Switch out to a new object for visual contemplation this week. We don’t want to get too attached to our object! As you go about your day, start to condition yourself to pause and look at things in this more reflective way. For example, when I go to the gym, every time I sit down at a new weight machine, I look at whatever is right in front of me with “the eye of contemplation” (a term from St. Bonaventure). I’ll do this at every stoplight, as well as at other times throughout the day. The point is to eventually mix meditation with post-meditation, so we change the way we see our entire world. Whatever the occasion, I stop my usual rapid eye movement (REM, literally the stage in sleep when we dream the most, a very interesting coincidence; is daytime REM conducive to getting lost in our daytime nonlucid dream?) Is speed of sight connected to speed of mind? When I slow down my eyes, I find that contemplative gaze helps arrest – and then open – my mind’s eye.
One way to end a dream, lucid or non-lucid, is to literally HOLD YOUR DREAM EYES STILL, which you can do by fixating your gaze on a dream object (sound familiar?). By holding your dream eyes still, you hold your physical eyes still, which arrests the REM that accompanies most dreams, and usually wakes you up from the dream (this connection between dream eyes and real eyes was used to prove lucid dreaming, when the dreamer would send signals to the scientists monitoring the dreamer, like morse code, to let the scientists know when the dreamer was lucid). In a similar way, by holding our eyes still with our exercise, we can eventually wake ourselves up from this dream , the dream of daily life. Once again, in the spirit of dream yoga, we can use what we do in the double delusion of the nighttime dream to help us wake up to (and then from) the primary delusion of the daytime state – precisely what the Buddha, the ultimate lucid dreamer, did 2500 years ago.
The neurologist Oliver Sachs wrote, “You don’t see with your eyes; you see with your brain.” A topic we’ll return to at length in Part 3 of this book. When congenitally blind people have their sight restored, they don’t see the same world that we do. They have to be trained to see as we do, gradually inculcated into the cult of duality. Restoring sight is less the work of the surgeon and more the work of the pedagogue. Yuval Noah Harari speaks to this education:
“Compared to other animals, humans are born premature, when many of their vital [and visual] systems are under-developed. . . . since they are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized to a far greater extent than any other animal. Most mammals emerge from the womb like glazed earthenware emerging from a kiln – any attempt at remoulding will only scratch or break them. Humans emerge from the womb like molten glass from a furnace. They can be spun, stretched and shaped with a surprising degree of freedom. This is why we can educate our children to become Christian or Buddhist, capitalist or socialist, warlike or peace-loving.”
We are trained into dualistic perception, by everyone around us (and assisted by our inherited karmic predispositions). Harari’s quote is interesting in terms of searching for tulkus, and why this is done very early – so that the deconstruction/ detoxification/re-education process is easier. There’s less addiction to duality if you’re removed from a toxic (dualistic) environment early. Our visual exercise is essentially one of de-training, detoxification, and re-education.
In stronger terms, it’s a process of deconstruction. The deconstruction follows this (alliterative) logic: to deconstruct is to de-automatize, and to de-automatize is to decelerate. So we start with deceleration, literal sitting shamatha, with an emphasis on visual deceleration. (Common parlance exhorts us to “hold our seat,” now we’re adding that we also “hold our gaze.”) As we’ve seen, part of our normal visual constructs are generated by speed of sight, how quickly our eyes dart across objects, skimming across things, and constantly stitching our world together (a process called flicker fusion in neuroscience).
Our visual exercise therefore works at physiological, psychological, and spiritual levels. Holding our eyes wide open and steady is a type of “visual shamatha,” or visual pacification/quiescence. That gesture of stasis, by itself, starts the re-education and de-automatization process. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche said, “One of our strongest habitual tendencies as sentient begins is that of moving . . . We do not have a very strong habitual tendency of stillness or resting. This is said to be the root of all confused habitual tendencies.” (We’ll return to this when we talk about the root of this confused habitual tendency as movement away from the nature of mind, which is reiterated every time we move away from the present moment in distraction.) This movement takes on added dimensions when we remember that the word for “karma” in Tibetan ( leh ) means “action,” which implies movement; and becomes even more interesting in Vajrayana language, where “thought” is literally referred to as “movement of mind.” In the spirit of “stealth help,” there’s a whole lot more going on here than meets the (untrained) eye.
Just like holding our body still in shamatha invites us to see things we’ve never seen before, holding our eyes still in this exercise invites us to see even further into things we’ve never seen. This is how shamatha matures into vipashyana – literally “clear seeing” (a term that also takes on new meaning for us). A clarity of vision that begins by silencing the eyes. It’s amazing what you can hear if you remain in silence; even more amazing what you can see if you silence your eyes.