Sometimes when I’m offering an invocation or prayer, I’ll start off by saying something like, “You can close your eyes and let your attention rest within, or you can keep your eyes wide open to the beauty all around you…”
I dig it both ways. Closing my eyes can help to minimize distractions, calm my mind, and draw me into the heart’s sweet stillness. Opening my eyes can stir my soul with a sense of connectedness to other people and the whole blooming world. There isn’t one right way to do it — prayers can be serene or provocative, soothing or arousing, hot or cool, or all of the above.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself attempting to guide a group into a meditative space at the same time that I was shooing a naughty cat away from the popcorn that I had beside me on my desk. It was during our monthly prayer Zoom. Everyone was settling-in and simmering-down at the end of our busy days. I was going for a calming vibe because I’d been feeling sort of edgy all day, so most of us had our eyes closed, ready for some tranquil repose. And Danny the Cat was all over me, tooth and claw, crawling up my outstretched arm trying to reach the bowl of popcorn I was holding as far away from him as possible.
“Notice your breath… Danny, dammit!… Feel your shoulder blades soften down your back like oil… Get out of here you little monster!… You are surrounded by pure light… Ouch!…”
Like that. It was an interesting and irritating contrast. But it was good because it got into my head the idea of praying with one eye open. And I think Danny and I are on to something.
It’s a play on the phrase “sleeping with one eye open,” which means: to be on guard, to remain vigilant, to stay alert even when asleep. That sounds fairly exhausting and horrible. It sounds like anxiety, a sense of constant threat, feeling unable to completely relax. That’s not what I’m offering. I don’t mean half-prayer/half-stress.
I am, however, very interested in the idea of having my communion both ways. Both infinities at the same time.
Honoring our capacity to enter deep inner space — a boundless vista of pure possibility, the simplicity of being present, eternally now. Setting aside all the baggage of the past and worries for the future, for just a moment, so that we can catch a glimmering awareness of our own hearts and minds as essentials parts of One Perfect Wholeness. For me, that’s eyes-closed sort of stuff — mystical transcendence — unfettered potentiality.
AND — eyes open, too. Honest. Mindful of the world around us, the world we’re in, with all its actual conditions and troubles and considerations. Aware of each other, with our different concerns and hopes and fears. Yes, we’re in this together, yes, we’re one, yes there is only Love. But/AND we’re coming at it, creating and partaking, from different angles with different and often conflicting ideas. And it behooves us to remain cognizant and respectful of this reality.
My questions around praying with one eye open include:
- How to hold a wildly optimistic vision for everything that we want to believe is possible while also reckoning authentically with what’s really so, right now?
- Might “positive thinking” only be half of the equation? Surely, creative solutions must also include a straightforward assessment of what’s not working, what might go wrong, what are our contingency plans, and how we intend to meet challenges that haven’t yet even arisen…
- What’s my good balance of hope and pragmatism, imagination and action, idealism and honesty?
- In short, how do I stand in the Spiritual Truth of the Perfection of Everything at the same time that I meet and greet the flaws and failing of the world, of other people, and of myself?
One eye open sounds to me like the essence of practical spirituality, spiritual living. Declaring perfect peace AND keeping the cat from clawing his way up my arm to the popcorn bowl. Envisioning limitless abundance AND actually getting food to the hungry and homes for the un-housed. Proclaiming divine grace AND in fact embodying it in the world.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, June 26, 10:00 am at Maple Street Dance Space. XO, Drew
©2022 Drew Groves