When Meditating, Eyes Open or Closed?

People often ask if you should have your eyes open or closed when meditating. Either way is fine.

Different teachers will prefer one or the other. For example, the Shambhala tradition teaches eyes open because meditation for them is about becoming fully awake. They teach that you should keep your eyes open so that it will be easier to bring the meditation experience to your everyday life. If you can become relaxed and present while meditating with your eyes open, it becomes easier to tap into that feeling when you are our in everyday life. If falling asleep is a trouble spot, then keeping the eyes open can help.

However, many practicioners teachers use the eyes-closed method. Having your eyes closed is a totally different experience. It is more introspective and relaxing. With the eyes closed, some people find it easier to get deeper into the experience since there are fewer distractions.

Personally, I meditate with my eyes open because I bought into the idea that it would be easier to translate to everyday life. However, on those days when it’s really tough to focus, I close them.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


A Case For Eyes Closed

A Case For Eyes Open

Meditation and Lifestyle

What is the inter-relation between meditation and your lifestyle? How does one effect the other? This may include your job, your diet, your family, and how you chose to spend your time. You may be surprised to hear this story recounted by Shinzen Young on his website, “I once heard a group of Americans invite a Japanese Zen monk out for dinner. 'What do you like?' they asked. 'I not like mac-ro-biotic. I like mac-do-nald,' was his reply.”


Often when we begin meditation routines, our lives begin to take on deeper meanings and follow more enlightened paths. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle talks about interweaving one's outer purpose with one's inner purpose. He says that our outer purposes (such as being an accountant or a student) don't really matter as long as we do them in a way that expresses our inner purpose. However, once we begin to live deeper, more meaningful, spiritual lives, often our old outer purposes have lost meaning. It is not uncommon to find that after a spiritual awakening a new career is in order. It's nice, of course, when our outsides can match our insides and vice versa. If daily meditation is prompting you to make changes to your job, go for it.

When it comes to diet and nutrition, you'll find meditators of every persuasion—as the quote says, from macrobiotic to MacDonalds. Many strict Buddhists do eat vegetarian, vegan, or other special diets, and if you are so motivated such a diet would certainly not harm you or your meditation practice. Again, the longer we meditate, the deeper meaning our lives have, and the more important it becomes to treat the body as a temple. In meditation, we reach our hands out and feel the precious gift of life. Upon feeling that, it's hard not to treat it with the utmost respect. Just like many lose the desire to sit in a cubicle shuffling papers all day, some also lose interest in junk food and other unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking. As these things stand in direct opposition to the entire point of meditating, they are good things to evolve past.

Have you also noticed that meditating has affected your family life? Some may find that they are a better parent—more patient, more loving, more accepting, more tolerant, more fun-loving. Meditation might also give you the inner-strength, peace, and courage to repair old family hostilities and grudges. It is hard to justify harshness towards one's children or holding on to family dramas when one is simultaneously devoting time to mindfulness and attaining greater serenity.

Furthermore, the more involved you get with your meditation practice, the more you may find other aspects of your life also changing. For example, you may be less interested in watching TV and playing video games. Perhaps you'll find yourself reading more or spending more time working in the garden or on other outdoor hobbies.

There is no right or wrong way to live as a meditator, but as long as you are being true to yourself, then your practice has meaning.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com





Is There Such a Thing As a Bad Meditation?

Have you ever gone into a meditation with high hopes of reaching the great, deep, peaceful, distraction-free space that you got to yesterday or last week? It's probably safe to say we've all been in that position. Sometimes we just can't get there, and that's OK too. 

Personally, I don't think there is anything like a “bad” meditation. Even a meditation session that was a bit on the shallow, distracted, or superficial side would nevertheless still be 20 minutes of quiet time and stillness, a gift in and of itself. If a particular meditation experience turns into one long planning session, there were likely a few times where the brain got exercise by bringing attention back to the breath. If it is particularly hard to stay seated, it’s progress to stay with it for just a bit longer, no matter how long.

It is important to remember that meditation requires practice. Why do we practice? Because proper meditation takes effort, discipline, and concentration. It is a learned skill that must be honed and maintained. If meditation were just as simple as closing your eyes and breathing than it would hardly be something worth attaining. The entire point of meditation is that it is a special time. It is sacred. It isn't a common phenomena or feeling. It is something to be attained or earned.

Some days just can't be “winners.” This is a fact of life. Consider a poor meditation session as another opportunity to practice the basic principles of meditation—acceptance, mindfulness, self-awareness, etc. You can even use it as an opportunity to take your next session more seriously, if that is the right word. Learn from the session you are unhappy with and focus on what can be improved for next time.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


Pros and Cons of Using Guided Meditation CDs

Guided meditation CDs are very popular today. There are a myriad of different guided meditation CDs available—some focusing on general meditation (enlightenment, relaxation) and others very targeted to specific goals (weight loss, financial stability). You can even get a wide variety of guided meditation MP3s from purelifemeditation.com, iTunes and Amazon.com. Are guided meditation CDs effective? What pros and cons are there to using them?


Guided meditation is when someone else talks you through a meditation session. They may begin by telling you how to sit, how to breathe, and what to focus on. As the session progresses, the guide may walk you through certain images, give you mantras to repeat, and so on. At the end, the guide will show you slowly out of the meditation and have you re-open your eyes. While you can participate in a guided meditation in person with a meditation coach or group, what is most common today seems to be the use of pre-recorded guided meditations.

Some meditation traditionalists feel that guided meditation fails to teach the meditator mental discipline and concentration power. There is no doubt that self-directed meditation does genuinely teach one how to meditate while a guided meditation merely provides the experience of meditation. What is the difference and why does it matter? Like anything else, if you have the ability to reach that deep meditative state on your own, that merely means you have a deeper understanding, awareness, and respect for it. Because meditation is an activity so closely related to mental discipline, it is a particularly valuable skill to have. Research shows that experienced meditators develop better behaviors and healthier feelings than non-meditators—this is because they have actually changed their brain structures through the process of repetitive meditation. None of these benefits have been observed in those who practice only guided meditations.

If the choice is, however, something or nothing, a guided meditation is definitely better than nothing! The truth is that we live in a fast-paced world in which many people seek out meditation solely for relaxation and inner-peace. Not everyone is interested in training their brain or the proper Eastern tradition of meditation—it's just that simple. There are a million different reasons to meditate and types of people doing it. For example, those who are meditating to relieve symptoms of their ADHD may find that guided meditations are the only thing that works for them—period. Those who are too busy and spread thin with a variety of commitments may appreciate that meditation is one of the few things they don't have to “work at” but can just sit down and enjoy. Guided CDs can bring many master teachers right into your home or work. You may never be able to attend a class by Ekhart Tolle but you can listen to his ideas and teachings any day of the week. The possibilities are limitless.  

Regardless of your situation, it never hurts to have a few guided meditation CDs handy. You never know when you might want or need a little assistance from such a source to get into your meditation routine.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

photo courtesy of Axel Kramer

How to Maintain a Regular Meditation Practice

Does the task of maintaining a regular meditation practice seem daunting? For many, especially those new to meditation, meditating daily can be like anything unfamiliar – there is a lot of anticipation and fear before you start but much satisfaction after you become familiar with the routine. In order to make meditation be a welcomed practice each day, it is beneficial to reduce that initial anxiety. How?

What is it that intimidates you the most about meditating each day? Is it the time commitment? Is it that you struggle turning the voice in the head off? Is it that you have intrusive thoughts of past traumas when you close your eyes? As you come to understand your resistance to meditation, you can begin to deal with it. There are solutions to any hurdles you are feeling. Something that helps many new meditators ease into a daily regimen is remembering that even after a “low-quality” or “unsatisfactory” meditation session, one still feels some sense of peace and serenity. Something is always accomplished!

It is helpful to create a meditation regimen that you can turn into a routine. Maybe for you, it's easier to start out meditating just 3 times a week for only 10 minutes each. If this is less intimidating, go with it. Many people find that immediately before bed or upon waking in the morning is the best time to meditate—fewer distractions and a quieter mind. Others find it helpful to create a special “meditation space” in which they can go to get away from distraction. Their special meditation places may have small fountains, comfortable floor cushions, incense burning, a stereo with a collection of relaxing CDs, a timer, plants, and other soothing sounds and sights. Additionally, it can be helpful to have a selection of guided meditation CDs on hand for days when you aren't feeling up to the task. Finding a local meditation group can also put you in the company of a support system and kindred spirits.

To maintain a regular meditation practice, some find routine helpful, others find it to be a turn-off. Personally, I prefer meditating some days with a group and other days alone; sometimes in the morning and other times in the afternoon and still other times twice a day; sometimes in my house and other times outside in nature. I enjoy varying my meditation technique based on the mood and needs of the day—sometimes using visual imagery, other times focusing on loving compassion, and other times with a guided meditation CD.

Either way, learn about meditation. The more you know, the stronger your practice will become. Any meditation road block you are feeling has no doubt been experienced by countless meditators before you. Don't give up! Meditation is a learned skill that must be regularly practiced and honed to function optimally. Know that each time you meditate, it will get easier, less intimidating, more effective, and more profound. Make a commitment for meditation to be a priority, and it will show you very quickly why it is worth it—before you know it, meditating will feel like coming home to an old friend. You'll magically have all the time you need for it. 

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


Do You Have Intrusive Thoughts When You Meditate?

Welcome to meditation! Evidence suggests that the conscious human mind is only able to hold onto one thought for a maximum of about 3 seconds. On the flip side, this explains why intrusive thoughts can be such an interruption during meditation. Of course, the whole point of meditation is to turn the ongoing, chattering voice in the head off for a few minutes. The ongoing dialogue in our minds is responsible for almost all of the anguish we experience—it makes us stressed, worried, anxious, angry, jealous, and even crazy.

Todo list

The general rule when meditating is if an unwanted or intrusive thought pops into your mind, simply acknowledge it and re-focus back on the meditation. While it can be frustrating for that song you heard last night to keep popping into your mind or to want to keep adding to the to-do list, allowing yourself to succumb to the frustration will only get you further and further away from the peace and serenity you are seeking through the meditation. Have the awareness that even if an intrusive thought arises, it will not ruin your meditation. It is something that happens to every meditator—let it go.

Another great way to stop the thinking mind during meditation is by focusing on being present. This is why breathing can be an essential tool for meditation. As you very consciously breathe in and out, focusing on this simple, life-affirming activity, your mind will be able to relax. Presence is about being here and now. That means the mind has not drifted off somewhere else (there) and is not obsessively worrying about upcoming events or painful past traumas (then). This is why Buddhist teacher Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of Now is an international best-seller. Being present, in the now, brings the peace and serenity sought through meditation simply by quieting the voice in the head.

Some prefer to ward off intrusive thoughts by repeating an affirmation or mantra as they meditate. You might think in your mind, focusing your energies on this, “I am unconditional love. I am open to love. I believe in love.” Perhaps you prefer, “I am relaxed. I am calm. I am free. I am patient.” By directing your energies towards a specific desired mantra, you can help keep your energies away from undesired thoughts.

If you experience intrusive thoughts that are violent or flashbacks of traumas you have endured, it is recommended that you seek the advice of a trained professional to help you work through these issues. Meditation may not be appropriate for you if you are experiencing flashbacks each time you try to close your eyes and relax.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


How to Use Contemplation During Meditation

According to spiritual coach and mentor Timothy Paul, contemplation with regards to meditation is, “The inner awareness of Source at all times. It is a loving, peaceful, ever present relationship with Source. It is a gentle whisper, a hug, a loving kiss from within that allows you to truly experience what life is. It increases your awareness of the present moment and at times, if you allow, fills you with joy and happiness and gratitude.” Traditional meditation's aim is to be without thought, soaking up the serenity of the stillness. On the other hand, contemplative meditation, or analytical meditation as it is also known, has a different approach.

Branches During a contemplative meditation, you will consciously focus on a particular thought. In Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's book Turning the Mind into an Ally, these suggested steps are given for contemplative meditation:

  • Calm the mind by resting on the breathing.
  • When you feel ready, bring up a certain thought or intention in the form of words.
  • Use these words as the object of meditation, continually returning to them as distractions arise.
  • In order to help rouse the heartfelt experience of their meaning, think about the words. Bring ideas and images to mind to inspire the meaning.
  • As the meaning of the words begins to penetrate, let the words drop away, and rest in that.
  • Become familiar with that meaning as it penetrates.
  • Conclude your session and arise from your meditation with the meaning in your heart. 'Meaning' is direct experience, free of words.
  • Now enter the world aspiring to conduct yourself with the view of your contemplation. For example if you have been contemplating the preciousness of human birth, your view will be one of appreciation.

Suggested thoughts or intentions to use for contemplative meditation may be things you struggle with but would like to be more accepting of. If you are having relationship difficulty, you may envision stepping inside your partner's body and walking around in their life for awhile, seeing you and the relationship through their eyes. You may also find it helpful to write down your thought for the meditation to help you get 100% clear before you begin. Try to condense the thought into one clear, concise, brief sentence if possible. As usual, give great attention to your breathing, upright posture, and quiet mind during a session of contemplative meditation.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com




image courtesy of Axel Kramer


Using Your Senses During Meditation

Sometimes it seems we view our senses as distractions from good meditation. The senses have to be overcome in order to get into that deep meditative space. Something you can try is doing just the opposite—using and actively focusing on your senses during meditation. This is a great activity to practice mindfulness and noting as well.

IStock_000006270894Medium You might start your sensory experience by doing what is called “walking meditation.” Walk around your neighborhood or a natural feature nearby (river, lake, forest, hilltop) and merely take in whatever you sense. What are you smelling? Seeing? Hearing? Touching? Observe and be aware without classifying the sensations. Merely be mindful. You might consider this your “pre-meditation.” Upon return to your house, do a formal sensory meditation in the same way.

You can also do meditations in which you focus solely on one of your senses.

For example, here are some ideas for hearing meditations:

  • Listen to the regular noises around you with your eyes closed. Do you hear a refrigerator humming that skipped your attention before? Are people walking or cars passing outside? What does silence sound like? Pretend you're at a symphony focusing on each and every sound.
  • Meditate with a CD on very quietly so that you have to focus intently to hear it.
  • Plug your ears with cotton balls or even your fingers and listen to the sounds inside your body.

For smelling meditations, try any of the following:

  • Have several fragrant objects in front of you and begin your meditation. Once into a deepened state, place one of the fragrant objects by your nose and just be mindful of the smell. Allow yourself to scan through any memories you have associated with the smell. It is best to pick pleasant-smelling objects (no stinky gym socks). Try a flower, a scented candle, essential oil, cinnamon, garlic, herbs, etc.
  • Close your eyes and merely observe what the space around you smells like. Does the smell convey anything to you? If you smell “nothing,” what does that experience feel like?

For taste meditations, here are some ideas:

  • Place a piece of food in your mouth as you meditate and just let it sit there, slowly melting or softening in your mouth. Allow yourself to focus solely on the taste and experience.
  • Meditate with a clean, “average-feeling” mouth (not after eating or brushing your teeth when there are distinct flavors in your mouth). As you meditate, draw your attention to what the nothingness in your mouth tastes like. Is it salty? Sweet? Metallic? Simply taste your mouth and observe without judgment.

For touch meditations, consider:

  • Get a professional massage and as you lay there experience the touch with the voice in the head silenced. How does the touch feel? Use noting throughout the massage, “Shoulder. Shoulder. Knot. Rubbing. Shoulder.” Be mindful and still.
  • Gather up objects with different textures from around your house and place them in front of you while you begin to meditate. When you are into your meditative state, feel the objects and their different textures. Again, observe mindfully. Feel the texture, the weight, the density, the shape, and the size of each object.

Rather than trying to fight to turn your senses off turning meditation, consider a different approach of exploring them with focus and concentration. 


~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


Getting Sleepy While Meditating

For many, meditation's greatest challenge is not to feel sleepy in the act. Of course, it is wonderful that meditation can bring about such a relaxed state, however, it is ultimately counter-productive. There are many things you can try when you catch yourself nodding off in meditation (or to prevent nodding off altogether).

First, ensure that your posture is upright. Sit on the floor with a pillow under you (causing your hips to tilt slightly forward) for help. Still others recommend sitting directly on the hard ground in the lotus position if sleepiness is an issue. Furthermore, many people do sit up straight while meditating, but they do it with the aid of leaning on a chair back or wall. While this might seem like good posture, the very best stance for proper meditation is to support your own weight. If sitting up straight doesn’t do the trick, standing is also an option.

Alarmclock Another tip is to simply be mindful of the sleepy feeling. When a drowsy sensation arises, simply take note of it without concern or sentiment. As you know with other intrusive thoughts and feelings during meditation, the practice of mindfulness allows one to acknowledge the disruption without losing focus or getting distracted from the meditation. Let the sensation of sleepiness fade away as you would any other unwanted thought during meditation.

If sleepiness is a chronic problem, consider changing the time of your daily meditations. Maybe a before-bed or after-waking meditation is not appropriate for you. Studies show that our minds are most active in the late afternoon—try meditating or 3:00 or 4:00 PM everyday. As counter-productive as that may sound, it will certainly teach mental discipline and flexibility. Also, meditating right before a meal (preferably lunch or dinner) is a recommended time.

Having a cup of green tea before your meditation is another option. Green tea is naturally caffeinated and known to invigorate and energize. Drinking too much tea might create the feeling of agitation or needing to use the restroom during the meditation (which can certainly help keep you awake but also be highly distracting). Take a few sips of green tea on an empty stomach for the best results.

You might also consider trying walking meditations or open-eye techniques so the meditation is less like sleep. In walking meditations, you simply walk around your neighborhood or a natural area (river, lake, hill, garden, forest) and practice mindfulness. You see what you see, noting it but not allowing a mental dialogue to flow in your mind. Likewise, open-eye techniques involve staring at a spot on a soft-colored wall or allowing your eyes to glaze over and become foggy so that you are seeing but not looking. In general, any non-rhythmic focus during the meditation can help keep you awake (such as focusing on listening rather than breathing).

Still other meditation gurus argue that sleepiness during meditation is not really a concern. They say as long as you come out of the meditation to find greater peace and serenity, your purpose has been accomplished. Whether this sentiment resonates with you or not is entirely up to you. If your purpose in meditation is to connect with God or the Universe (not relaxation), then sleepiness may still be an issue.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


Should You Meditate if You Are Angry or Upset?

Nothing seems farther from our minds than meditating when everything is going wrong, we're distressed, and peace feels far away. How can I meditate at a time like this, you ask? It is interesting how we often neglect to do what will benefit us the most at the time when we need it the most. Yes, of course, you should meditate when you are feeling angry or agitated. Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth has much to say on this subject.

Path The first step to a successful meditation when you are angry is to identify the anger or agitation. This is where the all-important meditation practice of mindfulness can help. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness pioneer, defines it like this, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Rather than getting angry that you are angry, simply acknowledge the feeling—put your finger on it. For example, Eckhart Tolle explains about understanding the difference between, “I am angry,” and “Right now, there is anger.” This mindfulness can help you transition from the first statement to the last one. The anger you are experiencing is not you and is not a part of you, it is just there in your experience. Tolle describes seeing the emotion with a space around it, a cushion so to speak. In this way, you can see that the emotion does not have to permeate your being unless you let it.

Remember also that you are almost never upset for the reason you think you are. Use the feeling to dig deeper. What is underlying the anger? During your meditation, explore this. Is there a disappointment in childhood, a painful experience of abandonment, or some trauma or abuse at the root of your current anger? Another insight pointed out by Tolle is, “One of the most common ego-repair mechanisms is anger, which causes a temporary but huge ego inflation.” Are you upset because someone bested you, belittled you, or poked you in a vulnerable and sensitive spot? If so, focus on a mantra like, “I am. I am. I am,” during your meditation to re-connect with the vast, loving energy of the universe. This can help remind you of what you truly are–the essence of all there is–and thereby show you what you are not—the ego, the voice in the head incessantly thinking and chattering.

Another tip on meditating while angry that Tolle provides is nonresistance. He recounts a story of when he was counseling a woman who was angry about abuse her father had inflicted on her. He said to her, “There is nothing you can do about the fact that at this moment this is what you feel. Now, instead of wanting this moment to be different from the way it is, which adds more pain…is it possible for you to completely accept that this is what you feel right now?” As the saying goes, what we resist, persists. Use a meditation session to simply accept and stop resisting whatever emotion you are feeling. 

Remember that meditation does not always have to be the same old experience of “thinking about nothing” or focusing on a spot on the white wall. Make it what you need it to be. In this way, you can be feeling anger or agitation as you go into a meditation—because they don't all have to be loving kindness practices or communing with God. If you are experiencing anger, then do an “anger meditation” focusing on the things mentioned above. The chances are good that your anger will dissipate quicker than you know.

 ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com