Sign of the times

The Long Island Rail Road route through Jamaica, Queens is not what you would call a scenic trip. Barbed wire graces most rooftops, industrial buildings with their cold,grey facades and sporadically broken windows are common and most expanses of brick or fence are emblazoned with some form of graffiti. Overgrown patches of weeds and misshapen trees spill over the crude and often broken chain link fences that border the train tracks. As anyone who has ridden a commuter line knows, the vista is not something that one should consider when on your way into work.

Having been a commuter on this line for years when I was working in NYC as a graphic designer, I would on most days ignore the view completely. Nothing inspiring or new to see, I would spend my time with my nose buried in a book or dozing. On good days when I felt focused I would plot my day carefully in my mind as to what I needed to achieve. On bad days I worried incessantly about which project I was behind on and how on earth I could get it done.

It’s been 5 years since I’ve taken that regular commute and in that time I’ve ridden the trains a number of times for trips into the city for yoga or socializing, never paying another glance to the landscape speeding past the windows.

This morning I rode the very same line that I’ve done so many times before and I gazed out the window in a foggy meditation. My eyes passed over the many familiar landmarks pondering what lie ahead today in my workshops at the NYC Yoga Journal Conference.

My life and circumstances have changed substantially since I rode this line for work, I am now a yoga teacher in the process of opening my first yoga studio in addition to being in the midst of a separation from my husband of 12 years and father of my 2 children.

My perspective is radically different from just a few months ago let alone 5 years. Gazing out the window I am seeing things for the first time, wondering if they had always been there or if they are new additions. A large flowering tree growing in a ditch next to a murky sewage drain, a rooftop of solar panels lining an industrial building in an otherwise dilapidated area. A carefully painted fence and cheerful window boxes filled with flowers adorning a modest house in a row of broken down unsightly ones.

Being a yogini all these years has given me some fresh perspective and taught me how what we see is largely what we are conditioned to see. Often times we choose to ignore or become desensitized to certain things out of habit or denial, steadfastly clinging to what we have known for so long to be true. If we are in a dark place we often see only the negative, focusing on scarcity or misfortune and projecting that onto our environment.

Yoga teaches us to be present and to cultivate an awareness of the abundance of beauty that is often times right under our noses if we just take the time to see it. The lotus flower, a symbol of enlightenment in yoga and many spiritual traditions, grows from its deep roots in the mud and darkness, knowing that with time and faith it will reach the surface of the water where it will bloom into a spectacular natural work of art displaying its beauty for all to see.

My awareness has shifted from simply ignoring the bleak landscape scarred with ugliness and misfortune to seeing the beauty and glimmers of light and hope that are all around us right now. If we truly open our eyes and shift our perspective from our limited microcosm of experience to the broader lens of the whole we can always find something to remind us that everything is exactly the way it is meant to be, that everything is perfect.

In yoga there is a practice called Shiva drishti in which we gaze out on the world and humanity through the eyes of Shiva, the yogic representation of the energy of creation and transformation, to see in everyone and everything their potential and innate divinity as opposed to their limited physical form and flaws. God is everywhere if we look, nothing is ever just what appears on the surface and everyone will see something different depending on where they are in their lives. Just think of how many times you have only seen what you were experiencing at that time; if you’ve ever been pregnant you spot the other pregnant women everywhere. When you buy a new car you see them everywhere you go. Get divorced and only see happy couples all around you. Shiva drishti is a practice to help stay present and aware of the divinity that connects us all if we can gaze out through God’s eyes.

Yoga has also taught me to be more mindful about setting rigid expectations and to be more flexible about even making plans for the day, I set goals but I hold them lightly understanding that a greater lesson may be given if I am open to change as I go. If I am sad or lonely I remember that if I just shift my perspective I can find comfort knowing that things will change again, patiently reminding myself of the perfection in the moment.

On the speeding train into NYC towards a day of yoga and meditation I hear the words of one of my teachers, Dharma Mittra, “Be receptive to the grace of God.” With no expectations I head into the day open to receive whatever I am meant to be given, holding it lightly in the palm of my un-grasping hand. I gaze out through the eyes of Shiva, seeing the beauty through the ugliness, the divinity in the scarred landscape, the new life springing up in improbable places.

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