You may have noticed that some people meditating will sit with their eyes closed. In the tradition I follow, it is recommended to keep ones eyes open. Both to lessen any tendency to fall asleep and to remain engaged with the world rather than withdrawing from it.
Instructions are to pick a spot on the floor about 45 degrees away from you and fixate on it with an open or soft gaze.
So we are not staring intently at one single point, but instead allowing our usual, wandering vision come to rest in one place and encouraging everything to come to the eyes.
This spreading out the vision or developing heightened peripheral vision is useful when meditating, but even if you don’t meditate it is a really effective way to slow down that constant chatter and clutter in your mind when moving about in the world.
“…rather than staring at a single point using foveal (focused or central) vision, one activates the peripheral field to encompass one’s surroundings with awareness in a broad, sweeping, and relaxed manner.”Meido Moore, Hidden Zen
Normally we are only present to a very small circle within the centre of our visual field. To compensate, our eyes tend to erratically zig-zag about taking in small individual chunks as we scan our environment (this is known as saccadic eye movements).
The important thing to notice is that our mind also jumps about in hot pursuit, hooking into each individual chunk the eyes pause on, judging, comparing, evaluating, liking, disliking, or discarding, building up the complicated, busy narrative we attach to our world.
Alternatively we may totally zone out, focused on a single object such as a TV or smartphone, completely oblivious to what is going on in the periphery whilst our mind spins it’s internal wheels.
Of course there are times when you do want to focus your attention completely at a single point. For example, when you are performing a difficult task or your are looking for something specific.
But when used at the right time, a spread out vision might help you feel more calm and clear and relaxed.
For this exercise, I am assuming that you are reading this on a handheld device. Read through the instructions first and then try it out for yourself.
- Looking straight ahead hold your phone or tablet up at eye level, a comfortable distance from your face.
- Look at the centre dot in the picture above.
- Breathe down into your belly & relax.
- Now expand your vision to encompass the four outer dots simultaneously, whilst still remaining clear awareness of the centre dot.
- Widen your attention to encompass the entire device in your hand whist still holding the clear attention of the objects within it.
- Without shifting your gaze from the centre dot, let your attention spread out the world in front and around you. Above below and to the sides.
- Notice how the mind tends to relax and expand without specific things to hook onto. You are thinking less and seeing more.
Next time you are out and about, pick a spot where you can pause for a moment and practice spreading your vision.
It might be in a beautiful natural setting or it could be in the queue at a busy shopping centre…it doesnt matter.
- Take a moment to relax and take some slow deep belly-breaths.
- Pick one object on which to rest your gaze (that is, don’t look around or move your head) before spreading your vision out as in the first exercise.
- Try spreading out all your senses, not just visual.
- Now try to maintain this state as you look around your environment.
- Once you are achieving this try spreading your open awareness around behind you…and even through you.
The technique I have described here has been modified from a series of excersises in the book: Hidden Zen Practices for Sudden Awakening and Embodied Realization. by Meido Moore.