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Many people new to Zen meditation are surprised that it is an eyes-open method. Keeping the eyes open is an essential part of the method because we are building a strength of attention to the present moment, and this moment includes what we see! We don't want to exclude an entire sense from our attention, which is what happens if we close our eyes. See the following links if you want a quick start into meditation practice:

People sometimes come to Zen meditation after their prior meditation experiences have been laying down with the eyes closed at the end of a yoga class, or doing a guided meditation with eyes closed while someone is talking. But Zen meditation is always an eyes-open meditation.

Zen meditation builds a strength of attention that we hope to take beyond sitting on a cushion or chair, and into our everyday life. That everyday life is lived mostly with the eyes open! If you can only have attention when your eyes are closed, how will you mindfully drive a car? Or walk to the grocery store?

Here are some guidelines for how to keep the eyes during Zen meditation:

  • The eyes are about half-open. We're not looking at anything in particular, so half-open is plenty. You can experiment with keeping the eyes a little more or less open, to find what works best for you. But don't close them so much that you can barely see.

  • Keep a soft, relaxed gaze. We're not staring or looking at anything in particular, and so the gaze is soft and unfocused. If we stare or focus on a particular spot, eye strain may happen. We want the eyes relaxed, just like all the other muscles of the body should be.

  • Point the eyes about half-way down in your field of vision. This means looking downwards at a place on the floor about 4 or 5 feet in front of you, depending on your sitting posture.

  • Don't move the eyes around. We keep the eyes still as part of the whole-body stillness we maintain during meditation. And so we're not looking around at different things in the field of vision. Looking around is the visual equivalent of getting distracted and lost in thoughts - just keep the eyes always in the same general direction.

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