What do I Look at? or Where to Look when Meditating

This week’s post is taken from my book on “Do Meditation”. In the beginning of the book there are several chapters on the basics of meditation: “How do I Sit”, “How do I Breathe”,etc. This post is the “What do I Look at? Aka. What do I See?” chapter.

What do I Look at? Aka. What do I See?

When I first started meditating, there was really nothing that bothered me more than the answers I would receive from my instructors when I would ask them, “what do I look at?”  Their answers would inevitably be some nonsense (at least I thought it was nonsense at the time) like “nothing” or “just let your eyes defocus”. The problem was that all the initial styles of meditation I practiced had me facing a wall and the ones that didn’t, had me facing the back of someone else meditating. So my thinking was, “how can I not look at something that is right in front of my face and, in the case of a wall, takes up my entire field of vision?”

I was a very determined young meditator, so I was determined to NOT look at the wall, NOT to look at the person’s back in front of me, NOT to see all the interesting patterns in the texture of the wall, NOT to wonder if the person’s clothing had ever been washed because they didn’t look like they had, NOT to wonder if there was some mystical meaning in the choice of the wall color, NOT to get upset at the person in front of me moving ever so slightly and most importantly, NOT to think about NOT looking at anything. “Looking” back over all the time I wasted actually not not looking, I think why couldn’t someone have simply told me what took me years to learn and what could have been summed up in one sentence. I think of how much further I’d be along in my practice today if they had. I think, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”

Slightly over ten years after I started actively meditating, a good friend of mine gave me a book written by his wilderness survival instructor. I had grown up in a small town in upstate New York, spent most of my childhood playing in the woods, and he therefore thought I might like the book. Not only did I like it, I love it.  Immediately after finishing it I signed up for a wilderness survival class taught by the book’s author. The “standard class”, as it was called, was broken up into three major sections: survival, tracking and philosophy. I immensely enjoyed the entire class, but boy was I upset when the instructor taught all the students in the class a technique called, “wide-angle vision”.  He told everyone by simply allowing their eyes to “focus” on items in the peripheral field of vision, instead of what was in front of them, their minds would naturally shift into a meditative state.  In other words, out of beta waves and into alpha waves.  Then he told us all to go outside, slowly walk around and practice “wide-angle vision”.  So off the class went.  I thought, “this is going to be a disaster.”  I figured that everyone would go out, walk around for at most a few minutes and then go off and do other things until the class was called back.  This is a typical response to a beginner’s first exposure to a meditative practice.  The reason for this is that most beginners, when exposed to their thinking minds, are overwhelmed by how much they are actually thinking. These “random” thoughts are normally overlooked and ignored, liked background noise in a public mall, but when they focus their conscious mind’s spotlight on them, they become overwhelmed and give up. However, that wasn’t what happened, not at all. Instead, everyone started walking around, and within a few minutes, they all slowed down and you could almost feel a shift in the groups consciousness. Not a single student, out of the approximately 100 students that were there, stopped until they were called back. As for my experience, and why I was upset, I immediately noticed my mind shifting out of beta waves.  I almost feel over, I was so stunned.  How is it that something so simple can be so effective?  It worked.  It was easy.  Anyone could do it with no experience or practice.  “This is totally not fair.  They should all have to go through what I went through,” is all I kept thinking.  After time passed however, I realized how much this simple technique could benefit all my meditation students.  Instead of telling them what I had been told, “defocus your eyes,” I could give them a simple technique that would actually help their meditation practice.

So, “What do I Look at?”  and what should you look at?  Nothing.  Just let your eyes defocus.  In other words, don’t focus on what is in front of you, focus on what is not in front of you and eventually you will be focusing on nothing at all (and a lot faster than I did, due to the fact that you know this simple technique).  You will be solely working on your meditation, everything else will drop away and you will truly be “looking at nothing!!”

Something to think about…

by Master Sean Pearson

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