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Does It Work to Meditate with Your Eyes Open?

09 Sep

Question:
 
Dear Belleruth,
 
I have been meditating for 20 years, since going to Benson-Henry's mind/body medicine program here in Boston, MA. It has been invaluable to me, as has been your website and CDs.  I have much gratitude to you and all who have mentored me and guided me.

Here is my problem: I seem to have lost the ability to really go into a lovely, meditative state since the Boston attacks last April.  I live in Watertown, MA, a few blocks from where the terrorists' gunfight occurred, and was in the midst of the lockdown, etc for those harrowing hours.
 
Thankfully, no one in my family or community lost lives or limbs, but many of us were affected.  For me personally, I came down with a severe case of shingles 1 week later, and then slumped into a nasty, clinical depression and reactivation of PTSD from my childhood.

I am doing all I can to crawl back out and re-emerge into my life, but it is slow going. I have not been able to return to my beloved work as an oncology nurse nor engage well in my other activities.
 
This is complicated by CFIDS that I have had for several years, but over the years, learned to manage it.

In any event, I am no longer able to CLOSE MY EYES when I try to meditate. Something happens when I do so. I have had balance issues and dizziness due to current medication adjustments, etc, and when I go into the meditative state with my eyes closed for more than a few minutes, I feel much worse after. ….. very groggy and dizzy.
 
My question: is it okay and effective to meditate with one's eyes opened? I sit in nature a lot and take in the beauty of the outdoors and do some deep breathing focusing my eyes in front of me for 5 or 10 minutes.
 
Any suggestions? I so appreciate you taking the time to answer and all the best to you. xoxo

Answer:

Dear Gloria,

Yes, it absolutely can work to meditate with your eyes open.  In fact, there are several schools of meditation that suggest that it’s actually preferable to meditate with your eyelids at half-mast or only three quarters closed.
 
You can stare in this way with your eyes de-focusing – they’ll do that naturally - and that’s every bit as good as having them closed.
 
Or you can continue to do what you’ve been doing, which is appreciating the beauty of nature with your eyes open while doing some breathwork.  That may not be as immersive, however, as listening to some imagery with your eyes half-closed.
 
You could also try a guided walking meditation, which is deeply relaxing and restorative.  We have one on the Relieve Stress imagery audio if you want something with my voice, but there is a wonderful one with Thich Nhat Hanh and several others as well.
 
I’m so sorry you had to endure that bizarre and horrible lockdown and all the attendant violence, fear, injury and loss of life that were swirling around you.  I had kids in the area at the time, and once lived in Watertown myself – Barnard Avenue. I watched with great sadness as all this went down in that neighborhood that was so familiar.  I hope your recovery goes quickly and thoroughly.  The good news is, you recovered from your PTS once before and learned to manage your CFIDS symptoms.  That’s a good predictor that you will do so again.
 
Best wishes,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award