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Eyes Wide Open

Buddhist Instructions on Merging Body and Vision

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

Meditation practices to awaken the body and create a mind like a mirror, to literally see things as they are

• Draws on the story of the monk Shenxiu to create a meditation practice for profound relaxation, inclusion and connection to the world around us, and realization of our essential nature

• Explains how our attitudes, beliefs, and bodily tensions distort our perceptions and lead to our sense of separation from the world outside our bodies

• Details techniques of vision, such as sky gazing, eye gazing, and mirror gazing, that lead to an ecstatic mindfulness

Right behind your eyes, you are there. You can feel yourself there, looking. So intimate is your connection with your looking that when you say, “I’m looking,” you’re implying that how you look and what you see are a direct reflection of who you are in this moment. Your attitudes and beliefs reflect what you see, and the way you live in your body can color your perceptions as well.

This splitting in two of experience--an inside-the-body world and an outside-the-body world--creates in many of us a sense of isolation and loneliness, a feeling of disconnection from the larger world at which we look. But the visual field is equally capable of reflecting a sense of connection and inclusion, an invitation to merge with the larger universe rather than confirming how irrevocably separated we are.

Drawing on the story of the seventh-century Chinese monk Shenxiu, Will Johnson offers meditation exercises to create a mind like a mirror, cleansing it of obscuring layers of worry and emotion to literally see things as they are, not just how we perceive them to be. He explains how to awaken your body to the sensations we learn to ignore when we lose ourselves in thought and tense ourselves in ways that stifle the body’s vibrancy. He offers meditative techniques to silence the projections of the mind and enter into a condition of ecstatic mindfulness. He details gazing practices, such as sky gazing, eye gazing, and mirror gazing, to cleanse our vision and remove whatever is distorting our perceptions.

Through this new kind of seeing, divisions between your inner and outer world start to drop away. You begin to experience an intimate connectivity to the world you look out onto. By cleansing the mirror of the mind, we can come out of the dreams of who we think we are and awaken into our true, essential nature.


Chapter 3

Through the Looking Glass

at all times we must work to keep it polished and not let any dust collect

When we first sit down to meditate, we’re often instructed to close our eyes, to shut out the world outside ourselves over which we so incessantly obsess, and focus instead on the world inside ourselves, which we so often overlook. So we shut our eyes . . . and the world inside starts to appear in the form of sensations and energies in the body and thoughts and images in the mind. When we close our eyes, the distractions of the world temporarily disappear and it’s easier to perceive our thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears, our sensations.

But the pendulum of awareness was never meant to stay stuck in its focus on the interior world any more than on the exterior world of visual objects. Once we become more conversant with our inner bodily world, we can then reopen our eyes and view the world outside the body in a way that embraces both, dissolving the dualistic bias that separates inner from outer.

With eyes open, you run the risk of getting so drawn out into the world you look out at that you forget yourself. With eyes closed, you run the risk of implosion, of becoming so drawn into your interior world that you bring compressed tension into the cranium. Establishing a mind that functions like a mirror allows you to partake of both worlds simultaneously--the inner ground of awareness merges with the outer world you look on just as the surface of a mirror merges with the reflections of whatever’s placed before it.

Each of the exercises in this chapter presents a different strategy for dissolving distorting layers of accumulated thought residue and keeping the mirror of the mind as clear as possible. As you explore them, remember to pay equal and simultaneous attention to both worlds.

Meditations for Merging Body and Vision

Calibrating the Lens

The instruction to keep it polished and not let any dust collect is addressed as much to the body as the mind. Body is the foundational ground of the mirror, so you always want to tend to it first.

As much as possible . . .

Keep the body shining and sparkling through remembering to open to feeling presence. Do your best not to let any unnecessary tension distort the clear shimmer of the body or any dust accumulate on the clear mirror of the mind through becoming lost in thought forms. Keep cleaning off the residues of tension that have accumulated through remembering to let go and relax.

Tensions in the body serve to numb the body’s sensations, effectively putting it to sleep and creating the kinds of mirrors that you find in amusement parks whose warps and irregularities create distortions in their reflections. Tension anywhere in the body eventually spreads, robbing the body of its relaxation and seeding the mind with unbidden thought.

The first and most important step in calibrating this lens is just to let yourself feel. Every little part. All at once. When you can relax into feeling everything all at once, vision opens naturally.

The fundamental practice is simply this: let yourself feel, and then let yourself see.

Eyes of the Head, Heart, and Belly

Seeing solely with the eyes of your head brings tension into the cranium and reinforces your perception of separation between your inner and outer worlds.

When you start relaxing the tensions in your physical eyes, the two centers from which you look come together as a more unified presence coalescing somewhere in back of your physical eyes. When you relax so deeply that the place from which you see moves from the surface of your physical eyes into the back of your neck, down into the middle of your upper torso, you start seeing through the eyes of the heart.

Unbidden thought starts turning itself off, and it’s easier to feel more unified in yourself and your relationship with the world you look out on.

If you keep relaxing the eyes and the body even more, you can feel your locus of vision drop down even further, deep into your belly. When your belly becomes the place from which you see, you enter into greater dissolve, where you and the world you look out on feel even more conjoined.

So . . . put yourself in your eyes. Let yourself be the person who sees from your eyes and is out of touch with the feeling presence behind your eyes. Become the person who solely sees with and through the eyes of your head. Who do you become and what kind of world do you see?

Next, move your awareness back and down, behind your eyes. Let yourself see from the feeling presence in the back of your neck and upper back. Let the awakened feeling presence in this part of your body become the center from which you see. See how the tensions in the eyes relax as you do this. See how your perspective on the world you look out on starts to shift as you feel more empathically related to the visual field. Awaken the feeling presence in the middle of your chest, and integrate that feeling presence with your seeing. Who do you become when you start centering yourself in the eyes of the heart?

Then drop down and relax even further. Let your completely relaxed belly and lower back become the pupil of your eye and center of your vision. Grounding yourself in the feeling presence in the belly, seeing from its felt center, lets you dissolve right into and through visual field, and thought vanishes.

Seeing through the eyes of the head keeps you fixated on the outer world. Seeing through the eyes of the heart keeps you and the world you look out on in more equitable balance. Seeing through the eyes of the belly keeps you probing depths of soul and the great ground of being.

About The Author

Will Johnson is the founder and director of the Institute for Embodiment Training, which combines Western somatic psychotherapy with Eastern meditation practices. He is the author of several books, including Breathing through the Whole Body, The Posture of Meditation, and The Spiritual Practices of Rumi. He lives in British Columbia.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (April 11, 2016)
  • Length: 98 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594770005

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Raves and Reviews

“Will Johnson is one of the foremost masters of embodied spirituality of his generation. To read Eyes Wide Open is to rediscover your own body and senses as the foundation for enlightenment.”

– Lama Willa Miller, author of Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You

“By situating the body (or soma) right at the center of sitting meditation practice, Will Johnson helps initiate a quiet, slow revolution. . . . Such a contribution to meditation instruction is transformative in numerous respects. This book, like previous books by the author, is a landmark text in the contemporary literature of homecoming.”

– James Martin, cofounder of Mindful Somatics Institute

“With his delightful stories and exploration of the many wisdom traditions, Will Johnson continues to impress upon us the importance of the embodied experience. If we are to gain any traction on the spiritual path or to address that ‘nagging inkling’ that something just isn’t right in our lives, this little gem of a book can guide us. Johnson offers many simple techniques to do this, honing in on vision as the vehicle for our exploration. The daily experience of ‘looking’ has been imbued with the power of transformation with one quick read! Will Johnson continues to be at the forefront of body-based dharmic practice and its confluence with somatic psychology.”

– Jackie Ashley, MA, BC-DMT, LPC, adjunct faculty at Naropa University

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