Can you meditate with your eyes open? Well, when it comes to meditation, closed eyes have long been the symbol of introspection. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Hidden in the folds of various cultures, open-eyed meditations have in fact long been practiced and developed to move us toward relaxation, reflection, peacefulness, and even enlightenment.
While many associate meditation with eyes closed, this article explores the rich tapestry of open-eyed techniques prevalent in diverse traditions, inviting you to try out some rewarding and visually connected paths to mindfulness.
In this article, we’ll be looking at:
- Trataka or Candle Gazing Meditation
- Contemplative Mandala Observation
- Sky Gazing
- Reflection Meditation
Can You Meditate With Your Eyes Open? Yes! here’s how:
#1: Trataka or Candle Gazing Meditation
A traditional yogic meditation technique, the term “Trataka” means “to gaze” in Sanskrit. Originally practiced in Hindu traditions for body purification, it involves focusing on an external drishti, often a candle flame such as below and can include breathing exercises and counting.
- Find a quiet and dimly lit space for your meditation with minimal distractions, and position the unlit candle at eye level about two feet in front of you.
- Make sure the candle is on a stable surface in an area not too affected by wind or drafts (you don’t want the flame to blow out mid-meditation!)
- Option: Try a lightly and naturally scented candle for an additional sensory meditation experience.
- Take a moment to set a clear intention for your meditation. This could be something as simple as feeling more relaxed or enhancing concentration or something as big as finding an inner truth or moving towards enlightenment.
- Get into a comfortable seated position with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Rest your hands on your knees or in your lap, palms facing up, down, or in a mudra.
- Light the candle and take a few deep breaths. Direct your gaze to the flame, focusing on its center. Keep your eyes open and try to relax your eyes so they don’t blink too much.
- Let your gaze soften as you continue to focus on the flame. Allow the outer world to blur while keeping your attention on the flickering light.
- As you gaze, notice the flame’s natural dance, color and shape variations, size changes, moments of stillness, subtle glow, smoke patterns and other details.
- Try to maintain stillness in your body and mind. If your mind wanders, just smile and gently bring your attention back to the flame.
- After some time, you may feel able to expand your awareness to notice the peripheral vision around the flame. This can enhance your overall concentration.
- When you’re ready to end the meditation, close your eyes and visualize the flame within your mind’s eye for a few moments. Imagine the light expanding, illuminating, and warming your entire being.
- Then, take a few deep breaths. Gently bring your awareness back to your surroundings.
- Spend a few moments reflecting on the meditation experience, noticing any changes in your mental state or new insights.
#2: Contemplative Mandala Observation
Mandala meditation, inspired by Buddhist and Hindu traditions, involves gazing at a meaningful geometric design called a Mandala to foster reflection, contemplation and a deeper connection with our inner self.
- First, find a mandala that resonates with you visually and symbolically. If you can’t find one, try creating your own, using colors and patterns that evoke whatever captures your intention.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. Arrange cushions and whatever else you need to get comfortably seated with your back upright and supported. Try lighting candles, incense, or playing soft music, to help you relax.
- Place the mandala on the floor two feet in front of you, or at eye level.
- Now, take a few moments to relax and center yourself before beginning the meditation. Take a few deep breaths, and release any tension in your body or mind.
- Now you’re ready to begin the meditation. Gently gaze at the center of the mandala, allowing your focus to soften and expand. Avoid straining your eyes, simply let your gaze rest on the mandala naturally.
- As you continue to gaze, thoughts, emotions, and sensations will likely arise – which is okay! Just observe them without judgment, gently smile, and bring your attention back to the mandala.
- After a few minutes of gazing at the center of the mandala, allow your gaze to gradually move outward, exploring the intricate details of the surrounding patterns and colors.
- Now begin contemplating its symbolism and meaning. How does your interpretation reflect your personality, life experience, and desires? How can it help you on your path?
- Finally, when ready to end your meditation, slowly close your eyes, take a few breaths, and bring your awareness back to your body and the present moment, reflecting on the practice.
#3: Sky Gazing (Sky Meditation)
About:Originating in ancient Tibetan Buddhism and Bon traditions, this technique serves as a great method for relaxation and mindfulness, moving us beyond the chatter of thoughts, instead encouraging us to understand anatta (no-self) through contemplating the vast and formless expanse of the sky.
- At a time when the sky is at least moderately clear and the weather is accommodating, find a quiet outdoor space away from distractions, where you can comfortably sit or lie down either on a mat, blanket, or straight on the earth.
- Find a view of the sky that is unobstructed and with minimal artificial lights and get into a comfortable position with your spine straight and your body relaxed.
- If sitting, rest your hands on your lap or knees, palms facing up. If lying down, keep your arms by your sides, palms facing up.
- Take a few moments to focus, relax, and ground yourself. Inhale deeply and exhale, feeling a connection with the Earth beneath you.
- Begin your sky meditation with an acknowledgment of the Buddhist teaching of anatta, emphasizing the idea that clinging to any identity leads to suffering.
- Slowly direct your gaze upward toward the sky and allow your attention to rest there. Notice the color, clouds, and any movements. Observe the infinite vastness and the sense of boundlessness.
- Envision the sky as your guide to comprehending anatta. Much like the sky lacks a central self, boundaries, or ownership, recognize the parallel with the concept of not-self in Buddhism.
- As you continue to gaze, reflect on the parallels between the sky and the concept of anatta. Just as the sky is constantly changing, so are we – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Attaching to a constant idea of “self” or a fixed identity is illusionary.
- When you’re ready to conclude the meditation, close your eyes and visualize the expansive sky within your mind. Sense the vastness within, mirroring the sky above. Merge your awareness with the limitless space.
- Take a few deep breaths, bringing your awareness back to your surroundings.
- Spend a few moments reflecting on the meditation experience. Consider jotting down any insights, feelings, or connections you made during the practice to help consolidate the experience.
#4: Reflection Meditation (Mirror Gazing)
Mirror gazing, also known as reflection meditation, involves making prolonged and mindful eye contact with our reflection in order to induce altered states of consciousness that can connect us with our true selves and even with the divine and spirit world.
- Find a quiet and well-lit space where you won’t be interrupted. Make sure that the lighting is gentle and natural, allowing you to see your reflection clearly and softly in the mirror.
- Arrange a comfortable seat in front of the mirror, sitting with your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
- Take a few moments to center yourself. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly and release any tension in your body. Bring your attention to the present moment.
- Gently gaze into your own eyes in the mirror. Let your focus settle, and allow yourself to connect with the person you see.
- Maintain a soft and relaxed gaze without straining, and notice any thoughts, emotions, or sensations that arise. Practice observing them without judgment. Smile and let go of self-criticism, moving towards a sense of self-acceptance.
- Use this time to really look at yourself in the mirror, really see yourself. Go beyond the surface and notice the details in your expression. Connect with the person staring back at you and acknowledge the complexity of your inner thoughts.
- If memories or emotions arise during the reflection, allow yourself to experience them fully. Acknowledge any joy, sorrow, or other feelings that surface. This is an opportunity for emotional exploration and introspection.
- Pose reflective questions to yourself, either silently or aloud. Do I identify with the person in front of me? How is my physical self connected to my emotional self? Do I feel any non-duality during the meditation?
- Allow your inner self to ponder these things and others with a playful curiosity without overthinking.
- As you continue mirror gazing, notice even the most subtle changes in your facial expressions or the energy you project. How do your inner state, your memories, and your emotions manifest physically?
- When you’re ready to conclude, slowly shift your gaze away from the mirror. Take a few deep breaths, bringing your awareness back to the room and present moment.
- Spend a few moments reflecting on the meditation experience. I recommend journaling your thoughts, feelings, and any realizations that arose during the practice – it can really help to consolidate and understand the experience.
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