In case you don’t already know, Yoga practice is primarily founded upon three things: Breathing, Posture & Dṛṣṭi (or the eyes). Beyond the notion that the eyes are important for concentration, there seems to be little else mentioned about Dṛṣṭi. However, seeing as there are only three things forming our yogic foundation, Dṛṣṭi makes up an entire third of this. Probably worth a closer look.
The eyes are said to be the window into our soul, but isn’t the whole mind-body system an expression of our soul? So what’s so special about the eyes anyway? Well, there are at least three factors worth noting:
1) The eyes express our mood,
2) The eyes are the instruments of seeing, &
3) The eyes’ movements reflect the movements of - not only of the mind - but also of our head at the top of our spine (the crown of our alignment).
These three aspects are supported by Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, also called Rāja Yoga or … wait for it … Aṣṭāṅga Yoga (not the physical practice but the context, the perspective or philosophy).
1) Our mood infuses itself into both the quality of our work & the the way we experience life. Whether we are calm, joyous, sad, anxious, mentally blank, vibrantly awake, lighthearted or overly serious will affect the quality of how we experience things. Our mood also affects what we create. Being either anxious or calm, produces drastically different results, and - now here is a big one - our mood determines whether we are suffering or enjoying what we are doing (or rather suffering or enjoying ourselves). Therefore Patañjali says in Yoga Sūtra 3.18 that by watching our eyes, we become more conscious of the quality we act with.
So, the first & foremost thing we should do with our eyes is to become more conscious of our mood and to choose to cultivate qualities such as contentment (Saṁtoṣa), loving kindness (Maitrī), compassion (Karuṇā), joy (Mudita), equanimity (Upekṣa), etc. - qualities that are healthy & enjoyable. We should not blindly accept our behavior as merely determined by our attitude. Our attitude is a choice we make - either consciously or unconsciously - and if we use our breath skillfully, we can learn to consciously shift ourselves. Like a good actor who can change personas & moods according to the needs of the character & the scene. The more we can let go of past conditioning & habitual preferences, the more we can determine whether we suffer or enjoy our life. It can become completely up to us.
Yoga Sūtra 3.18: saṁskāra-sākṣāt karaṇāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam
2) Have you ever known someone who seems to see everything? Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, this person notices everything! What about those people who just don’t notice anything at all - have you seen them? It may be as plain as the nose on his/her face, but still they do not notice what is happening? How active, how interested, how engaged with life we are, these things determine how much we see & become aware of. If we are curious, then we will look more. When we are attentive, our soul awakens and naturally we come to see more of what is happening in & around us.
So the second factor of Dṛṣṭi is to develop the power of looking so that we see more and awaken our intelligence. How can we become unconscious of ourselves if we are wide awake? This keeps us connected to the world, to life.
Yoga Sūtra 3.26: bhuvana-jñānaṁ sūrye saṁyamāt
3) Have you seen time lapse photography? They set the camera up and point it at the north star. Then, they leave the shutter open for several hours. This creates a beautiful picture of the stars circling the sky with the north star remaining as a dot in the exact center. But this image will not come out clearly if the camera moves. The camera must remain perfectly still. The more still the camera, the more clear the image. The slightest movement will distort the picture. Our mind is just like this. The steadier we are internally, the more clarity we will have. Our perspective and our understanding are both affected by the degree of our steadiness.
So the third dimension Patañjali presents about Dṛṣṭi is steadiness. Ultimately, if we are to reach the heights of yoga, we must develop the ability to keep the eyes & the optic nerve perfectly still. This not only enhances our perception, but it also enhances our geometry (aka. our alignment). The movements & positioning of the head has a trickle down effect on the rest of the body. If we are to fully align ourselves, then the head, and hence the eyes, must also position themselves as a part of the whole picture.
Yoga Sūtra 3.28: dhruve tad gati-jñānam
Dṛṣṭi comprises one third of the foundation in yoga. It is a fundamental deserving closer observation & insight. It may, at first, seem difficult to master our Dṛṣṭi, but we will notice, if we look around (just kidding), that we are not alone in this regard. However, let us not be discouraged by the seeming impossibility. Instead, let us see this as an indicator of how much there is to be gained. Let us continue developing our Dṛṣṭi. Let us see this project through to the end until the window into our soul is fully opened!
Wishing us all health & wealth. Together, may we have the means to succeed in our lives.