I used to let my eyes shut to keep my gaze turned inward during my personal practice. Recently, I made the decision to practice not only keeping my eyes open, but to focus on my drishti. Drishti, in short, is the place where the yogi fixes their gaze. It often helps with balance. I also noticed that practicing with my eyes open kept my ashtanga series from turning restorative. Fire leapt within my gut, and tempering and restraining it became a new, wonderful challenge. Now I can make an active choice if I want to turn inward, rather than set that as my default.
I had no idea how important that practice would become. But on my birthday, it kept me grounded and sane.
It didn’t occur to me that the reason we were leaving was because the bars were closing, because the amount of times I’ve stayed around long enough to hear actual bars say, “Last call” I can count on one hand, and I would still have room to offer a digit or two to an Italian gang enforcer. I had the taste of cigars and whiskey in my mouth, and I’d had trouble keeping that last shot down, but my friends were of the impression that it was time to go.
I was hanging around with friends I haven’t seen in way too long, and we were having a good time, so I figured I’d stomp around the city with them for a little longer. We stumbled around some area south of the meatpacking district, found some open courtyard at the end of a long hallway that served as our men’s room, and kept on trudging, trading jokes and quips while boldly marching down the middle of streets. New York may be the City That Never Sleeps, but that doesn’t stop it from getting eerily quiet for the few hours pre-sunrise.
The guys stopped at McDonalds. I was neither hungry nor wishing to inflict any more damage on my stomach, so I neglected to join them in indulging. But when we got back outside, I saw the sky was starting to lighten, and the first waves of unease started to creep through my bones. They sat down on the steps of a church to scarf down their meals, and I kept looking up. I needed to get home. My birthday was well over, and I was on the island, while my bed was in Brooklyn. So, I said my farewells and began walking. Only, I made one fatal flaw:
I forgot to ask them how to get to the nearest subway.
I was perhaps only a block or two away when I went to check my phone, which blinked once, then twice, then went dark. I looked around and realized very quickly: I was lost. I was alone. I was hours past my normal sleep time. I had no way of contacting anyone, and I wasn’t even sure anymore which way I needed to go to get back to the guys, and that’s assuming they were still there, eating.
The L train, which would take me home, runs through Manhattan along 14th street, which I was south of by some measure. Knowing this, I figured by walking due north, I would eventually come to the subway. But I had no idea how far I would have to walk.
Still, I had a destination and a direction, and so I began walking.
Half-asleep, too drunk to walk a straight line, and packing my laptop on my shoulder (when you’re a magazine editor, you kind of always keep your laptop with you just in case you get some extra time to work), I marched through the lower part of Manhattan. People were starting to come out to prepare to open up their shops. A few times I’d stop and ask, “Where is 14th street?” And the few people who spoke my language well enough to understand me past my own slurring just kind of shrugged. That’s when I knew I was way out.
The drishti isn’t just where you look. It’s the part of you that allows you to see the world as it really is. After the first 15-20 minutes of walking, I wanted to hate my friends; they’d gotten me belligerently drunk and walked me out to the middle of a city that I have little experience in and left me to drift. I wanted to hate their immature antics, their night shift body clocks that let them stay awake until 5 AM and wake past noon. But as I stared straight ahead, the truth lingered in the clouds at my blurry peripheral vision’s edge. It was I who had walked away from them; I wasn’t drifting, I had chosen to swim; I had picked a destination and started walking; I had chosen to stay out late. The subway wasn’t going to come to me; I had paddled out to the middle of the ocean, and it was me who had to make the long walk back.
While I was walking, I felt chunks of my mind drop off to the side like barnacles falling from a ship. Though I grew more and more weary, I knew that somewhere ahead, perhaps at the next street, I would find my destination…and that still wouldn’t be the end of the journey. Part of me died on that walk. Eventually, all that remained was my focus.
After what felt like an hour of walking, I saw a green sign for 13th street. I was just one block away! And by some joyous miracle, there was an L train stop right around the corner. I sat down and waited as the train sped along towards Brooklyn…
…When I next looked up, I saw by the orange dots that I was three stops past the one I wanted to get off on. That’s no big deal; I’d just have to get off at the next stop and start traveling back.
I stepped onto the platform. The sky was its normal morning shade of blue. But something was odd; the train that arrived in the other direction said it was going to Rockaway Island—the last stop headed away from Manhattan. The train I’d just gotten off of was headed back towards my stop: I’d ridden the L all the way to the end, and almost half of the way back!
I got back on the Manhattan-bound train and made it home just as the person I was staying with was getting up and getting ready for work. She remarked that I looked like hell, that she’d never seen me so bad. As much as I wanted to resist it, as much as I smiled and was so happy that I’d finally made it home, I felt a single tear come carving down my cheek.
“Are you okay?” she asked. I explained what happened. She asked if I had everything: wallet, phone, even laptop, all there. By some New York miracle, the only things I lost were those parts of my hesitation, doubt and fear that had fallen off on what felt like the longest walk of my life.
“I’m so sorry you had a shitty birthday,” my hostess said.
“What are you talking about?” I replied, as I settled down for a far-too-long overdue sleep.
“This was the best birthday ever.”
This week, when your body and mind cry out that they want to quit, may you find the part of you that lets you carry on.
May a part of you that no longer serves fall by the wayside.
May you look ahead, unflinchingly, and venture bravely forth towards a destination of your choosing.