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Seeing without looking

by on March 20, 2012

I recently read an article that talked about night walkers, or lung-gom-pas. These monks that meditate on a distant star, and then start walking, or running, and end up covering great distances over a period of days without stopping. Since a pre-requisite skill for this activity is a heightened peripheral vision (the stuff you can see around the stuff you’re actually looking at), I’ve decided to start practising my periphery. I’ll log my progress here. What follows is the outcome of my first session.

I started by taking a stance in front of my window and looking out over Columbia Heights. As my focus object, I picked a cross steeple atop a church – the highest structure around and easily contrasted with the blue sky background. Closed my eyes and took a deep breathe to cleanse. Opened with a soft gaze towards the focus object, and made sure to blink regularly throughout the exercise.

At first, there was nothing but the steeple. The occasional bird flew by, and I purposefully ignored it so as to maintain focus on my object. Everything else in my periphery was a blur. The movements of walkers, vehicles, and other city stuff was just that – movement without any clear meaning.

Suddenly, three green lights appeared near the bottom left. Maintaining my soft gaze on the steeple, I realized these were traffic lights working in sync. More details started to emerge, like number, speed, and direction of movement of cars and pedestrians, parallel nature of roads, houses, trees, and so on. It struck me that while individual distinctions between objects of a particular type were as yet blurred, I was more aware of the connections between the different types. For instance, I realized that there were a lot more cars than people, and observed the effect that the “wall” of trees had on the wall of houses behind them.

It went to the next level when I realized that my eyes were still wavering slightly, and had to narrow my attention to a corner of the right hand(?) of the cross. My awareness shifted to the more energetic qualities of the objects, i.e. a slight radiance, shift in hue, maybe an aura. I became aware of my outer peripheral vision. It started as a strange glowing ring around the city-scape. This turned out to be the window frame, and the couple of inches of wall around it. I also saw my plant out of the left corner. It was very interesting to pay attention this far into the periphery (and this far away from my focus object).

Until I saw the dark ring around everything. I smiled and realized that I had hit the edge of my (apparent) vision. It makes sense that we see through a circle (see shape of eye-components) but I had never really seen this tunnel with such clarity before. I also realized there were two circles, one for each eye! I had some fun playing around with shifting my attention to different parts of my periphery, from the circle back to the birds (bats?) flying around the steeple.

To finish, I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. When I resumed normal vision, I was again struck by the difference between what I had seen and what I was seeing now. Actually looking at objects made their flowing qualities (with relation to their environment) invisible to me and, instead, I observed them in a vacuum, or as if separate from everything else. Young girl with dog, old black man in suit, etc. Also, I was surprised to see that everything was moving slower than I had perceived otherwise. In the periphery, things were moving faster. Further, in the periphery I could see everything at the same time, as well as focus on particular depths or distances from the focus object, whereas actually looking at things (and moving my eyesight around) made everything else disappear and/or appear irrelevant.

More to come… meanwhile, read this article if you haven’t already, and get in touch with me if you want to participate in a night-walking group!

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From → Lifestyle, Meditation

3 Comments
  1. I have an occasional practice that may be similar. I walk along a downtown sidewalk and practice awareness of the periphery. I broaden my vision and practice not focusing on anything in particular (except when I need to for safety.) I practice broad awareness and not being attracted to particular objects such as interesting items in a storefront or interesting people. Also, your practice may be related to samyama (yoga sutras, pada 3.) Thanks for the post.

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