Contemplative Eyes

2013-05-24 08.35.13By Gerald May*

*Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here.

During your personal prayer/meditation times at home, or at other prayer times during the day, try experimenting with letting your eyes be open. If you’re used to closing your eyes for prayer and meditation, go gently. At first, just let your eyes be partially open, not focused on anything. See if this seems to interfere with your inner sense of presence and openness. If it does, keep gently experimenting with eyes closed, eyes open. See if you can recover your prayerfulness with your eyes open. Remember times in the past when you’ve felt very prayerful with eyes open: in nature perhaps, or in worship, looking at a loved one, gazing at the sky, etc.

Keep experimenting with this until it becomes more comfortable. Then let your eyes come naturally open, looking around and at different things in your environment. If you lose your sense of presence, close your eyes again and keep experimenting with the transition until it feels more natural to have your eyes open. The idea is to let yourself be free to be prayerful regardless of whether your eyes are closed or open. Prayerfulness with eyes open becomes important, of course, if you want to be prayerful as you’re working on different tasks. And if this is indeed what you want, don’t forget to pray for it!

In what ways have you tried to be continuously prayerful, regardless of what else is going on?

I am still working on this one, but love the idea. I respond in a very Pavlovian way when someone says, “May we have a moment of silence” or “Let us pray.” I shut my eyes, bow my head, breath deeply….shut out the world. I love this idea of letting the prayer resonate throughout the day, regardless of whether my eyes are open or shut.

What is your experience?

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11 years ago

I find it works best for me at the end of a yoga session, whether in class or at home — the physical acts of stretching and bending in a gentle contemplative way serve as a parthway to prayerful reflection and meditation

11 years ago

One of the many yoga teachers I have had through the years encouraged us to meditate with our eyes open — but to keep focused with the “drishti” — allowing the gaze to fix on an object and concentrate while emptying the mind of “clutter” — harder to do than one would have imagined!


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