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Presence through Expanded Vision

Hi, this is Josh Lane, author of Conscious Nature, and welcome back for Lesson 5 in the Mindfulness In Nature series.

Previously, we explored the art of savoring with the senses and bringing mindful presence into the way we move in the outdoors. Today, we’ll explore a technique of visual awareness that literally expands what we see and how we think so that we can connect in a deeper way with the world of Nature.

Narrowed Vision, Narrowed Awareness

Have you ever noticed how the way you use your eyes relates to the way that you think and perceive? For instance, if you’re working on the computer, perhaps doing some writing, you will likely become super-absorbed in the task at hand—especially if the task is engaging. In this state, your vision narrows; most of your awareness becomes directed at the screen and at translating your thoughts onto the computer. What’s happening around you seems to fade into the background.

You are literally in a state of tunnel vision. Your perception is funneled onto the information streaming through the fovea in the center of each eye, which picks up fine detail, such as the words on the screen. If you could hook yourself up to an EEG monitor that measures brain wave activity, your brain now would likely be showing beta waves, the fast-moving electrical impulses that appear during focused, analytical thinking. Also, if you observed your thought activity in this state, you’d probably notice a stream of steady thoughts related to the words and concepts you are writing about. In other words, your inner dialogue is active and prominent.

This beta brain state is helpful when we want to focus and get detailed work accomplished. However, if you were to carry this same mind state into Nature, even if you have the intention of mindfully connecting to your surroundings, you may remain caught up in this internal dialogue and thought process. As we discussed earlier in the course, you could be in the most beautiful amazing place in the world, but if your mind is not attending to your senses, how much are you really there?

Fortunately, there is a simple and fascinating way to shift your mind state from narrowed focus towards a more holistic, open, and present perception. I call this practice Expanded Vision.

Expanded Vision, Broadened Awareness

For a moment, imagine it’s the end of the day. You are gazing at colorful, inspiring sunset. You’re standing on the edge of the beach. As you look far across the ocean waters, the sun dips down and fills the sky with vivid pastel hues. How do you feel in moments like this? Relaxed, expanded, connected perhaps? These are common descriptions that I often hear when I ask this question.

When we take in grand moments like this sunset, let’s consider what the sense of vision is doing. Generally, we are gazing far ahead into the distance towards the sunset, while allowing our perception to take in the entire field of view to see all the colors in the sky. This is a great example of effortlessly tapping into the power and presence of Expanded Vision. At these times, your mind is moving beyond a small focal point and literally taking notice of everything, including the much larger field of your peripheral vision. So, you already know what this state of expansion feels like. Today, we are going to explore a meditative practice that allows you to intentionally access this state whenever you wish.

When we access the state of Expanded Vision, we are also shifting the activity in the brain. By taking in the bigger picture, we move into a state of holistic perception, where we see how everything fits together. The faster beta waves of analytical thought begin to shift and slow, changing to the more relaxed state of alpha. As alpha increases, the inner dialogue may begin to quiet and awareness encompasses a larger field of perception. We literally get our awareness out of our heads and into our senses.

The Alpha state has been compared by some researchers to windshield wipers, providing a reset to the neural circuits that allow for focused thinking and attention. Getting into this state is like clearing away the accumulation of the day’s grit on the windows of your mind. So, if you need a bit of relaxation in your day, dropping into Expanded vision for five or ten minutes is a nourishing way to recharge and renew. Because you’re entering a mode of holistic perception, you may also find that intuitive ideas appear in your mind more often, as new creative insights pop into your awareness.

Another benefit I want to briefly mention is that your peripheral vision is adapted to notice movement. So, as you practice this skill, you’ll quickly begin to observe subtle motions around you, such as birds flitting from tree to tree, or even the flick of a deer’s ear behind the brush. So, this skill will help you attune to the movements of animals, and you’ll begin to notice a new level of connection with your environment.

Meditation: Expanding Your Vision

As we begin, I invite you to look into the distance at just above eye level. Find something to serve as a focal point for this meditation, such as a tree or distant rock. If you’re doing this indoors, perhaps look through the window or at something on the far wall. You’ll be keeping your eyes on this point as if it were an anchor. Throughout the meditation, anytime you need to blink or move your eyes to be comfortable, please do so, and then return to the focal point.

So, looking straight ahead at your point, and without moving your eyes, I invite you to begin to notice what’s around your point. To do this, you’ll need to allow your awareness to expand into your peripheral vision.

First, let’s expand into the vertical field of view. Notice that you can look straight ahead at the focal point, but in your peripheral field of view, you may be able to notice both the ground beneath your point and the sky up above it, with your point in between. Experiment with that for a moment.

Okay, make sure to take a break and blink, and move your eyes around a bit. Now, come back to your focal point. Now, we’ll explore the horizontal field of view. Continuing to point your eyes directly at your focal point, also become aware of what’s to the right and left of it in your horizontal peripheral vision. Experiment with what you can notice this way for a moment.

Ok, take a moment to blink and move your eyes again. This can seem like a whole new way of seeing, even though we unconsciously monitor our peripheral vision all the time, such as when we are driving or even when playing sports. But, bringing consciousness to this process can take a bit of practice at first.

Now that we’ve warmed up the vertical and horizontal fields of view, let’s put them together. Return to your focal point, and just allow your field of view to expand as you take in everything that your eyes can see. Many people describe their gaze as “softening” as their vision expands.

For a moment, just notice how much you can see all at once without moving your eyes. You might imagine your eyes like a sponge, effortlessly gathering information all in a glance. As you gaze forward with Expanded Vision, also notice your breath coming in and out, and simply be present to the moment. Take a few breaths this way.

Note for a moment how it feels to expand your perception in this way. How does this state impact your sense of connection with your environment? With practice, it gets easier and easier to slip into this state of awareness and to maintain it for longer periods of time. For now, start with two to five minute periods of time, and notice how this practice shifts your mind state as your shift the way you use your vision.

  1. How we see changes how we think and perceive the world.
  2. Next, we’ll explore the power of a “bottom-up” passive awareness approach that engages the senses and most ancient parts of the brain for attunement to the flow of Nature. Learn to tap into the power of the alpha brain state by expanding your vision. In passive awareness, we invite our senses to “soak in” information from the environment that works its way up into consciousness, engaging a holistic awareness and sense of interconnectivity.
  3. Practice: Expanded Vision
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Josh Lane