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A Steady Gaze

During meditation, ideally your mind will become settled – or at least more settled than it was.

In fact the nature of the mind is such that there will almost always be thoughts arising, and every meditator knows that the mind never settles completely – except perhaps in the highest exalted states of meditation that are talked about in certain spiritual texts, and always described as being difficult to attain. The general point, though, is to minimise the level of extraneous thought, by maintaining focus and attention on the subject/object of meditation.

In my own experience, after starting meditation, it may take a little while for the mind to settle, and some days are better or worse than others – depending on just how distracting the day’s events have been. On a “bad” day I might well feel a little frustrated that I never managed to get properly into the meditation, because my mind kept latching onto some thing or things that it wanted to process and re-process. On a “good” day however, I might go quickly into a focused meditative state, and feel the benefits of a calmer mind for some time afterward too.

On the Vipassana course, due to an almost utter lack of distractions, over the first few days my mind found less and less things to latch on to, and it became possible to go very quickly into a focused meditation. In fact the mental focus and stillness never completely left after each meditation, and the mind became much stiller and calmer on an ongoing basis.

I noticed the effects of this most around the 7th, 8th and 9th days of the course. And one of the ways in which it was most noticeable was in my gaze. My eyes would simply “lock” onto whatever I was looking at, with absolutely nothing to distract them, no motivation to move them away, and I would just observe and absorb whatever was there. In fact during one of the evening discourses, while watching a video of the course founder (S.N.Goenka) giving instruction and background, I noticed that my gaze seemed to be perfectly still for minutes at a time as he talked – maybe even for 10 minutes or more, but I can’t be sure because I was hardly glancing at a clock to find out!.

But it wasn’t until the course had just finished that I got a real taste of what a difference it had made. It happened when I turned on my iPhone for the first time in 10 days, to look up the weather forecast for the trip home. At first I thought there was something wrong with the iPhone – it seemed to be working very slowly. Irrationally, I even wondered if the battery was too low, but instantly dismissed the idea as impossible – obviously it was I who had changed, not the iPhone! Then I opened the weather app and started to scroll between the different screens. And amazingly the scrolling didn’t seem to work normally. Rather than seeing a smooth continuous scroll motion, as I had seen so many times before, what I was seeing was a series of sequential fixed frames – very clearly and distinctly, the same screen image was disappearing, then reappearing in a slightly different position over and over until the “scroll” finished.

I mentioned this to another course graduate who was nearby, and they exclaimed that they saw exactly the same thing. So clearly, what had happened here was that the intensive meditation had steadied our gaze so much that our eyes were no longer being fooled by what was clearly now just a simulation of scrolling.

Of course, having read this, if you watch your own iPhone carefully you might also be able to detect this stepping to some extent – but I suggest to you that it takes some careful observation to pick it up. To all intents and purposes, the eye normally sees it as smooth motion. And now, even just 2 days after the end of the course, my eye no longer picks it up. The scrolling once again appears to be almost completely smooth.

So what to make of this? To me this highlights just how refined our powers of observation could be, if we were only able to still our minds enough to make them more receptive and attentive. The example I’ve used may seem trivial, but the key thing it exposes how easily we can miss something, and can be fooled, even by our own eyes. I, for one, want to have greater powers of observations. I want to see things as they really are. Don’t you?

Meditation: 1 / Monkey mind: 0

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