My dear and wonderful (and accomplished and generous and brilliant) friend Ishita is establishing her meditation practice and will be reporting in from time to time (hopefully really, really often) about how it is going. I am SO EXCITED to have her as a regular part of the site, talking about what it’s like for her to explore the practice. And PS, check out her beautiful and generous (with Ishita, one can’t insert the word generous too many times) online publication, Fear.less.
Feel free to tell her/me/all of us how it is going for you…
From Ishita: Last night and this morning I tried meditation with Susan’s videos. Although my times were short (I estimated ten minutes) I felt good focusing on breath and setting time aside to practice. That I made time to meditate was a huge win for me. Sadly, most days I put it off until I’ve checked that last email or finished my “tasks.” I felt great making it a priority.
Briefly, I found meditation five years ago through a meditation teacher who taught simple sitting meditation. Since then I’ve practiced with various intensities (5-35 minutes) and depth, mostly with my palms upward in my lap and eyes closed. Most days it is short 5-10 minutes, and quite harried. Recently, due to life’s general intensity, I’ve felt like meditating much much more and getting back into the practice that seems to sustain me. Lucky for me I have a great friend who happens to also be a remarkable and real meditation teacher.
Susan and I talked about what it would be like to share the teacher/student relationship as told by the teacher (her posts) and the student (my posts.) What I’d like to do is share my response to my meditations, to Susan’s instructions, and of course, share my frustrations. Showing you my progress – of someone getting back into a spiritual discipline after what feels like a long trip away – I hope you’ll be encouraged to see that everyone comes to meditation on their own, in their own way, and for their own reasons. This is why everyone’s path and practice is different. What I hope we can do is join our mutual goals of learning to meditate through Susan’s instruction and realize that by doing that, we will be doing something pretty healthy and good for ourselves.
In these posts I’ll share my honest thoughts and ask Susan some questions.
Today’s question has to do with technique (since a beginner needs to understand craft):
Question: Even though Susan teaches with eyes open, I still leave mine closed because that’s the way I’ve practiced for years. It also helps me avoid visual distraction and I feel like I focus more with them closed, than open. Does this make a difference and if so, why? Different styles of meditation have always confounded me and I always find myself wondering if i’ve “picked” the right one. Having one teacher open their eyes while another closes them, I’m not sure which one to choose, although closing them personally feels better.
From Susan: This question–eyes open vs eyes closed–is a really great one. In fact, it’s so good that Monday’s video is going to be about this one single question. Here’s part of what I’ll say:
The answer is yes, it does make a difference whether or not your eyes are open. Both eyes-open and eyes-closed practices have value, but they are different. I understand what you say about minimizing distraction and if this were the point of meditation, then eyes-closed would definitely be preferable. But this particular practice is not about shutting out distraction, whether it’s in the form of images, thoughts, sensations, or feelings. It is the practice of opening to things as they are–and relaxing.
When your eyes are closed, there is more of a sense of retreating within, shutting out the world, withdrawing–and sometimes this is just what is needed. But Shamatha meditation is a practice of wakefulness.
We each have to figure out what works best for us, but I encourage you–and everyone–to follow the technique closely, as taught. It’s been around for a reeeeallly long time and each piece of the instruction has meaning. But the meaning only reveals itself to you when you experience it, allow it to soak in. At this point, your inner meditation teacher can and will take my place and you should definitely listen to him/her about this eyes open or closed business.
From Ishita: Today I’m recognizing the fact that I made time for my meditation both last night and this morning. Instead of waiting until I can’t keep my eyes open, or bemoaning the fact that I didn’t meditate as I rush out the door, it felt great to make time for something I know will ultimately help me weather life and the things that come my way. I only thought about lunch a little more than my meditation, and personally, that’s a great start.
From Susan: Cheers!
PS: Susan’s humor and laid back attitude make starting my practice more enjoyable and it provides a sense of relief. It’s a daunting task, but she makes it comfortable. You need a low barrier to entry for a task like meditation and you need to feel like you can do it. Susan makes you feel that way. It reminds me of how often we forget that injecting just a little bit of humor in our lives can make things that much more bearable.