A 60 minute Balancing Practice

26 Nov

Blindness, Yoga and the Magic Eye

It was within the first year of my yoga practice that I lost the vision in my left eye. Awakening one morning to the sound of the dreaded alarm clock, I was truly alarmed to discover a dark curtain obscuring my view. “It’s a rare disease;” said the retinal specialist, “we don’t know what causes it, but it could be stress-related.” How ironic, I thought I was impervious to stress, always turning a blind eye to the pressures that came along with the life of a newly minted lawyer. Now I really had a blind eye, and that changed everything.

Feeling dejected, I left my job, apartment and life in the city, and moved-in with my parents to convalesce. There, I mostly slept my days away until my concerned mother came home with an armload of books-on-tape from the local library, including some on yoga and meditation. Not long after that, I attended my first yoga retreat with her encouragement. I went seeking stress relief, but found something much greater, in the form of a teacher who would open my eyes to the depth and beauty of this life. Lying on my mat after toppling out of headstand one day, I had a Road to Damascus moment when he said: “Sometimes it takes a good catastrophe to wake you up.” My ego was bruised but I was grateful for the wake-up call.

One model for the step-by-step awakening of human consciousness tells us the sense of sight is linked to the ego identity and the strong impulse to establish one’s name, fame and fortune. Certainly, the ego-self is very interested in appearances—constantly striving to keep up with the Jones’—and it’s all too easily seduced by the glittering surfaces of things. Just try a yoga class in a mirrored room to feel where the attention goes.

“I shut my eyes in order to see,” proclaimed visionary French painter, Paul Gauguin. Like Gauguin, us yogis understand that a conventional outlook can obscure more profound ways of seeing. Like aspirants in many spiritual traditions, we train ourselves to look beyond superficial appearances so we can access deeper insights. In other words, we actively try to cultivate an enlightened point of view. This enlightened perception is symbolized by the third eye (also called the inner eye, the eye of wisdom, ajna chakra, and the seat of the inner guru) and this perception is said to be extra-sensory because it transcends the five senses.

One of the training tools we use to refine the way we see is the technique of drishti, or yogic gazing. Students of Ashtanga Yoga are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine points in each asana: (1) third-eye; (2) tip of nose; (3) navel; (4) hand; (5) big toes; (6) thumbs; (7) far right; (8) far left; and (9) infinity. The gaze is soft—you never stare—because you’re actually looking into, or beyond, the prescribed physical points. Drishti is not only an effective way to keep the mind from wandering, but it’s also a metaphor for continually fixing your attention on the subtle inner essence that underlies all form.

Yogic gazing is a little like looking at one of those Magic Eye images. If you know how to look, you can see the three-dimensional image in the two-dimensional jumble. Sure, single-pointed concentration is required, but it’s not enough on its own; you need to relax into it and be patient while maintaining your faith that there’s more than meets the eye. In a moment, something shifts and the meaningless becomes meaningful. The funny thing is, once you’ve seen the magic it’s hard to fathom how you missed it.

In the course of every life there is a deep magic at work—call it God, call it the ancestors, call it karma or the universe, whatever you please, really. The important thing is that you care enough to look for it. After all, they say enlightenment is just a shift in perception away.

Here’s a beautiful Sanskrit chant, along with my teacher’s translation, that sheds some light on the subject:

Om, guru Brahma, guru Vishnu, guru devo Maheshvara
Guru sak shat, param brahma, tas mayi shri guruvay namaha
(Guru Stotram)

Our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; the trials, illnesses, calamities and the death of the body is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby, and a guru that is beyond the beyond. May I have the good sense to see and recognize the guru, the remover of darkness.

Image courtesy of MagicEye3Ds. Can you see the hidden image? Contact me if you need a hint.

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