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Balance has never been my strong suit. As a child, my vestibular system was so off kilter, I spontaneously fell off stools and chairs like a pint-sized barfly after last call. Walking through doorways was like threading a needle. Physical therapy helped, but the gangly coltishness of adolescence made for another round of clumsy bumps and bruises.
When I got into yoga in my teens and twenties, it was a relief when my teachers asked us to find drishti—a fixed point against which to orient my body and mind while trying to stick tricky balance poses such as Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose), Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half Moon Pose), and Vrksasana (Tree Pose). Finding an external concentration point made it easier to keep my body steady and stable. Or at the very least, it made it easier to detect when I was about to tip over.
As an adult, I struggled to find balance of a different sort. I was as lacking in emotional equilibrium as I had been in grace as a child. My twenties were a murky gyre of unsuitable men, anxiety, depression, and more whiskey than I’d like to admit. It wasn’t that I lacked focus—I simply couldn’t seem to find the right thing to fix my ambitions upon. Every wobble, whether in love or work or family life, made me doubt myself a little more.
A few years ago, I visited Los Angeles for the first time as an adult. At 28-years-old, I wasn’t just wobbling, I was reeling, fresh off the revelation that I had been assaulted a decade ago. My career and fortune had taken a sudden left turn, and I left marketing to begin writing full time. I was a raw nerve, loose on the Venice boardwalk, trying to find some sense of equilibrium. One night I found myself drawn to the water. Under the light of a full moon, I waded into the Pacific and let the warm salt water lap against my legs, then my hips. The pull I felt had nothing to do with riptides or undertow. Instead I was compelled by something that came from within.
The Three Types of Drishti
Drishti isn’t just a matter of finding an external point against which to balance your body. There are several different types recommended for various yoga practices and poses:
1. Nasagra drishti
2. Hastagre drishti
3. Bhrumadhya drishti
Bhrumadhya drishti is the most inward facing, in which you focus on your own third eye.
Any type of drishti will ultimately have you experiencing two of the eight limbs of yoga described by Patanjali. One is dharana (steadiness or concentration) and the other is pratyahara (controlled withdrawal). The goal of softly focusing your gaze—whether on the tip of your nose or on a spot on the wall across the room—is actually to draw your attention inward. You look beyond your body in order to withdraw into it. Your spirit becomes grounded through the act of surrendering to your own instability.
Ever since that first night in Los Angeles, I find myself drawn to the Pacific at moments of great transition. Last year, I wanted to flee the anniversary of a yuletide breakup that had marred the holidays. I booked a flight to San Francisco and spent Christmas morning sitting on a piece of driftwood at Ocean Beach, watching the surfers patiently bobbing on the small, ruffled waves, popping up to balance on their boards whenever a big curl came through.
This past April, a dear friend came to visit me at my new home in Portland, Oregon. She and I went through twin years of loss in 2017: Breakups, professional setbacks, and domestic frustrations. Both of us were trying to recalibrate our lives to a new normal.
Hannah had never seen the Pacific, so I drove her out to Haystack Rock one chilly, gray afternoon. We walked up and down Cannon Beach, buffeted by rivers of wind that carved winding paths through the loose, dry sand. We contemplated the ways in which our own lives had been radically reshaped by unpredictable forces. Deeply and utterly, we felt the kernels of ourselves within the tides of chaos.
Right now, writing by the Pacific, overlooking the Santa Monica Pier, I feel another sea change coming on. Old pieces of me are washing and wearing away. But practice has taught me what I need to do to prepare, to weather this tipping point. Up and down the West Coast, I know now where to find my focus, my drishti, a sense of continuity. There is stability in the Pacific’s constant motion. There is certainty in its immutable changes. Of this I am certain: the same is true of myself.
About our author
Meghan O’Dea is a writer, world traveler, and life-long learner who hopes to visit all seven continents with pen and paper in tow. Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, Fortune, and more. Learn more at meghanodea.com.