Eyes Open Meditation

Meditating with eyes open.

When you think of meditation what image is conjured up? Probably someone cross legged on the floor with their eyes closed. 

Recently I was asked to lead two workshops for Riksteatern, including ‘Tyst Teater’ (Silent Theatre), a company of deaf actors performing in sign language. They would be joining the workshops with an interpreter. 

How would I lead through the meditations for deaf people if they had their eyes closed?

Given the workshops were on the theme of connection, I was reluctant to create a ‘disconnect’ between the deaf and the hearing people, some of them meditating eyes closed, others eyes open. 

I suggested that we all meditate with our eyes open. 

There are so many good reasons to keep your eyes open when you meditate. 

Encouraging an attitude of openness

Firstly, meditation is an attitude of openness. Openness to the moment, to experience, to ourselves and our environment. Some traditions encourage you to keep your mouth slightly open, breathing gently through your nose and mouth at the same time. I like this, it feels like everything is open and relaxed, all channels are open, nothing is shut down or closed. 

intensifying sense experience

In Buddhism the mind itself is counted as one of the senses as it can imagine, sights, sounds and so on.

Unfortunately often the mind takes over and we end up living in a mental world, walking along the road ‘lost in thought’ and literally not seeing or hearing what is going on around us. 

To calm the thinking mind the other senses need to be intensified. 

We are not trying to silence the thinking, we are just not letting it dominate. A thought about work is no more or less compelling than a tingling sensation in the sole of my foot. One of the translations of shamata, often talked of as calming meditation, is equality. Everything has its place equally in our awareness.

We can learn to relax our ‘seeing’. Of all the senses the eyes are the most possessive. Sounds come to our waiting ears, sensations pass through our receptive body, but with seeing it’s as if the eyes reach out and take hold of their object.  

Resting our gaze on the floor in front of us, looking down our nose at a 45% angle, we let the focus relax. It’s like when you look at a 3D image, you mustn’t let your eyes take hold of it, but instead you look ‘through’ it. 

As a hearing person, I will often say to myself, ‘Just let my seeing be like my hearing, receptive, open, waiting.'

Sensations are such a big part of meditation. I imagine if I were deaf and had my eyes shut, that there would too little happening.

Monks meditating with their eyes open

Staying present

If you are not used to meditating with your eyes open there will probably be an overwhelming desire to close them. When I’ve looked at this desire in myself I’ve realised that it is a desire to disappear. A desire to go off into some fantasy. It’s much easier to fantasise with our eyes closed. Having our eyes open brings us into the present. 

In meditation we are not trying to ‘go somewhere else’, we want to be right here, right now, on this spot. 

Staying awake

One very good, very simple, reason to meditate with our eyes open is that it’s much harder to fall asleep!

Life as meditation

We live our lives with our eyes open, we want to take the meditation into the nitty gritty of our everyday lives, when we meditate with our eyes open it can symbolise this, the non difference between meditation and everyday life. 

I do both, sometimes my eyes are open, sometimes closed. But in writing this I think I've convinced myself to keep my eyes open more often. 

At the end of the workshop one of the deaf participants said this -

I’ve been meditating for years and it’s the first time the teacher hasn’t started the session by saying, now close your eyes.