Some time ago, when I still lived in North Carolina, I suddenly learned how to do chaturanga (the yoga equivalent to the descending part of a push-up), after having decided I never would be able to—that I just wasn’t strong enough. Back then I did it by forgetting to tell myself that I couldn’t. We had done several during that particular practice, and I had put my knees down each time. Then I got too tired to engage my brain—and I did it.
I no longer have trouble with chaturanga. The trick was to change my drishti—my center of focus—from my brain to my upper arms. First, in yoga, drishti is about where the eyes are focused. Not on the pose of the person on the next mat, or their outfit; not out the window (which I am not at all good at); but at a spot on the floor for balance poses, or at the tips of our fingers for warrior, or the end of our nose for downward facing dog. And then it is about control of the attention. I find that my brain is filled with demons that want nothing more than to throw my past, like leaping flames, into my path; demons that tell me to turn back, that I can’t do it now because I couldn’t do it then. If I get my attention out of my head, I can be successful.
More recently, in an attempt to do what I can to maintain and rebuild bone density, I resolved that when I squat to take a photograph or examine something on the ground, to stand back up without using my hands to push off. I couldn’t do it. Again I told myself I wasn’t strong enough. Then I remembered chaturanga. I reminded myself how I got from “I can’t” to “I can.” Then I moved my attention from my brain, where it is usually stored, down my spine and into my thighs. And I did it! No, standing from a squat is not easy for me—though it is getting easier as I get stronger—but I am doing it, by moving my attention.
Where our eyes are directed, our attention follows. Unwittingly, this is what I also discovered when I started noticing, then writing about, metaphor in my garden several years ago. I learned it again when I began taking photographs: to look left and right and up and down, then follow my eyes with my full attention and find the shot. The practice deepened when I started writing Morning Sentences; transforming what could have been a mechanically transmitted photograph into words instead. Drishti: looking for the One Who Is More everywhere—and really seeing the beauty of the world around us.
Could the use of drishti also be a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness? Do our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity? Of course they do! During this ridiculous month in the houses of Congress, everyone had their brains engaged. Our brains only let us see what we want to see—a projection of our own limited ideas; our “I can’ts.” Drishti helps us recognize and overcome the limits of “normal” vision. Maybe daily yoga should be required of all our congressional representatives.
And now I’m wondering if I can train myself to be more compassionate when I talk to someone living with moderate dementia and auditory issues. Can I move my drishti from my exasperated brain—the one that carries the baggage of my childhood relationship with my mother, and my memory of the life I used to have—to an open and waiting heart?