Often, when I teach our meditation technique to people for the first time, I hear this question, “why do we have to keep our eyes open?” Sometimes people say it’s easier to concentrate with eyes closed or there are just too many distractions or I keep seeing weird things, or simply become overly conscious of their vision.
This is totally understandable. When were you ever told to open your eyes for no particular purpose? Nothing to read, detect, peruse, or survey with the eyes. Just seeing. Similarly, with the ears—nothing to listen to or for. Just hearing. It’s a kind of open tuning with the eyes and ears and sense perceptions altogether. And when we apply this kind of open tuning approach to our minds by not directing it to count, analyze, dissect, or judge, but simply to relax and allow thought while we maintain awareness of breath—well, now we are getting into extremely interesting territory.
Often (of course) people come to meditation because they want to relax. Sure!! We want to feel more peaceful and at ease. There is too much anxiety. This is true. However, if we predicate our peacefulness on withdrawing from our circumstances, that peace will be short-lived indeed. If, instead, we can cultivate the ability to be peaceful with everything that is going on—with everything we see that is wonderful and terrible, all that we hear that is pleasing and dissonant, and all that we think, whether it is calm or aggressive—well then we’ve really got something. Now we can get up off our cushions, not with the sense of “back to the war zone, I’m leaving that peaceful place I’ve just been,” but with the sense of “I carry my peace with me wherever I go.”
And btw, peace does not necessarily mean placid or even undisturbed. Here, it means the ability to come back to balance, no matter what is thrown your way. It may take a few minutes or a few lifetimes, but now, through your practice, you know how to find and re-find your equanimity: by going toward your world, actually experiencing it, letting it go, and coming back to the present moment.
This can give you some idea of why meditation is sometimes called a path of warriorship. We drop preconceptions–this takes tremendous courage. We lean into our experience as it arises. We trust ourselves to know that whatever we find, we can taste it, explore it, and when it is done, let it go and come back. This is not a practice of withdrawing from this world to find peace, but of going into it and stabilizing our ability to be peaceful with what is. It is a practice of wakefulness. Therefore, our eyes are open.
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