Focus is the direction of the gaze

About a year and a half ago my yoga teacher, Meg, offered a class in which we concentrated on the direction of our gaze. We still did all the yoga movements you are likely familiar with, but were encouraged to bring attention to where we looked, which was often quite close, at the tip of the nose or just a few inches in front of the face. So often when we think of focus we think of “concentrate” or “work harder,” but this class reminded me that focus can be as simple as “the- direction-of-your-gaze.” During a period in my life when there was a lot of distraction I was reminded I could choose where to look. Ever since I was in fourth grade and pecked out a story on the manual  typewriter (it was called “The Paper Heart” and was cut into the shape of a heart, given a red felt cover, and presented as a gift to my mother) I knew I wanted to be a writer. Decades later, when I quit my job as a kindergarten teacher to pursue that dream, my employer wisely counseled me not to do so. “You can still write,” she said, “and make a living.” I foolishly left my job and became a Bohemian. I worked in a bookstore, a coffee shop, a photographer’s studio, the YMCA, a national park. I climbed mountains, wrecked an expensive piece of photography equipment (by accident!) almost got fired from the bookstore (because I brought a customer to the shelves to look for a book rather than the computer monitor) opened the Y at five in the morning, became a painter (briefly) and read and read and wrote and wrote. I wrote on napkins, and notebooks. I wrote in Laundromats and parks and my little apartment with the wood-burning stove where I sat in a camping chair scribbling poetry, in between trying to prod fire from my (cheap) unseasoned cord of wood. Of course my employer was right. My life as a kindergarten teacher was lovely, really, and quite an accomplishment as I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree. Also, I was good at it. I couldn’t explain why I needed to leave and, in the years that followed, I often second-guessed my choice though from this great distance I recognize that I needed to choose my focus. And I chose writing. The January following that yoga class I chose focus for my resolution. Not focus as in “work harder” or “be determined” but as in “choose where to look,” which turned out to be tremendously helpful for me during that period of time. There is so much that distracts! So much false gold offered as pure. So much insistence that this must be seen, this must be done, this is the only way and yet… I’m reminded that there are many ways to be in this world but there is only one way to be in my life, and I get to choose where to look.

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