Hold That Pose: Looking In and Looking Out

Looking in and Looking out

You do not want to have me next to you in a yoga class. I’m terrible at it. No flexibility or grace. In fact, I don’t even like it all that much. Give me some dumbbells and the world floats away while I count reps and grunt.

But even if I can’t do the poses correctly, I love listening to knowledgeable yogis talk about the philosophy of yoga, describing how to build the flexibility in our minds as much as our bodies.

Once, years ago, I was in a class learning how to improve balance. The instructor told us to find our “drishti point.” She told us to choose a point on the wall and stare at it, if you focus only on that point, you won’t topple over.

I became obsessed with this idea of focal point, staring at the same crack in the wall to help me stand in tree pose a few seconds longer. As with most things in yoga, drishti isn’t really about standing on one foot. It’s about attention and clearing away the clutter of the world to focus on what matters. Sometimes, that might be holding tree pose. And sometimes, that focus might be required to keep your story or project on track.

Tell me more
Drishti is a Sanskrit word which means focus, or gaze. Yoga Basics has one of the best descriptions:

“It is a specific point to lock your eyes or inner vision on to that is used most commonly during meditation or while holding a yoga posture. The ancient yogis discovered that where our eyes are directed our attention naturally follows, and that the quality of our gazing is directly reflected in the quality of our mental thoughts.”—Yoga Basics

The “quality of our mental thoughts.” That was the phrase that struck me. My mind and imagination have no trouble keeping busy, but much of the time it feels like I’m just playing basketball with myself.

The Yoga Basics discussion mentions both “bahya and antara” drishti, external and internal gazing. This idea of looking in while looking out can apply to pretty much anything we do in life, whether you’re a marketer, a business leader, a writer, an artist, or creator.

For writers, it might mean gazing into the essence of a character or delving deep into a sentence while keeping the story at large moving in the right direction. For business folk, it may mean keeping your focus on the goal, while keeping everyone else’s needs in the frame too, making sure to gaze outward and consider how this message will affect your audience.

Maybe, it even means developing the skill to understand someone else’s drishti point. (It isn’t always about you, ya know.)

As a writer and artist, I think of the many discarded projects and chapters I started but then lost interest in. Looking back, I see now that it wasn’t so much a matter of losing interest as much as it was about losing focus, allowing external stimuli to tear me away, and internal disorganization to overload my mind with distractions.

How do you take it one thing at a time?
Raise your hand if you have ever started writing an email and then an alert pops on your screen, and then another one. What happens in your mind?  What are you now focused on…Squirrel!

Sigh. Yes, and it only seems to be getting worse.

I once heard author Russell Banks talk about his theory of finding a “touchstone” when writing his novels. When he starts to go too far off course, he goes back to that touchstone—a character voice or a central question or prop he has given to one of his narrators—to find his way back.

Touchstone or Drishti, it’s all the same concept and I’m determined to put it to use.

Get On The Good News Train
Ever the hopeful optimist, I get up each morning ready to attack whatever project has been plaguing my todo list.  It doesn’t take long to get derailed. (Oh Internet, shut up for just a few minutes.) Before I know it, hours have passed and it feels like I have accomplished nothing.

But those times when I do lose myself in writing or painting or teaching, are like gold. The question is: how do I make it happen on command?
Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. My touchstones are often my first sentences because that gives me the voice and tone. I’m working on setting a timer and just writing one-liners. It only takes about 2 or 3 minutes to find my way. (Professor Wendy Wood talks about a similar experiment and that the longer you write the one-liners, the better they get.)

What are your touchstones? A visual cue hanging above your desk, a beloved book or photo you keep in view? You probably have more than one so take out your notebook right now and make a list. I’ll wait.

  1. I miss coffee shops! I miss the noise, the smells, and my ability to concentrate in the middle of chaos. Since it’s pretty quiet at home, I’ve started using music and Gregorian chants (say what you will, they really are mesmerizing) to get me in the right mood and focusing on just the task at hand.

What sounds or environments do you need to help your creative impulses thrive? While it’s still not too cold out, go for a walk and with pen and notecard in hand, write what you hear and the small details you notice. Then do the same in your writing space. Any crossover or connections?

I always tell my students that writing is both a physical and mental act. So is the concept of drishti.

Try this:
Stand up by a standing desk or counter where you can set your notebook. Find a point to look at. Not out the window at the backyard, but a point on the wall, a scratch, a seam, the fallen tissue hiding behind the trash basket.
Without moving your eyes from that spot, put your pen on the paper and start writing.

If you don’t know where to start, simply describe your external drishti.

What shape is that tissue? What does it remind you of? Where was it before falling to its death on the floor?

Don’t stop until your pen is moving on its own, and your breathing is the only sound you hear.

(Cartoon by D. Touchller)

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