“Your eyes should be neither open nor closed,” explained the monk at the front of the room. “They should be sort of sleepy — like a Buddha.” It was my first time meditating, and I was anxious about making some sort of conspicuous misstep. I squinted, then tried to relax my eyelids, but inadvertently began to focus on the bright orange cushion of the person in front of me. I closed my eyes with an inward sigh of exasperation at having such a difficult time following instructions. The monk leading the session told us cheerfully that it might help to rest our vision on the tips of our noses.
I was sitting in the carpeted meditation hall of an 1,100-year-old Buddhist temple in Koyasan, in a mountainous region of southeastern Japan.