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David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole.
If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is © 2014 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
~ David’s Desk, Current Issue ~
#99 – Beyond Centeredness
It’s not uncommon in spiritual circles to hear someone say, “I need to be centered” or “you should find your center.” In spiritual traditions, there are specific techniques and practices for centering. The assumption is that being at the center is where you want to be. Here is where you are most authentically yourself. The center is the essential place. It is the place of balance and stability.
There’s no question that there are times and situations when you benefit from gathering all your resources and energy into a center so that you can act with concentrated force. To be poised in the body’s center of gravity is vital to a martial artist, a tightrope walker, or acrobat.
But our ideas about the center and centering grow out of a long-standing tension that arose with the development of civilization itself. It is a tension between power, authority, and organization concentrated in one place and power, authority and organization being diffused or, to use a modern word, networked among many equal nodes. Historically, it is the tension between the city and the countryside, between one powerful, dominant individual and many weaker, subordinate followers, between a model of a sun and its satellites and a galaxy with its many stars.
Consider our ancient ancestor, the hunter and gatherer before the days of agriculture and stored food. Here is a person who lives at his or her edges; he or she is a creature of the periphery, deeply aware and alert to everything going on in the environment around him or her. Survival depended on it. But there was more than just survival going on here. As “periphery persons”, our ancestors participated in the world in ways we now have forgotten and generally cannot imagine. They were not “in” the world the way an actor is on a stage, a center of identity moving against the backdrop of scenery. They were part of the world, and their identity included the world.
Modern humanity has learned how to be centered; we have moved away from a participatory periphery to a singular core which we call our identity. There is no doubt this gives us certain skills, but there is loss as well. Having a center gives us a certain kind of strength and power but it also makes us vulnerable because we expect our center—whether within ourselves or in the form of a leader, a teacher, a political party, a government—to do it all. When this proves unworkable or impossible and stress builds up, then, in the words of Yeats, more often than not, “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”.
Of course, “things fall apart” when we are too diffused and dispersed, as well. But the correction for this is not always or necessarily to become centered. Rather it is to become coherent. Instead of saying, “Where is my center?”, I could ask, “Where is my coherency?” What enables me to experience myself as a “together person”?
All too often, it seems to me, the idea of one’s “center” is divorced from the tangibility of the body and the world. The center exists as a spiritual or psychological abstraction, a monad of identity within us that is purely us. But “center” is a relative concept; there is no center except in relationship to a periphery. They define each other. We find our center as much through engagement as detachment, but this is not how we may think of it. Instead, our center becomes like an inner fortress to which we can retreat, protected from the world. It can isolate itself feeling that it is the essence, our true self, treating the connections and interactions we have with the world as less than real. In so doing, we diminish ourselves.
Seeing ourselves as an essential center is not the same as seeing ourselves as a whole person. Rather, our wholeness embraces both center and periphery and holds them both as partners and equals. It exists in a consciousness that moves inward and outward simultaneously, loving and engaging with the self and also loving and engaging with the world around us.
Part of the problem may simply be that we have learned to think in categories like “center” and “periphery”. This makes it difficult to grasp the nature of a coherent system that includes and depends on both.
Perhaps a useful exercise is to become centered, whatever this means to you, and then to become “edged”, allowing your awareness to move out in a sphere all around you, feeling into and paying attention to the world you are occupying in the moment. Experience both points of view, the center and the periphery, and then find the middle ground between them, the place where they dissolve into each other in mutual interaction and interdependency. Instead of a “centering meditation”, you want a “coherency” meditation that contemplates the whole of you.
The fact is that as complex systems, we are constantly blending into the world around us and we are also synthesizing what could be a diffused and diffusing experience into a coherent whole organized by our sense of selfhood. “Selfing” is as much a process of knowing our connections, relationships, and participation with the world we meet at our boundaries and edges as it is of knowing the center that is a dynamic process of synthesis.
Our world is badly fragmented and calls out for coherency. But this coherency will not come by simply providing a center of some kind that will seek to dominate the whole. This results only in more fragmentation. We need to explore in ourselves how to experience a coherency that blends both self and world, center and edge. Being centered can be a powerful tool, but for what the world needs, it may be insufficient. If the “centre cannot hold,” perhaps it’s time to explore what’s beyond centeredness.
David will be participating in a Subtle Activism Summit, Sept 8–10th sponsored by the Shift Network and the Gaiafield Project. Find out more here
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is ©2015 by David Spangler.
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