Eyes Open

For the last year and half, I’ve been part an online meditation group called the Open Heart Project. The project, created and run by Susan Piver, consists of a twice-a-week newsletter that brings thousands of people to sit together in a ten-minute meditation. I’ve learned a lot through participating: it’s helped me feel calmer, detach from past- and future-oriented obsessions, and, when I’m lucky, connect with something outside of myself.

When I first began meditating, I struggled with the usual challenges: a perpetually sleeping foot, an inability to sit still… But the hardest part was learning to practice with my eyes open.

In the opening moments of every session, Susan asks everyone to look down, to place their attention on their breath, and to fix their gaze on a spot about six in front of them… Practicing with open eyes, she says, is a way of training ourselves to carry the meditative experience – to be mindful – in our day-to-day lives.

Before I joined the project, I’d associated spiritual practice with a bowed head and closed eyes, so keeping them open felt counter-intuitive, unnecesary even. Whenever I tried to follow Susan’s instruction, my eyes would betray me and jump all over the room, taking inventory of papers to sort and corners to sweep. They would pull me out of the moment and into the busyness of the rest of my life.

So I tried to cheat. I waited until late at night, turned off the lights, and pulled the blinds down, immersing myself in a sightless black that promised to eliminate environmental distractions. For a while, it worked. Sometimes, I felt the edge of something: a tingle on my skin, a phasing, a dissolution of my surroundings. Whenever the tingle came, I felt an appreciation for and acceptance of that moment.

Still, even in the darkness, the world found its way in: light from a streetlamp backlit my bamboo blinds, tracing the outline of the desk with its files, the shadowed corner collecting dust bunnies… I could have hung heavier blinds, but I knew my eyes would adjust no matter how deep a darkness I created. So I stopped trying to cheat, left the lights on, and forced myself to practice with my eyes open.

My gaze roamed the room with renewed curiosity, gloating in having overcome my attempt to stifle it. My mind went with it, too, scanning, searching, planning, seeking. That tingle I’d sometimes edged up against seemed out of reach, lost. I felt like I was just sitting there, wasting time, making no progress, while an infinite to-do list weighed down on me.

But after a while, I noticed a change. Not when I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, but when I was outside, immersed in the frenetic whirr of the machine city. I noticed it on a packed subway, with its bright lights, glitchy station announcments, and simmering hostility. I noticed it in a long line at the grocery store, surrounded by pre-made meals and gnarled, tattered lists. I noticed it between emails, meeting requests, friend requests, mentions, and faves. The tingle had come back.

The most incredible thing wasn’t that it had found me again, but that it was there when I needed it most. When the sensory and psychic overload of day-to-day life felt like too much. When the present moment seemed dull or frustrating. When my mind would ordinarily dwell on the past or worry about the future.

Susan was right: keeping my eyes open had brought meditation into my daily life in a way that my shrouded approach never had. So I learned not to blank out the world, to immerse myself in it, and to let my heart open along with my eyes.

The Open Heart Project is a fantastic investment of time and energy for anyone looking to get a start with meditation. You can sign up here.

Re-rebooting

In the 6 months since I returned from India, I haven’t published any new writing to this site. The usual obstacles are partly to blame: busyness, procrastination, distraction… an inexplicable mission to watch all 175 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But a big part of the reason I’ve gone quiet is I’ve been thinking about what kind of work I want to share here.

When I last rebooted this site, I was going through some painful losses. One of the ways I decided to deal with those losses was to focus my energy on learning to listen to and trust my gut. Following my instincts had been something I’d long struggled with, and I figured that working through that would help me heal and give me a consistent topic to write about.

I published about ten posts since then, some of which are explicitly about re-connecting to my instincts, and some of which are more metaphorical. Much of that writing shifts between short story, journal, and poem, and while I love it, I’ve realized there other things I want to write about, other genres I want to play with.

So I’m re-rebooting. And I’m making a couple of changes:

  • I’m putting my name at the top of this site. I even bought the domain so that those skilled enough to spell it can find me that way.
  • I’m giving myself permission to write in whatever genre I want: poetry, short stories, journal entries, open letters, articles, travelogues… I know many successful writers pick one and master it, but that’s not me right now.
  • I’m going to write about whatever interests me: an article I read, an experience from a trip I took 10 years ago, an idea I had in the shower, a piece of software that changed my life… I have eclectic interests, and I’m going to let my writing wander between them.
  • I’m going to stop heaping expectations on every piece of writing to be a timeliness, universal masterpiece. I’m going to put more emphasis on actually writing and hope that, over time, the work improves.
  • I’m going to publish more than one post every three months. Four 500-word pieces a year is not enough to self-apply the title of Writer, which is really the motivation beneath all this work to begin with.

Hopefully this reset shakes some more words from my fingers. Thanks for reading.