An Eye Opening Meditation

I went to the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park recently to see an exhibit of over 300 quilts. I began exploring quilting a couple years ago and thought it would be fun and inspiring to see what others have done. Except that when I arrived the docent told me there had been an error on the web site–no quilts here. I was disappointed. “You should still check out the current exhibits. We have some interesting things to see here,” he said, consoling me.

So I began wandering around the museum. There was an exhibit on called “Take a Seat”, all about chairs and seating through the ages. I found myself doing what I usually do at museums and art galleries: shuffling along and letting my eyes pass over objects without really stopping to study them. I passed by elaborate carved wood chairs, plastic folding chairs, a jump seat from an airplane, old-fashioned school desk-chairs. I felt bored. Chairs weren’t quilts.

I just had to put some quilts in here! Here's one I made for my meditation room.

I just had to put a quilt in here! Here’s one I made for my meditation room.

Then I spotted a meditation cushion, part of the exhibit. It was a rectangular green zabuton with a square zafu to match. I smiled. I actually stopped to read the plaque: “Traditional Japanese meditation cushion.” It looked a lot like my own cushion at home. I began to think about my mindfulness practice and how I had been drifting through the museum rather mindlessly. Had I really seen anything?

I sat on a bench across from a chair. Immediately my mind began to analyze and label the chair. The color, the era, the materials, the shape. I made judgments about how I disliked it. I compared it to the chair next to it. Oh, how my mind wanted something to grasp!

Seeing, without looking, can be a form of meditation. When we slow down enough, and let the attention become soft and open, we begin to see things simply as they are, without trying to categorize and label everything. When we step back, we begin to notice simple concepts such as “color” or “curve”, without having to name it “orange” or “chair back”.

In this spaciousness you may begin to notice your body relaxing, your breath smooth and even. The object of your attention has not changed, but the readiness of the mind to receive it has transformed. You may become aware of details you never noticed before. Sometimes this eye-opening can be transcendent, reminding us of timeless truths or the Infinite itself.  You may perceive the wholeness and oneness of the object, inseparable from the viewer. Other times it can be an opening to what is immanent, to the physicality of sight and its object, to the exquisite sensuality of the real.

I invite you to try this meditation anywhere: go to a museum or a park, or even just look up at your ceiling as if you’ve never seen it before. Choose something to gaze at, let the initial thoughts rise and pass, and then settle into a state of quiet reception, and see what happens.

I may not have gotten to see my quilts, but the docent was right: there were some very interesting things to see in the museum.


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