eyes open and vulnerable

I’ve been trying something new with my meditation, now that I’m back to doing it semi-regularly. I’ve been meditating with my eyes open. It’s an odd experience. It makes me feel vulnerable and I don’t like it; generally speaking, vulnerability is not something I do well.

The “eyes open” method comes from a book I’m reading, The Buddha Walks into a Bar. The author, Lodro Rinzler, suggests that if we’re seeking a way to quiet our monkey brains, if we’re seeking to create still spaces for ourselves in our lives, then we should probably try doing it with inputs intact. If we don’t, will we be able to find the still spaces when we aren’t meditating, when we’re dealing with this problem or that?

I have done it for three days in a row now, and I’ve noticed two things.

One, my monkey brain is much more active when I meditate than I suspected. I didn’t notice it as much when my eyes were closed, because I would focus on the weird lights and strange patterns that appear on your eyelids. I’d follow them and concentrate, not realizing that by doing so, I was actually thinking and focusing, the opposite of my intentions.

With my eyes open, I notice my mental activity far more readily. I call out the behaviour with the catchphrase “thinking” and let it go, but I find that I’m doing that almost continuously. So much for my apparently unwarranted pride in my meditation expertise.

The other things I’ve noticed, as mentioned, is that with my eyes open, I feel infinitely more vulnerable. I don’t like it.

I don’t like vulnerability. I don’t like feeling exposed; I don’t like opening up my soft underbelly to potential damage. I learned the hard way to keep the tender bits locked up; people aim for them to maximize injury.

Vulnerability feels like leaving myself open for harm and exploitation and while I trust people, I don’t really trust them, underneath, where it matters. I stay locked up and safe. I keep everyone away from the weak spots.

As it turns out, however, in the long run, it’s learning to be open and vulnerable that serves us best.

Dr. Brené Brown, researcher and author, writes regularly about vulnerability. For her, vulnerability is allowing uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. If you don’t allow these things to occur, you can’t fully experience life.

She writes:

“My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”

Upon thinking about it, I’m forced to agree. Locking myself up has kept me, to a degree, safe. But it has also limited my friendships and relationships, left me feeling isolated, and impacted my ability to trust. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced joy.

But why do I notice vulnerability so much when I meditate?

Perhaps because when I start to relax, when I start to just be, the walls come down. I’m open and aware and with those feelings comes panic. I fear harm. It’s not a realistic fear – what harm could reasonably come to me in my home, in my office, in my chair? The fear is there, nonetheless.

The trick, according to a variety of sources both notable and anonymous, is to stay there anyway. Stay with the fear. Stay with the panic. Stay with the discomfort. Stay in the moment. Lean in and follow it to the end and see what happens. Embrace the vulnerability.

Easy to say, and harder to do, but I’m trying.

Trying with my eyes wide open.

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