes closed, and I’m able to then release them more readily. I’m more aware of my inner-self with my eyes closed, as I feel that is where the gaze is directed.

There are many different takes out there on the web regarding this question of eyes open or closed, but here are just a few:
The Shambhala.org site — “Technique of Meditation

Should I meditate with my eyes open or my eyes closed?

Meditation workshop

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