It Helps Me to Listen to Others With My Eyes Closed, but Is It Disrespectful?

Question

Personally I find that closing my eyes and listening to anything helps me focus more on what being said. In general that would be considered disrespectful when a class is going on. Would you happen to know if closing eyes is supposed to promote focus? If not, would you have any suggestions over how to concentrate with eyes open? Also, how do you deal with it since it’s considered disrespectful in general? (If our answer turns out to be eyes being closed does promote focus)

—Anonymous, America

Answer

Dear Friend,

Closing one’s eyes during a conversation is something that some people do. It indicates an effort to “think” or take in what is being said in order to calmly respond. In a classroom, it is largely a cultural issue and partly a matter of how it is done. My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, taught us that “It’s not the ‘what,’ it’s the ‘how’.”

Imagine a classroom of students listening to a professor who is lecturing. Among the group is a student who is sitting bolt-upright, notebook on his desk, pen or pencil in his hand or resting calmly on the notebook but whose eyes are closed. In this position, this student would be communicating his rapt attention and interest but with closed eyes. I doubt most professors would object. It wouldn’t hurt to periodically jot something down on the notebook as a further indication of your being “present.”

But otherwise, and with a different demeanour and even facial expression, the silent communication could be one of disdain, boredom, or lack of interest. It’s not the “what” of closed eyes, it’s the “how” it feels and looks. Slouching posture, head in one’s hands, and head cocked to the side — this with eyes closed would communicate an offensive message to a teacher or lecturer. A student who prefers to listen attentively with closed eyes might even be so courteous as to ask “permission” of his teacher or explain his action. That would be polite and politic, so to speak.

But as to your question: “Does closing the eyes help one’s concentration?” I’d say, “It depends!” Some people’s minds drift off, and others remain focused and less distracted by visual images or sounds surrounding them. In meditation, it helps for the obvious reason that meditation includes the effort to transcend sensory inputs, though there are some people or some times when meditating (even if just at first) with open eyes can be helpful.

So your core question depends on its impact on you and/or your intentions (conscious or otherwise). Make sure your closed eyes isn’t a mask hiding (or silently communicating) an attitude of disinterest or dislike of the proceedings, the person, or the subject matter. Ask yourself, “Am I sincerely interested in what’s being said? Do I sincerely WANT to absorb the words, the feeling, and the vibration of the speaker or surroundings? Or, am I just wanting to ‘check out’? Am I hiding from looking at or being seen by the speaker?”

If you truly find closed eyes helps you to concentrate and absorb the subject matter, and if at  the same time you feel it may be disrespectful (or interpreted that way), I recommend you simply talk to the person(s) to whom a misunderstanding might arise. Do be self-honest as to your own intentions first and be willing to deal with the consequences. Okay?

Blessings to you!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA
www.Hrimananda.org