This is the first in a multi-part series I’m calling “Wide Angle Vision.” It’s a series that contrasts reductionist thinking and holistic thinking, considers the place and value of each, and then brings these ideas to bear on some aspect of a spiritual relationship to place.
There are many different techniques for meditation. Some involve clearing the mind entirely. Others involve focusing on a single thing to the exclusion of all else. Others involve a discursive flow of thought, a dialog with the self, on a single topic. Then there are moving meditations: tai chi, yoga, labyrinth walking. Recently, a friend of mine shared a teaching with me about a technique of meditation called “wide angle vision”. It’s a technique I’ve experienced before in sit spot work, but this teaching went a step further than that. He explained this meditative technique in terms of wide angle and narrow angle vision bringing us into different parts of ourselves. In wide angle vision, we reach into deeper spiritual realms, he explained, but in narrow angle vision our mind is centered in this physical realm.
I can think of arguments against this dichotomy, but like most spiritual practice teachings, there is something useful to be gained by spending some time with the practice to see what wisdom it can bring. So, let’s work with this structure as it stands, for now. At the end of the series I’ll add some nuance and some counter ideas regarding the either/or split of wide = spiritual, narrow = physical. For now, let’s work with it and see where it takes us.
Let’s start with a simple exercise. Look at something in your field of vision. A chair, a person, a tree, whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just look up at the one thing. Notice the pattern of your thinking. Notice the way it feels to look at this thing. You know that there are other things in the room, but they aren’t important when you focus in on the single item.
Now change your focus from the one thing to as wide a view as you can take in. Become aware of the extent of your peripheral vision. For a moment, let yourself feel like you’ve actually stopped focusing at all. Your eyesight goes soft, but you take in more, become aware of more things. As you notice all the things that you can now take in and be aware of, how do you feel? How have your thinking patterns changed?
Is there writing on the thing you focused on at the beginning? Did you read the words consciously? Did they just pop into your head as your vision settled on them? When we went into wide angle focus, did the writing go blurry? Did the words still hold meaning as words, or would you need to shift back into narrow vision to recognize them?
Take this exercise with you outside. Try it when you are out on a walk or when you sit on the porch. What different things do you notice with wide angle or narrow angle vision? How do you feel in each of those states, physically?