In my early 20s, I met a woman who was really into candles—an innocent pioneer in the realm of natural candle-making. At times, she ringed her entire house in row upon row of these intoxicating candles, and we would sit in the dark and stare at the hundreds of flickering golden dancers that surrounded us. We did this for as long as the candles burned—sometimes with music playing and sometimes just sitting in stillness . . . in silence. The hypnotic attraction of the flames would ultimately pull me in, and I would feel a sort of high as I floated into the light and eventually merged with light itself, feeling my body become porous and my individuality unfold into something bigger than me . . . beyond me . . . everything and nothing at once, BEing the moment.
It was years later, in an Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga class, that I first was taught to use this focusing technique as part of the yoga asana or pose. The technique was called drishti (also spelled dristi), and in Sanskrit, it means “insight, wisdom, intelligence, or point of view.” During yoga practice, the drishti serves both as a way to move beyond this local realm of space and time—beyond your normal vision, beyond physical balance and equilibrium—and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of one-ness. It’s a form of meditation in itself.
When using a drishti during yoga practice or open-eyed meditation, you softly focus or gaze at some concentrated point while keeping your attention directed within. The drishti point can be a candle flame or the edge of your nostril, your third eye (the point between your eyebrows), your navel, or some point in the distance. Drishti isn’t about the external object you are focusing on; the purpose is to draw your consciousness away from the distractions around you to a single focal point—a point from which your concentration is ultimately directed inward.
TRY IT! Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few beats, and then slowly let it out through your nostrils. Keep breathing at this same pace. Long, slow, deep inhales.
After you’ve done this a few times, drift your gaze to the tip of your nose. Feel your eyes cross and relax. Do this for a minute or so.
Now bring your awareness up to your third eye, located in the middle of your forehead, a bit above your eyebrows. Feel your eyes open and close. Stay in this space for a few minutes.
Now bring your attention to your navel. Look within. Keep your eyes in a soft gaze. Stay here for a few moments.
And now gently drift to your thumbs—no thoughts but your gaze for a few moments.
And now expand your awareness to include your whole hand. Remember to keep breathing . . . long . . . slow . . . deep breaths.
Now drift your gaze to your big toes. Wiggle them to bridge the energetic distance between your physical and astral toes.
Now without moving your head, drift your gaze all the way to the right, almost trying to see your right ear. Keep your gaze soft, and keep breathing.
Now move your eyes as far as they will gaze in that direction.
After you’ve gazed left for a minute or so, bring the gaze to center, and raise your eyes up to the sky.
When you’ve done that for a minute or so, close your eyes, and just sit and let that process settle in.