I'll be forever indebted to my Tibetan Buddhist friends for teaching me to meditate with my eyes open. It’s been over a decade since I studied in Boudhanath, Nepal, but not a run goes by where I don’t find myself tapping into that gift. I went to Nepal with a couple of years of meditation experience under my belt, but it had all been with my eyes closed. On my first day at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, our meditation lama began his instruction by saying, “I know many of you practice your awareness meditation with your eyes closed, but we will be keeping our eyes open. You may only practice with your eyes closed if you intend to walk around the rest of the day with your eyes closed.”
The lama’s point was we do not meditate to give ourselves a hit of equanimity. We meditate to bring equanimity to all we do. Likewise, we do not meditate to isolate ourselves from distractions. We meditate to be fully present and fully at peace with all our surroundings. Meditating with my eyes open was hard for me. We started by staring at a rock for an hour at a time. Then we moved our eyes to a window, and eventually, we practiced walking meditations. With each progression, the practice felt more natural, and eventually, it became a healthy habit. On trail runs now, when I begin to delve too deep into my head, I recall the lama’s instructions to notice which part of my feet are striking the ground first, or to count the birds, or to look for fossils in the limestone. Being present in those moments, helps me to be present for the rest of my life.
As we prepare for our Big Bend pilgrimage, I remind myself a good pilgrimage not only gets you to a destination, but it does so while making you aware of every step along the way. I look forward to running with other pilgrims through the great vistas of the South Rim and the Rio Grande, but I also hope we do so with our eyes wide open being fully present to the tropical butterflies, the Colima Warblers, and all our fellow travelers along the way.