Yesterday was quite intense…
My kids had trouble settling down for the night, my daughter woke up at 3.30am after wetting the bed and her noise woke up our 9 month old baby boy!
I was already having trouble sleeping as I conducted a personal meditation experiment:
I started reading Pema Chodrons book “How to Meditate” as I was interested in her technique of Samatha ( Calm Abiding ) meditation.
It was literally an “eye opener” to find out that Pema advises one to keep their eyes open during meditation!
I’d never heard of such a thing! For years I’ve been instructed to close my eyes and go inward. I even remember in 1984, as a school boy, I borrowed a meditation book from the library and that also advised that one should close the eyes and go “inward”.
However, when I’m outdoors in public and want to practice being present, I will by default keep my eyes open and just observe “what is”, mostly because it looks less obvious to passers by…and this is one of the methods Eckhart Tolle prescribes for any given situation and location.
I notice the therapeutic effects of just “being present”, in the now, but don’t really see it as actual meditation per se, it’s more about just being and relaxing mind and body.
In Soto Zen, they give a similar method-Shikantaza, but they are pretty hardcore in the sense that they will have you close the eyes and sit for hours motionless and “just be”!
So in one sense, you are meditating on everything that comes up! And the idea is to accept it for what it is and let it go…don’t judge it or analyse it.
In the Theravada tradition, one is required to analyse it and then let it go, if indeed it can be let go. A negative or an overwhelming positive that massages the ego would be seen as a “defilement” by the Theravadins and somehow one is expected to dissolve it by the intense inward techniques.
So back to what Pema is prescribing…
She says to keep the eyes wide open, the posture is designed to simultaneously relax, open the heart yet keep a sense of dignity. And the attitude is at first to focus exclusively on the breath.
So I stopped reading and at 11pm decided to try Pema’s method as best I could…
At first it’s very hard to keep the eyes wide open, I was more focused on my eyes than the breath…the tendency is to close the eyes and enter into being deep inside my own consciousness and shut the externals out!
But I persisted and after awhile I understood by insight WHY eyes are kept open. Ill not disclose that here, it’s up to the individual to try and test for themselves as “results” can often be triggered by kind of placebo transmissions based on “what you have heard from another”.
Besides, my results could be different from yours…
Nonetheless, I carried on and I did not set any timer. When I stopped, 55 minutes had gone by extremely quickly with little strain or endeavour. I usually sit for 20-30 minutes at the most so this was kind of a unique session.
So that takes us to midnight and at 1am I decided to turn in for the night, but I just rested and could not fall asleep. And I was woken up at 3.30 am as mentioned, by my daughter. Her noise woke the baby and thus my wife.
All hell broke loose for about half an hour and then blessed silence!
The dawn chorus usually starts at just after 4 am when the sun slowly comes up..as I was wide awake I decided to sit again with Pema’s method…breathing was good, my eyes were wide open but I had the realisation that there was no point trying to “wake up” when I should actually go to sleep…
So I closed my eyes, the breath became deeper and slower and the spaces in between breaths were longer, more relaxed and distinct.
Tiredness overcame me and next thing I know it’s time to get out of bed and deal with the chaos that is family life.
Thankfully I’m unemployed at present as there was no way I’d have lasted a full day of work after the previous nights madness, but I woke quite refreshed and contemplated the difference between the various techniques teachers have prescribed.
If you look at a picture of Pema, you’ll see she looks intensely awake! And her process is indeed one of truly awakening to oneself and everything else too:)
I highly recommend beginners and seasoned meditators to have a good look at her book “How to Meditate”, published by Sounds True because it really does bring us back to basics with a firm but compassionate intent.
Ill share more about the book and some quotes too as I go along.
In the meantime, you can find the book on the iBooks store and pretty much everywhere else, and a more detailed description can be found here: