Walking with eyes unfocused

A particularly intransigent problem in the practice of Yoga is that of retention of power; the fleeting contact that one gains with the Higher Power during meditation seems to dissipate within a few minutes after meditation, after which one finds oneself uncomfortably thrust back into the ugly daily persona – an amalgam of anxiety, impatience, ambition and what not.   The way out of this dilemma is to embrace a daily regimen of  control over conversation, food, television and computer usage and other activities which “externalize” the consciousness.  The exercise discussed in this article “walking with eyes unfocused” can also extend the retention of consciousness.

When we are busy with various daytime activities, we are seldom aware that our consciousness is perpetually recording even the tiniest upheavals occurring within our mind and heart.   These upheavals invariably sink into our subconscious, gradually gain strength to become habit formations and also rise up later at night in the form of incoherent dreams.   While this recording cannot be prevented, its ill-effects can be mitigated by the practice of  walking meditation, which calms the volatile waking consciousness by temporarily inhibiting the churning in the mind and the heart. One can potentially experience a peace and calm descending and saturating the mind, heart and the rest of the frontal being

Exercise: Walk alone for long stretches while allowing the eyes to lazily scan the horizon.  Without focusing on anything in particular, one’s vision should take in all the objects (people, buildings, trees) which appear within sight without  getting distracted by any of them.  There should be no conversation within oneself or with another person.  Chant a Mantra if required to improve the effect.

Photo :Gotinha. Click image for source

Carlos Castaneda on this exercise

(The most prominent reference to this exercise is in the works of Carlos Castaneda, which we excerpt here.)

At the beginning of our association don Juan had delineated another procedure: walking for long stretches without focusing the eyes on anything. His recommendation had been to not look at anything directly but, by slightly crossing the eyes, to keep a peripheral view of everything that presented itself to the eyes. He had insisted, although I had not understood at the time, that if one kept one’s unfocused eyes at a point just above the horizon, it was possible to notice, at once, everything in almost the total 180-degree range in front of one’s eyes. He had assured me that that exercise was the only way of shutting off the internal dialogue (i.e stop the thought process). He used to ask me for reports on my progress, and then he stopped inquiring about it.

I told don Juan that I had practiced the technique for years without noticing any change, but I had expected none anyway. One day, however, I had the shocking realization that I had just walked for about ten minutes without having said a single word to myself.

I mentioned to don Juan that on that occasion I also became cognizant that stopping the internal dialogue involved more than merely curtailing the words I said to myself. My entire thought processes had stopped and I had felt I was practically suspended, floating. A sensation of panic had ensued from that awareness and I had to resume my internal dialogue as an antidote.

“I’ve told you that the internal dialogue is what grounds us,” don Juan said. “The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such or so and so.”

(Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power, p 13)

[In another passage, Carlos Castaneda's teacher explains that this exercise works because it floods the tonal (i.e. saturates the five senses and calms the surface personality).   Tonal denotes the surface personality.  ]

“How does the right way of walking stop the internal dialogue?” I asked.

“Walking in that specific manner (described above) saturates the tonal”, he said. “It floods it. You see, the attention of the tonal has to be placed on its creations. In fact, it is that attention that creates the order of the world in the first place; so, the tonal must be attentive to the elements of its world in order to maintain it, and must, above all, uphold the view of the world as internal dialogue.”  He said that the right way of walking was a subterfuge. The warrior, first by curling his fingers, drew attention to the arms; and then by looking, without focusing his eyes, at any point directly in front of him on the arc that started at the tip of his feet and ended above the horizon, he literally flooded his tonal with information. The tonal, without its one-to-one relation with the elements of its description, was incapable of talking to itself, and thus one became silent.

Don Juan explained that the position of the fingers did not matter at all, that the only consideration was to draw attention to the arms by clasping the fingers in various unaccustomed ways, and that the important thing was the manner in which the eyes, by being kept unfocused, detected an enormous number of features of the world without being clear about them. He added that the eyes in that state were capable of picking out details which were too fleeting for normal vision.

(Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power, p 237)

Other references to this exercise

The Buddhists practice walking meditation (see here for example) and the Sivananda school of Yoga prescribes something known as Chankramanam (meditative walking).   Sri Aurobindo used to practice walking meditation as well, which brings us to this amusing anecdote narrated by the Mother Mirra Alfassa.

”The other story is of the days Sri Aurobindo had the habit of walking up and down in his rooms. He used to walk for several hours like that, it was his way of meditating. Only, he wanted to know the time, so a clock had been put in each room to enable him to see the time at any moment. There were three such clocks. One was in the room where I worked; it was, so to say, his starting-point. One day he came and asked, “What time is it?” He looked and the clock had stopped. He went into the next room, saying, “I shall see the time there” — the clock had stopped. And it had stopped at the same minute as the other, you understand, with the difference of a few seconds. He went to the third room…the clock had stopped. He continued walking three times like that — all the clocks had stopped! Then he returned to my room and said, “But this is impossible! This is surely a bad joke!” and all the clocks, one after the other, started working again. I saw it myself, you know, it was a charming incident.”

(Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 4, Questions and Answers 1950-51, p.275-6)

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15 thoughts on “Walking with eyes unfocused

  1. Bodhipaksa

    Thanks for the link to Wildmind’s guide to walking meditation. You may also find this article about “Meditation and mental bandwidth” to be very relevant to the interesting discussion above. In fact this principle of overloading the senses in order to bring about mental stillness is central to the way I teach meditation.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Gorakhnath’s enumeration of contemplation methods | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  3. a_dt

    In “Discovery of the Presence of God”, Dr. D. R. Hawkins says about “contemplation”:

    QUOTE
    Meditation and contemplation are merely descriptive styles. They are not separate because the processes are essentially the same. In practice, traditional formal meditation is a process that requires removal from the activities of daily life. However, it tends to develop a certain specialness and becomes compartmentalized and sporadic over time. [...] It is more profitable to apply the essential mudra/position/focus/intention in a style that can be done continuously so that contemplation becomes a lifestyle, with one’s life becoming the meditation. the evolution is to turn one’s life into a prayer/contemplation/meditation/supplication and surrender. One’s life becomes the prayer – the prayer is the contemplation.

    The contemplative lifestyle facilitates transfer of the sense of identity from body/mind to witness/observer, which is more primary and closer to the Truth of the Self and Reality. The next step is the withdrawal of the sense of “i” from the witness/observer, where it moves to the faculty of consciousness/awareness itself, which is a quality rather than a personage. One major advantage of being the witness/observer instead of the participant is that the witness does not talk; it just sees without comment. It could be said that the witness/observer is aligned with the forest rather than the trees.

    Question: How can contemplation be instituted, started, or learned? It is a decision?
    Answer: it is only a matter of awareness. It is really nothing new and therefore does not need to be learned but only given attention. A useful decision or choice is to decide to stop mentally talking about everything and refrain from interjecting comments, opinions, preferences, and value statements. It is therefore a discipline to just watch without evaluating, investing worth in, or editorializing, commenting, and having preferences about what is witnessed. One then sees the rising and falling away of phenomena and the transitory nature of appearance, which, with ordinary mentation, is conceptualized as a sequence of cause and effect. It is an informative practice to ‘pretend’ to be stupid, and by the invocation of radical humility, Essence shines forth. All thinking, from a spiritual viewpoint, is merely vanity, illusion, and pomposity. The less one thinks, the more delightful life becomes. Thinkingness eventually becomes replaced by knowingness. That one ‘is’ does not really need any thought at all. It is helpful, therefore, to make a decision to stop mental conversation and useless babbling.
    [....]

    Question: Is a contemplative lifestyle possible in today’s world?
    Answer: With strong intention, daily life conforms. Contemplation implies nonattachment, which does not preclude activity.
    END QUOTE

    Reply
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  6. K

    Don Juan frequently mentions about Petty Tyrants.I am wondering whether one have a spiritual benefit suffering under them, if that is the case then life is full of opportunities to be with these Petty Tyrants.They are everywhere , home, workplace, religion and where not.

    But I am not sure about the rationale of spiritual benefit by suffering under them, the Petty Tyrants.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      K: They are everywhere , home, workplace, religion and where not.

      Well said! :-)

      I think people appear to be petty tyrants only as long your ego shell is intact and you lack discipline. That doesn’t mean there aren’t actual tyrants but that you can work around such people tactfully when you become flexible and have nothing to lose.

      As long as you live in the external personality (vital being), you expect comfort and ease from the people around you (e.g. you want people to be nice, you want to be loved, you want to be respected). Petty tyrants annihilate that assumption and make you confront your fixed habits and idealistic expectations. The end result is that you surrender to the Divine and start “living in the psychic”.

      Petty Tyrants cease to trouble you once you know how to subdue the inner vibration that they evoke in you. As the Mother said: “External circumstances are merely the reflection of what you inwardly are”.

      Reply
  7. K

    //you can work around such people tactfully //
    In the present time, so much emphasis is given to develop the skill of being assertive.I think
    what you are meaning is a different type of skill or rather different state of mind where there won’t be any need to be assertive, as being assertive also is another strong expression of Ego
    which may be Satvic in nature.

    // The end result is that you surrender to the Divine and start “living in the psychic//
    It happens inevitably as one loses control in dealing either with people or situations.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      K: It happens inevitably as one loses control in dealing either with people or situations.

      No, that can’t be called “living in the psychic” :-)
      It is possible to be persistent and patient and change petty tyrants .

      The greatest living example is the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      In a recent CNN interview, she says she harbours no ill-will against the Burmese generals who ruled the country with an iron hand for several decades, who kept her under house arrest for 15 years, and who prevented her from seeing her dying husband.

      AMANPOUR: You’re now working with the former general; Thein Sein is now the president of your country. These are the people who prevented you from seeing your husband, who kept your children separated from you, not to mention the oppression in your country itself. Tell me what it is like to now have to be a politician and work with this group of people.

      SUU KYI: I’ve never thought that what they did to me was personal anyway. It is politics. And if you decide to go into politics, you have to be prepared to put up with this kind of — with these kind of problems. I like a lot of the generals. I’m rather inclined to liking people.

      AMANPOUR: That would sound pretty dramatic for people to hear, that you like the generals.

      SUU KYI: Well, I’ve always got on with people in the army. You mustn’t forget that my father was the founder of the Burmese army. And this is why I have a soft spot for them, even though I don’t like what they do. That’s different from not liking them.

      AMANPOUR: I’m stunned.

      SUU KYI: Are you really?

      AMANPOUR: Yes. I’m stunned.

      SUU KYI: I think it’s perfectly natural for me to feel this way.

      From http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1209/21/ampr.01.html

      This is the video starting at 3 minutes
      http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/tag/burma-aung-san-suu-kyi/

      She says Nehru and Gandhi were her major influences

      Reply
      1. nizken

        Sandeep, just curious…..where and how do you find the time to post all this information from? All your posts are quite eclectic and cover info from a very wide area. I’m assuming it would take an enormous amount of time to collect and post all these links and replies here?

        Reply
        1. Sandeep Post author

          The pedestrian explanation is that it is the work of several years. The modern yogi has to know western philosophy, other religions, linguistics, physics, biology, psychology, neuroscience, sociology because they are all investigating, albeit partially, the same realm of consciousness.

          The spiritual explanation is that other burdens are decreased with progress on the spiritual path. Ramakrishna Paramahansa who invariably spoke in parables gave the illustration of the daughter-in-law who is excused from housework.

          “The nearer you approach God, the more He lessens your work. When the daughter-in-law in a household conceives, her mother-in-law gradually decreases her work. As soon as she reaches the ninth month of pregnancy, she ceases to work. When the baby is born, she only busies herself playing with it and enjoying herself with it.”

          From http://www.kathamrita.org/kathamrita3/k3sec07.htm

          Reply
      2. Sandeep Post author

        >> The greatest living example is the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi

        I forgot to mention Nelson Mandela who is still alive at 94 !

        Reply
      3. Sandeep Post author

        What motivates petty tyrants ?

        “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” — Aung San Suu Kyi

        Reply

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