Another interesting insight that floated clear and bright in Iceland was about the perennial question: eyes open or eyes closed during meditation.
I have come to think that “eyes open” is an essential part of mindfulness. There are times – when we are tuning in to the body or the ‘felt sense’ of the emotions. That eyes can be closed to draw the attention inwards, but generally, I think the practice of mindfulness can be aided by not only having our eyes closed but also moving our head and eyes during the meditation.
My work in therapy has recently brought me into contact with a lot of contemporary thinking about trauma. When an animal is threatened it has three basic options: fight, flight or freeze. If the tremendous energy of flight or fight is not possible the only other option is to ‘play dead’ and freeze. However, that energy is still there, frozen, in the system. When the danger has passed animals will shake themselves – often quite violently – to rid themselves of the excess energy trapped in their tissue. Movement – especially of the head and eyes – tells the system that they are in the world, conscious, out-of-mortal danger. Freezing tells the system that something bad is still out there.
The nature of mindfulness is to sit easily in reality and accept what is arising
I have come to believe that the ‘frozen’ atttitude that we adopt in meditation can sometimes exacerbate a sense of panic and traumatic freezing while we sit. I have written before about the language of meditation sometimes leading to a sense of embattlement – we go on ‘retreat’ and we take ‘refuge’ – but the nature of mindfulness is to sit easily in reality and accept what is arising.
The net result, when mindfulness is really adopted, is to feel easy in the world. The ‘blue brain’ – that neurological cocktail that creates relaxing, soothing and caring – kicks in and our consciousness is able to blossom, taking in all the world around us as well as the arising phenomena of our thoughts and feelings and perceptions.
Consciousness would not exist if there wasn’t a brain in a body
Alva Noë in his excellent book, ‘Out of Our Heads’, argues very persuasively that human consciousness is a function of us having a body that moves in a world. Consciousness, he argues, would not exist if there wasn’t a brain in a body in a world. All three things have to be there for consciousness to arise. He makes the point that the body also has to be moving. That is, the movements of the eyes and the head allow the brain to experience consciousness.
I have come to believe that we make mindfulness more difficult for ourselves when we close our eyes and stay frozen still. The aim of mindfulness is to feel stable and embedded in our embodied experience of the World. Too often we get into a state where the present moment feels fleeting and fragile, like an evanescent will-o-the-wisp. But actually, the present is supernally stable. There is nothing but the present. And sitting with our eyes open – allowing consciousness to flow out into a world that surrounds us, increases our anchoring in the present moment. It makes it easier for us to absorb the flow of sounds, shapes, colours. Our thoughts and feelings become part of a field of arisings rather than ‘distractions’.
You cannot fall out of the Present. So move around, look around. Test it out.
I’d love to know your thoughts about eyes open or eyes closed. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!
Find out more about The Mindsprings School. A series of courses created by Alistair to help you live a happier life.