I've been a dedicated meditation practitioner for more than a decade and I always keep my eyes open for new techniques. Now keeping my "eyes open" can be taken literally--because I've learned about the benefits of meditating without closing them.
This was a big departure for me. I had always thought of meditation as a way to keep the external world out of the picture during quiet contemplation. And even though I am very receptive to the benefits of different practices--I've tried everything from yogic, mindfulness, and Tibetan mantra meditations to ecstatic dancing and walking a labyrinth--I had assumed that opening one's eyes during meditation would break the spell.
My experience with eyes-open meditation began when I recently attended a workshop in Arizona led by neuroscience teacher and dear friend Dr. Joe Dispenza, author of You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. At this gathering, Dr. Joe talked about Hebb's Rule: the neuroscientific principle that "nerve cells that fire together wire together." He explained that if you repeatedly activate the same nerve cells, they eventually learn to fire in unison. Over time those neurons develop a long-term relationship; they become "hardwired." In order to initiate change in our lives, we need to do new things and think new thoughts that spark new neurons and create new neural connections--and do it often enough to develop new habits.
Meditating with eyes open became my "new thing" when Dr. Joe asked me to assist with a meditation session with some attendees at his workshop. As I observed the meditators, I saw a man with the biggest smile, beaming as if he'd been lit from within. I saw a woman with tears streaming down her face, breaths broken up because she was crying so hard. As I observed, my thoughts began to diminish, I forgot about my body, my breath began to slow down, my mind cleared, and I suddenly realized that I was also in a deep meditation. The only difference was that my eyes were open. I was simultaneously meditating and watching others meditate.
Seeing people meditate gave me a connection to them that I wouldn't have had with my eyes closed. I could feel the energy in the room rising, and the emotion overtook me. I looked around at the people in the audience. I felt their joy and their pain--I couldn't help but reach out with my heart to each of them, embracing some, consoling others. It was as if my open eyes were portals directly to my heart.
Then I saw something extraordinary: light beaming throughout the room. The light mixed with their emotions and love, filling the space where I stood watching over them. It wasn't long before tears filled my eyes. The beauty and sense of connection overwhelmed me. I had never experienced anything like it.
I would have never dreamed that, while observing others in meditation, I'd have one of the best meditations of my own life. Since that moment, I have heeded Dr. Joe's advice about Hebb's Rule. And it goes far beyond meditation practice. Now I feel more open to new possibilities, to life's tremendous gifts. I've learned that what matters most in life is easiest to see when our eyes are wide open.