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“The eyes are the gateway to the soul.” — Herman Melville

The eyes spend the day taking in the external world by gathering up images for the mind to dutifully sort in the effort to gain perspective and clarity. For most of us, the only time the eyes rest is when we are sleeping.

The practice of gazing is said to sharpen our inner awareness or insight

Retreating from the constant input of impressions is necessary in order to sleep, or even rest the mind. Another way to do this when we are awake is the practice of gazing meditation. It involves staring at one object in order to slow the flow of impressions and images bombarding our mind.

We have all have caught ourselves staring off into space at one time or another. You may notice at that moment there is a sense of being disengaged or deeply quiet. This is just one way the mind takes a little break from that constant influx of sensory input, and it is the impulse behind this practice.

Sometimes when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I take a moment to simply cast the gaze of my eyes downward and soften it for a few moments. It’s amazing what this simple technique can accomplish in just a few breaths. Recently, I was sitting in meditation when a very light snowfall began outside my window. I decided to use this moment to practice gazing. As my eyes fell softly on the falling snow, I let my gaze relax as I held my eyes half open and half closed. I noticed a sense of calm come over me in just moments. After several minutes of gazing I made the transition to my other meditation practice.

Gazing has been a long-practiced meditation technique. It can be done as a stand-alone meditation practice or when you need to gather up and settle down. It can also be incorporated with other meditation techniques.

While the eyes are often closed during the practice of meditation to draw the attention inward, gazing meditation is done with the eyes open, softly and gently directed to an external object such as a flower, candle flame or beautiful scene. The practice of gazing is said to sharpen our inner awareness or insight. It can be extremely calming for the mind and is also said to have a powerful effect on the eyes, concentration, and memory.

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It can also be a nice transitional stepping stone to move the attention from the external world to the internal world before practicing other forms of meditation.

In the yoga tradition it is said that we have two eyes to gaze out into the world and one eye to gaze inward, often referred to as our third eye.

Simple Steps to Practice A Candle Gazing Meditation

This same technique can be used to gaze at any external image that feels uplifting and calming.

If you are using a candle, make sure to trim the wick so the flame stays steadier.

  1.  Find a comfortable steady seated pose either in a chair or on the floor.
  2.  Place a lit candle in front of you either at eye level or on the floor. (if you set the candle on the floor try not to let your head fall forward in an effort to see the candle. Maintain a balanced and steady seated pose)
  3. Settle into your seated pose as you take several conscious, slow, deep breaths.
  4. Let the eyes soften and relax as you gaze upon the candle flame. Notice any sensations you feel. Let your attention rest there for as long as feels comfortable.
  5. When the eyes grow tired, gently close them and bring the image of the candle flame behind the eyes or to the point between the eyebrows.
  6. Visualize the flame at that point. When the image of the flame fades, then allow the eyes to softly open again. (This may be familiar since many of us have found ourselves staring at candles or even a campfire and feeling drawn in by the sense of stillness it inspires in us.)
  7.   Continue the practice of gazing at the flame and then closing the eyes and holding the image behind the eyes (or the point between the eyebrows).
  8.  At some point you may not want to open the eyes to the external flame. At that point feel free to rest inside of yourself with the image. You may instead find that keeping the eyes fixed on the flame with out closing them is more helpful for you. You may even notice that this practice serves as a foundation for moving inward with other practices of breathing and meditation.
  9.  Observe how you feel. Let the practice be fluid. If it helps you in calming the mind then adopt it as your own. Play with it and find a way to use it in your own life.

What do you notice when you meditate with your eyes open vs closed?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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