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Focusing the eyes during meditation

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Focusing the eyes during meditation
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Answer
1/12/13 2:59 PM
I've wondered about this for years, ever since I started meditating, and hadn't asked anyone about until now. It seems kinda silly but it keeps coming up for me.

I notice that depending on how I focus my attention, my eyes tend to focus or unfocus accordingly. I'd like to know your thoughts on whether in order to practice properly they should always be focused or not, or whether it is irrelevant (a matter of "posture" if you will).

Often when focusing my attention, particularly when doing shamatha/anapana practice, my physical eyes become focused and are staring forward, into the back of my eyelids. Reminding myself with each breath, or each possible moment, to refocus and "look" at the breath, my eyes also refocus and "look forward" along with my renewing attention. I worry sometimes that I am straining my eyes, though it never gets painful. It seems fitting that when looking at reality, my physical eyes are looking forward, even if my attention isn't focused on the information my eyes are receiving. Whenever I have the experiences which seem to be jhana, it's usually in this manner, though I suspect I've experienced it with lax eyes too (long while ago).

The experience which seems like jhana to me is, the continuity of my experience changes (like sinking into something) so that the interruptions in attention stop, I am following the entirety of the breath sensations, in and out, in each moment, as one continuous experience, and my eyes seem to be locked into the closed eyed visual field, whose space seems to become contained and appears "solid" too, it's container-shape thats changing according to how high the jhana is (I suspect I've experienced the first 5 MCTB jhanas at least once, but am mostly familiar with the first three. The only way I've been able to judge that is by counting how many times I sink from one space into another deeper-seeming one, I haven't been able to investigate the characteristics of them properly yet).


With broad attention my eyes become "unfocused", which means, it feels like some subtle muscles around the eyeball relax, sensations around the eye die down, and at first it feels as if I'm not being present (like taking a step back), but I can certainly be very present and note many sensations as they arise while in this mode. This is what my eyes often do when I'm doing vipassana body scanning (Goenka). Though often, I notice my eyes "following" my attention around the body, looking in the direction my attention is going.

I sometimes worry that the unfocused eyes is an incorrect way to practice, since that is what usually happens to my eyes when I am lost in thought. Though it is definitely possible to be present with the eyes in that mode.

I also sometimes worry that having focused eyes is an incorrect way to practice, but this gets very confusing, especially with noting practice, because (and especially if dhamma theory is true in that it is impossible to experience more than 1 sensation simultaneously as Daniel Ingram says on page 22 of MCTB ) that would mean that every second sensation I would have to note the visual field at the back of my eyelids, which is "always" there.

I'm also worrying now that all these years I've inadvertently been combining my breath practice with a look-at-closed-eyed-visual-practice, which would be embarrassing. But noticing the space in my eyelids seems inevitable, I don't know how the space behind ones eyes ever could unless one was having Fruition or perhaps are in a formless absorption.

I think I covered the main points that have been bugging me. Eyes: focused, unfocused, irrelevant, a combination? Thanks for any feedback at all

RE: Focusing the eyes during meditation
Answer
1/18/13 8:25 PM as a reply to Andrew K.
Andrew Ken:

I sometimes worry that the unfocused eyes is an incorrect way to practice, since that is what usually happens to my eyes when I am lost in thought. Though it is definitely possible to be present with the eyes in that mode.

I'm not an expert, but I think I can relate to your experience with that. I tend to do the same. When you automatically focus your eyesight when you make an effort to focus your attention to the breath (or something else), I guess there's nothing wrong with it. For me, I really wouldn't know how to make an effort to concentrate otherwise. I can make an effort there, focussing my eyesight, and my general concentration and alertness increases with that.
And although, as you notice, it is definitely possible to be present with the eyes unfocused, that is not always the case. Sometimes you make a concerted effort to focus your eyes in order to be more alert. Seems legit to me. Think of the simile of the lute. You have to find the right balance. When you get lost in thought, put on more effort to get focussed. When you get too strained, relax a bit, as long as you can still stay present and alert. Think of the simile of the lute that the Buddha gave. You are doing that automatically and quite successfully, as it seems. You must know the right balance.


I also sometimes worry that having focused eyes is an incorrect way to practice, but this gets very confusing, especially with noting practice, because (and especially if dhamma theory is true in that it is impossible to experience more than 1 sensation simultaneously as Daniel Ingram says on page 22 of MCTB ) that would mean that every second sensation I would have to note the visual field at the back of my eyelids, which is "always" there.

I'm also worrying now that all these years I've inadvertently been combining my breath practice with a look-at-closed-eyed-visual-practice, which would be embarrassing. But noticing the space in my eyelids seems inevitable, I don't know how the space behind ones eyes ever could unless one was having Fruition or perhaps are in a formless absorption.


I think you should not get too hung up on theory. It can be very confusing.
You do have success entering jhana or whatever state of good concentration. So if it works, you must be doing something quite right, no? If you can investigate it enough and figure out what it is, this kind of jhana, or that kind of jhana, maybe that can be reassuring and useful in some way. But maybe it's not so important after all. I don't know. It's all anicca, anatta, dhukkha, in the end. How you realize that, I don't know. Reach this and that kind of jhana to see it all collapse in the end, I really don't know. Or if you really want to see that, I really don't know.
I think with all the different techniques out there it's very easy to always think one is doing something wrong. This does not quite seem to fit with this kind of method, that does not fit with that kind of method. But some kind of natural wisdom has given you enough guidance to reach some state of high concentration it seems, whatever it is called. And that is the only real thing that you can count on in the end, and the way by which you got there, that should not be embarassing but an asset. You have to work from that and see how the things you read fit in there, not the other way around. At least that's what I think.

RE: Focusing the eyes during meditation
Answer
1/29/13 10:25 AM as a reply to Andrew K.
Andrew Ken:
I think I covered the main points that have been bugging me. Eyes: focused, unfocused, irrelevant, a combination? Thanks for any feedback at all

Given that one wants to attenuate the signals of the body when approaching utter and complete stillness, and the fact that 4 cranial nerves attach to just the eyes - unfocused is best. Wang Li PIng suggested to look as if focusing on a galaxy far away, but not focusing. Move on to something like Taoist Yoga and there are certain eye movements that correspond to certain alchemical processes. Since most of us likely wont tread that path, best left unfocused, "see with the wisdom eye at the niwan," which isnt physical anyway.

RE: Focusing the eyes during meditation
Answer
1/29/13 1:16 PM as a reply to Andrew K.
I don't think there is one correct way to practice regarding the eyes.

Instead, I find that if I let my eyes do their thing, they tend to position themselves differently depending on the jhana territory I am in. For example, my eyes are strongly focused in first and second jhana territory, get defocused in third, regain a kind of soft spacious focus in fourth and move upward and cross in fifth, as if trying to focus at the third eye point.

It may be worthwhile to check if you experience something similar.

You could also try sitting with your eyes open and maybe use a kasina or a yantra as a concentration object. I've used a yantra for a while (see link below) and found that it clears up a lot about how seeing works and what the eyes and visual cortex are doing.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Sriyantra.svg

[edit: spelling]