At first traditional meditation was very difficult for me. Sitting? Crossing my legs? Straightening my back? Easing into it? All of these things felt like an imaginary checklist I was attempting to tick off each time I tried meditation. I was focusing more on what I thought I needed to be doing to relax all the while, fully relaxing. I’ve found that personally, this is my favorite way to ‘zen out’.
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Within Tibetan Buddhism there is a meditation practice called Sky Gazing. This tradition comes from an emphasizes resting in a natural state, free from conceptual elaborations. When in this natural state, it can feel entirely open and clear in your mind—very freeing. Many of us have experienced this state of ‘spontaneous awareness’ while staring at the sun without realizing it.
I can’t stop gazing…
Sky Gazing cuts through many of the challenges people have when they learn to meditate. You can’t help but relax, gaze at the sky, and explore what’s happening at that moment. This can be at day or night thankfully for us ‘gazers’. You can do this practice with the clear blue sky or at night among the stars. My preference heavily depends on where I am. Stars are better for gazing at in warmer, open sky, low light polluted areas while clouds/sky are better for me during colder months in the park or my backyard.
After the brain, our eyes are arguably the most complex organ in our bodies, containing more than 200 million working parts. Don’t believe me? Look at the perhaps familiar optical illusions that require gazing below. What do you see? Are the circles spinning in the first picture? Do the dots move in the second animated (like marking signs) illusion? Is this staircase really ‘impossible’ to end?
One of the most reassuring thing for me in regards to Sky Gazing is that just as our minds are always ‘here’ with us, so is the sky. It’s always just a quick ‘gaze’ away. They are both permanent fixtures that exist at all times in all places. When I am sky gazing, I find that when negative and unwanted thoughts arise it is much easier to see them off with the sky as the backdrop to my mind and view.
How do you “do” Sky Gazing?
- Lie (or sit) down anywhere comfortable outside and get settled into your own breathing pattern
- Once you’re relaxed, focus on your outward breathing and let it sit there. If your mind is wandering try to steer it to how your body reacts after each exhale but don’t get distracted.
- Stare the horizon and just rest your gaze there. Your eyes should be softly kept open, not focusing on any one thing.
- Let your gaze rise and fall with your natural breathing pattern unchanging it if possible (remember, it’s natural).
- Whenever thoughts, emotions, and body sensations creep in, let them be, until they fade away on their own. Don’t try to push them out.
- Hone in on your inner awareness with your breathing. You noticing a pattern here? Focusing on your breathing allows you to focus on you. Follow it with your awareness and notice or imagine how it fades into the inner space of the sky view before you.
- Try to notice and fully realize that the sky you are viewing is one with your mind and just as open. The sky and your mind are both so open in this state they could easily connect. Your visual sky is exactly the same as the inner sky like mind. (I often hum or or find a few words to repeat in my mind like ‘Sky’ or ‘Space’ to repeat over and over.)
- The next part of Sky Gazing is personal and will differ from another person. As your mind and body react to the distracted gazing it may have different physical responses. That is Sky Gazing, whatever happens in your mind and body is all a part of Sky Gazing.
I’ve found that starting with only 5 minutes of Sky Gazing and working my way up to almost 25 minutes was the best strategy for me! Sometimes I can only practice for 10 minutes and other times, my mind takes me for a easy 20 minute gazing ride. Your experience might differ and that’s okay. Sky Gazing is not about “spacing out”. Rather it’s about staying with and seeing through the trackless thoughts and emotions of your mind and body and releasing it into the sky. This teaches us not to dwell on any one detail but rather take in the whole view, even if not clear at times.
See if you can include whatever shows up in your mind and hold-back from analyzing it. Just let it be and feel free…
Images courtesy of: 13 Optical Illusions That Will Blow Your Mind