“Of all the senses, sight must be the most delightful.” ~ Helen Keller
Eyes invite people in, giving others a glimpse into the deepest parts of ourselves.
It also works the other way around; eyes are our window out onto the visual world. For those of us with functioning vision, it’s estimated that 80% of our sensory information about the world comes through our sense of sight.
Looking into the eyes of those we love, feels like magic.
Really looking at people in the eye can help us connect with them and understand them better.
A whole realm of empathy can form around the simple act of people looking at each other.
In other words, we’re very dependent on seeing, for building our identity and wellbeing. Look how many expressions exist in the English language based on eye metaphors or analogies:
Do you see? Try to look at it through my eyes. An eye for an eye. Do we see eye to eye? To see with the naked eye. Wide-eyed.
It goes on.
Our eyes are very complex mechanisms that link our brains and minds to the visual field. They do incredibly uncanny things, such as helping us to distinguish objects, perceive depth and experience color. It’s almost impossible to fathom that these little pieces of matter, lodged in our heads, can do so much.
It’s very important to consider how and why we make sense of the world the way we do, and why we’re so dependent on our sense of sight (try practicing navigating through the house blindfolded or listening to movies rather than watching them, for example).
It’s also a really good idea to take care of our eyes.
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again.”
~ Sylvia Plath
We know this intuitively. We ‘look inward’ when we meditate, turning ourselves over to our inner eye, and washing, purifying and strengthening the powers of our ajna chakras, or third eye.
We can only complement this process of inner seeing by nurturing our physical eyes. One of the basic yoga kriyas, or cleansing techniques, you can do every morning, involves cupping your hands, filling them with water and thoroughly rinsing your eyes in it.
A more comprehensive kriya for cleansing the eyes, is Trataka—a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to gaze upon’ or ‘to look.’ Trataka is a fixed-gaze meditation that I like to think of as a natural wonder drug for the eyes.
On a physical level, looking unwaveringly at one object for a substantial duration strengthens the eye muscles and is known to help those with insomnia. It can facilitate improvement in vision, making it an excellent tool for avid readers and chronic computer-users.
Trataka also triggers or prompts physical and emotional release—the idea is that by stilling ourselves, we can allow that proverbial ‘stuff’ to come up and wash away.
Yogis use Trataka to stimulate the third eye and develop concentration skills, considered integral in their own right. This enables them to move into more advanced meditations that would be impossible without an ability to tame distraction and cultivate an ability to focus.
How Trataka works
Note: Trataka can be done using virtually any unmoving object, such as a dot on the wall. I find using the flame of a candle, to be very powerful and intimate.
1: Light a candle; place on the floor, or table, in front of you.
2: Sit in a comfortable position, preferably with your spine straight, and surround yourself with anything you might normally use in meditation or relaxation practices to create a peaceful, conducive atmosphere.
3: Take a few deep breaths; allow your body to relax for a moment and slowly become aware of it.
4: Look at the wick inside the flame—if using a candle—as the centring point, and perform the following movements:
– Move your eyes from left to right several times.
– Look up and then down several times.
– Look diagonally up to the left and down to the right several times.
– Look diagonally up to the right and down to the left several times.
5: Rest your eyes on the wick of the flame and keep your eyes open. Fix your gaze, remaining fully aware of the flame until your eyes grow very tired or start to water.
6: Close your eyes and concentrate on the image of the flame between your eyes in the center of your forehead. Try to keep the image stable. When the image begins to fade, try to bring it back.
7: Open your eyes and repeat steps five and six, one or two more times.
In the beginning, you can concentrate on the flame for one—two minutes, increasing this amount of time with practice. Observe any emotions that arising without thinking about, or judging, them.
You might also notice that this exercise helps you learn to “open your eyes” to your environment in a new and more vibrant way, and the benefits of seeing things anew are, of course, innumerable.
“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”
~ Albert Einstein
* This article first appeared in elephant journal.