Several years ago I discovered a movie called Hollywood Homicide (2003). As its scintillating title indicates, this movie is a great big fat dopey melodrama containing every cop cliché in the book. What's interesting about it (apart from our hero Harrison Ford) is that the female lead (Lena Olin) is a psychic. And she's not a sleazy con-artist psychic, either: she's smart, gorgeous, and uses her psychic ability to save the day for the good guys. I guess that long ago and far away are the days when psychics in Hollywood movies were always low-life creeps.
Predictably, the Lena Olin character doesn't have any problem taking money for her psychic skills (which is a colossal no-no in my eyes), but I still find her to be likable. She is honest enough to admit that sometimes "I just make shit up", but she does seem to have genuine psychic ability. Towards the end of the movie, when she has to discover the whereabouts of the bad guy, she zeroes right in on him. But before she can do it, however, she takes a few moments to get herself "centered". She knows that her psychic ability will not work unless she has achieved inner balance first. She does this by closing her eyes, humming, and rocking back and forth on her sofa.
Well, okay--almost. The screenwriter who came up with this humming and rocking stuff was onto something, even if he didn't quite know how to show it. The trick is that if you want to be psychic, you have to know how to center yourself. In other words, you don't have any chance of accessing your intuitive information unless you are in a balanced and tranquil state of consciousness. For that matter, if you want to live your life with any kind of success, you also need to know how to deliberately go into this kind of centered consciousness any time you want to. People who go through their lives with a certain amount of effortlessness always seem to have this quality, when everything about their being--mind, body, and spirit--is flowing harmoniously and naturally. These are the kind of people who can easily focus, who can apply their minds to the task at hand without mental wandering, and who operate at their full potential. Their creative abilities come to them naturally and without much effort. This kind of centered feeling can be one of the most exquisite sensations we can ever experience.
Centering is something that people do all the time, although they probably don't call it centering. If you've ever paused to take a breath before giving a speech or sitting down in the dentist's chair, you have centered yourself. You've used your breath and your body to come into a kind of unity so that you can deal with a person or a situation. Indeed, any time you pause and focus on what is before you in the present moment is a kind of centering. But just taking a deep breath here and there doesn't really get to the nitty-gritty of centering. After watching Hollywood Homicide, I started to wonder if there was anything I could deliberately do to bring a sense of centeredness into my life. This seemed a perfectly reasonable goal, something which could not only help me develop my psychic abilities but help me to live more in harmony with the world around me. I have always known that I waste too much mental and physical energy, have difficulty concentrating my mind, and get easily stressed. This is not the way that a rational human being wants to live.
I needed to find a way to
bring a deliberate sense of centeredness into my life whenever I
wanted to. So I set off on a quest to find ways to center
myself. I figured there was probably lots of information about
centering which I could find--all I had to do was a little
searching, both at the library and on the net. And the first
thing I discovered was . . .
Mary Caroline Richards wrote one of the most extraordinary books I have ever come across in my life: Centering: In Pottery, Poetry and the Person (1964). This particular book proved to have such an impact on me that I consider it to be one of the most tremendously life-changing books which I have ever read.
Richards (1916-1999) was a
visionary artist, poet, and teacher. She received a doctorate in
English literature from the University of California at Berkeley
and taught at Black Mountain College and other universities. As
she says in Centering, "During one
period, when people asked me what I did, I was uncertain what to
answer; I guessed I could say I taught English, wrote poetry,
and made pottery. What was my occupation? I finally gave up and
Just a person, I guess, but she was as rare, valuable, and as astonishing as all "persons" are. Richards was one of those extraordinary spirits who can find the most profound meaning in the ordinary events and circumstances of our lives. She was also the sort of writer who can take the most commonplace object or event and transform it into a spiritual vision which is radiant with meaning and truth. Her words are treasures that you linger over, think about, and do your best to make part of your own being.
Her insights into the whole idea of centering can change your very existence. By the time she had written this book, it was obvious that she had pondered the idea of centering for many years, and if ever there was a human being who knew how to center herself, she did.
Richards' book made me think for the first time about how we can use our creative abilities as a kind of centering. I have long felt that one of the principal aims of our existence should be to live in harmony with the creative unfoldment of the universe, and if anything in our world actually means something, it must be creativity itself. Those people who can direct the natural outpouring of their personalities into creation, instead of lust for power or piles of money... they are the ones who are in tune with the most basic energies of the universe. Forget Nietzsche and his fanatical ravings about the will to power, forget the trophy house, forget the creature comforts and the vacations and updating your resume. The one and only thing which matters in our lives is our ability to transmute our experiences and our vision into creative art. Throw a pot, write poetry, compose music, carve some wood, design a new spreadsheet... not only are you making the most appropriate use of your energies, you are centering yourself in the best possible way.
Here are some sample quotes from Richards' text:
There is much, much more. If you are wondering where to start on your quest for your center, get this book and read it several times.
Richards also wrote several other books which are well worth your time:
Well, after discovering
Richards, I knew I was well on my way to finding my center. But
I felt that there was surely much more I needed to discover.
What I started wondering about next was predictable . . .
In case you haven't noticed, the present author happens to be a tea connoisseur. So if I wanted to center myself, I had to discover the best kind of centering tea. But eventually it occurred to me that perhaps someone else had put together a tea which could be described as "centering". A quick search on the web netted one commercial site for a centering tea composed of spearmint, roses, lavender, lemon balm, dandelion leaf, and orange peel. Another suggested oatstraw, mallow, sweet grass, and roses. Once again, these teas sounded perfectly delicious, but I doubted that these particular assortments of herbs could induce any kind of centering.
I then decided to contact Michael Tierra, author of one of my favorite herbals, Planetary Herbology (1987). Michael was kind enough to give the question some thought and responded thusly:
The object of such a tea is to calm the nervous system, give strength in the center, which would be the Spleen and Stomach in Traditional Chinese Medicine: chinese zizyphus seeds (Suan Zao ren) is a great herb that has both calming and nurturing properties about 50%. Camomile also has calming and nurturing properties that helps digestion (the center 30%. Jujube dates are sweet, tonifying and promote calm satisfaction, use 4 pieces per cup of water (eat the dates). Chinese Anemarrhena root (Zhi Mu) clears heat, calms restlessness, reduces any irritation 10%. Licorice has cortisone-like, centering properties 10%. Mix the combination together in the above proportions. Simmer one to two teaspoons in a cup of water for 20 minutes. Cool and add honey to taste. It is also very pleasant with a little almond extract. I hope you enjoy it.
Well, this sounded more like it, but I was not familiar with the Chinese ingredients, which were difficult to find. And I had long been convinced that any tea which would truly do me some good could only come from plants which I had grown myself. Only the chamomile and the licorice sounded promising.
Well, I wasn't about to give up on the idea, and I started to search all of my herbal books for some mention of a "centering" effect. Nothing. I started to experiment with various herbal teas myself to see what I could discover. Nothing. I then started to wonder about real tea (Camellia sinensis), either green or black. Could real tea have a centering effect? After all, the caffeine in tea gives you a jolt of alertness, which might be considered a kind of centering. But I had never read or heard mentioned that regular tea could ever in any way "center" you. I didn't seem to be getting anywhere.
But one day the answer came to me without the slightest effort. If I wanted some centering tea, I simply had to make myself a pot of ... tea. Any kind of tea. Since all tea is centering. Regular tea, herbal tea, dandelion tea, or any other kind of tea you care to name. It doesn't matter what kind of tea you set to brew in your own little pot, do it right and it will center you. Mind you, what matters here is doing it right. I am not talking about iced tea, nor the ghastly stuff which comes in bottles (yuck!), nor the powdered crap, nor what you can extract from those atrocities called teabags. You've got to take a moment in your day to fire up your kettle and properly brew some real tea in a real china pot. And then when you settle down to drink it sip by glorious sip, you've centered yourself. You're relaxing, you're letting go of all your mental chaos, and you can go into the living moment in all its richness and wonder. Presence of cat optional. And if that isn't centering, I don't know what is.
But of course this is still
not quite enough . . .
I had already examined various herbs for a centering effect, and now I started to wonder if I could find a particular kind of stone or crystal which might also induce a sense of centering. After all, crystals and stones contain some of the most potent energies we can find. We need to remember that all objects in the physical universe, including crystals and stones, are not pieces of solid matter but energy fields--just like the human body. The energies of stones and crystals happen to be very real and can be felt by anyone with enough sensitivity. They can help us in innumerable ways if we learn how to use them correctly.
I am not as knowledgeable about crystals and stones as I am about herbs, but there is plenty of information around these days about their energies. After much experimentation, I finally decided that there are two stones which do seem to contain the right kind of energies to help you center: smoky quartz and obsidian. Most crystal pundits agree that both these stones have grounding or centering qualities. Smoky quartz has long been recognized for its abilities to draw in your scattered energies, as well as bring a sense of calmness and balance into your life. Obsidian, including the very common snowflake obsidian, is not a stone but a type of volcanic glass, but it is also known to be both grounding and balancing.
Once I concluded that these stones were what I needed, I made myself two bracelets: one of snowflake beads and another of smoky quartz. I make sure to wear one or the other every day. Am I more centered because of them? Well, I can't prove that I am, but the stones feel good, they are pretty to look at, and I don't have quite so many kill thoughts these days. So maybe something about them is working.
But of course stones are also not enough, any more than tea is. If you want to center yourself, you also need to focus on your inner energies as much as what might affect you physically. So the next thing to look at are . . .
Centering exercises are the kinds of physical exercise which you can do to center yourself.
Here I must admit that I have very little faith in western systems of exercise. When you work out at any type of western exercise, such as jogging or using some kind of mechanical contraption, it's true that your muscles do get strengthened. However, something else also happens. Your energy starts spewing out in every direction. You don't end up with any kind of balance or centeredness--you just end up with jittery nerves and scattered sensibilities. What people need to do when they exercise is move their body in a balanced fashion, not only between polarities like left and right, but also with a sense of mind/body/spirit unity. Wasting your time at the great American gym isn't going to leave you with a sensation of centeredness. It will only serve to divorce your mind from your body.
Which in my opinion is the single most underappreciated health problem around today. And it is, alas, how most of us live out our lives. We exist today in a computerized world where what goes on above the neck is about the only thing that matters in a successful life. The physical processes of the rest of our body are never appreciated or noticed. This is especially true of those intellectual types who live in a world of words. The head is alive, all those thoughts and words and concepts are very much real, but what's happening in the rest of the body never quite registers.
However, if you want to live from your center, you need to know how to live holistically, with mind and body fully integrated into one unity. Of course, getting our mind to work in harmony with our physical being isn't the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. The mind is just an intangible and invisible something, which cannot be located in time or space. The body, on the other hand, seems to be something solid, material, and very much a part of physical reality. Bringing mind and body together seems to be about as easy as gluing a cloud to a granite block.
But it can be done. All you need to do is make sure that your mind is actually where your body is. This is a statement that probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense, at least not initially. But think for a moment about your body. Where is it right now? Where is it always going to be? Simple. Your body is always in the present moment, in the present space. As a part of three-dimensional physical reality, it will never be able to move into a different time or a different space. It is always right here, right now, existing precisely in the living present. Elementary common sense.
But where is your mind? Your mind can be anywhere. As a matter of fact, it usually is anywhere, or everywhere, scattering about in fantasies or regrets, reliving the past or daydreaming about the future, rehashing last night's drama or planning a new vacation. The only limit to the mind is the sky, which means that your mind is only rarely where your body always is, right here and right now. Your mind can go anywhere it pleases, but the body can never escape from the physical reality of the present moment. So unless your mind is securely rooted in what is happening during the present moment, it will always be somehow disjointed from your body. To truly function as a whole harmonious human being, with mind and body integrated, your mind needs to exist fully in the here and now. Where poets, artists, visionaries, and mystics of any sort always are--right where they are.
There are numerous eastern systems of exercise which have been around for millennia and which promote the kind of unity I am talking about. My favorite is Hatha Yoga, which I took up as a teenager and which was one of the very few intelligent things I did during the days of my misbegotten youth. There is lots of information on the web about many other centering physical exercises, including:
So if you want to achieve a sense of centering, you need some kind of daily physical practice which not only joins your mind to your body, but helps to balance you out. Even just a few minutes a day sitting in the lotus position, which is of itself a kind of centering, will help.
But there is more to be said
about centering our physical being. We now need to discuss . . .
Here I must admit that while I have always been impressed with eastern forms of physical exercise, I am not too crazy about any kind of time-consuming meditative practice, the kind of zazen effort some people indulge in for hours at a time. All those antiquated yogic/Zen/Daoist meditative techniques were developed when people were living very different kinds of lives and had to perform brutal physical chores day in and day out, like chopping wood and carrying water. Nowadays we live a much less strenuous existence, and a good many of us spend most of our days in front of a computer. If you are like me and earn your living by manipulating all those delectable little bytes, probably the worst thing you can do to your body is sitting in motionless meditation for considerable periods of time.
On the other hand, I am
equally convinced that a limited and reasonable amount of
meditative practice can do you immense good. One thing I've
started to do in recent years is try to create special
meditative moments throughout my days. I simply take a moment
every now and then to pass into silence and become pure
awareness. Whenever you let go of your churning monkey mind and
simply go into the present moment, you are meditating--and you
are also centering yourself in the best possible way. Of course
during these moments I cannot stop the thoughts from jumping
into my head, but I simply react the way good Buddhists tell me
to react: I observe the thoughts and then I let them go. Making
moments like these in my life is worth all aching legs from all
the meditation cushions in the world.
There is one other eastern centering practice which I can wholeheartedly endorse: the 1,500 year old Vijnana Bhairava centering scripture, an English translation of which was published in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1957) by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a remarkable book not only because of the information about Zen, but for this ancient Sanskrit scripture.
The scripture contains 112 dharanas or methods of union with God. Each dharana not only can stand alone as a profoundly brilliant scripture but they can also help you to develop a more centered kind of consciousness. No aspect of human existence is ignored in these teachings: they show you that everything you experience in your life can be a means to center yourself or to find a way to union with the Divine.
Each scripture is in and of itself a meditative practice. If you read all the teachings at once, they seem very simple and not particularly impressive. But their simplicity is deceptive. If you take your time to work with one teaching at a time, memorize it, linger over it, go into it so that every phrase and syllable becomes part of your own consciousness, you will start to get a glimmer of the brilliance behind the facade.
I choose a new dharana from the Vijnana Bhairava at the start of each moon cycle and work with it for the next four weeks. I always try to pick a new one at random: over the years I've discovered that (like pulling Tarot cards) I choose the one I need to see at one particular moment in my life. I then memorize it, think about it, and try to analyze how it affects my life during the current month. And then--hello, centering.
But there is still more
which we can study about centering . . .
How to exercise the
Of all the centering exercises which you can do, none is more important than working with the breath. I've talked about physical exercises and I've talked about mental exercises, but when you exercise your breath you are exercising them both at the same time, and in the best centering way possible.
Breath is, after all, our most vital function. We can live for hours without water or days without food, but we cannot live for more than a few moments without our breath. Breath is life. Breath is spirit. The word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means breath. Throughout history, the words for spirit or soul in countless cultures have always had some kind of connotation with the breath. In other words, the intangible, spiritual side of us humans has always been associated with the air or with the sky--you might even say that our souls are the spaciousness of the sky within us.
Breathing is something that we do every second of our lives, mostly without consciously thinking about it. But of all of our automatic body processes, it is the only one which we can deliberately control. Which means that if you start manipulating your breath, you are working with your most essential mind/body connection. I have long believed that breathing exercises are infinitely more important than physical exercises of the body. Exercise your breath, and you invigorate your spirit. You purify your mind. And you start feeling centered.
Which is why, by the way, that there is nothing more destructive you can do to yourself than inhaling an addictive substance. Snorting cocaine, sniffing glue, toking the weed, or lighting up a cancer stick--better you swallow the booze or mainline heroin than suck the stuff in with the air. Your breath is your life. Absorbing a substance through the lungs will enslave your spirit as well as your body. It's what people do when they puff their lives away. Repeated inhalations of anything addictive are not just damaging physically, they are also guaranteed to enslave the spirit.
Working with the breath is called pranayama in Hindu culture, where it has been practiced for millennia. There are dozens of books which have been written about various pranayama techniques in recent years, and perhaps hundreds of sites on the web devoted to it. I'm no expert on pranayama, but I have practiced it for thirty years and can testify to the profound impact it has made upon my life. Indeed, I am convinced the exercise of the breath is much more important than exercise of the body, and you should devote a part of each day to it. It can be of itself a meditative practice, especially if you focus upon nothing but your breathing when you do it. And needless to say, it will engender a feeling of centeredness.
Here are the most
fundamental things I have learned over the years about
Breathe from the
First, when you practice your breathing, you should always take deep belly breaths from the diaphragm, instead of just shallow inhalations from the upper part of the lungs. Furthermore: you should push your belly out when you inhale and contract it when you exhale. This seems the wrong way to do it, and it takes some practice getting used to it.
Furthermore, not only should you push your belly out when you inhale, but you should also try to sense energy flowing down the front of your body. Then when you contract and exhale, feel it going up and out your back. I have read that this is the way qi energy normally flows, so when you breathe like this you are aligning yourself with the natural flow of your life force.
So as you inhale, you push
your belly out while you feel your energy going down your front.
When you exhale, you suck your stomach in while sensing your
energy going up and out your back. Doing it like this takes some
getting used to, like learning how to rub your stomach and pat
your head at the same time. But after you get the hang of it, it
seems perfectly natural.
The next thing to understand
is that you should make your inhalations and exhalations as slow
and as protracted as you possibly can. You should also try to
exhale twice as slowly as you inhale. This is an instruction
which is constantly repeated in yoga and Zen texts: you are
repeatedly told to breathe out twice as slowly as you inhale. I
never understood why this was so important until I figured out
that the more slowly you exhale, the calmer becomes your mind.
Breathing as slowly as possible is one of the best possible ways
to quiet that good old monkey mind. "Whoever breathes slowest
lives the longest," says Sepharial in Second Sight (1912),
a statement with which I agree.
The Moment Between the Breaths
You also need to pay careful
attention to the pause between your inhalations and your
exhalations. The Vijnana Bhairava repeatedly
stresses the importance of this centering moment between the
breaths. This moment is what I consider to be one of those good
old "between" moments of special
intensity, where we can always find truth or reality. So not
only do you need to deliberately pause between your breaths, you
need to pause as long as you can. This takes some getting used
to, since your natural impulse is to start another breath
immediately after an inhalation or an exhalation. But when you
do the hang of it, you can feel its calming energies start to
Despite my dislike of
lengthy formal meditation, I always allow myself a few
meditative moments after doing breathing exercises. I simply go
into silence, let go of my thoughts, and become pure awareness.
Even just a few minutes of this after practicing my breath can
make a colossal difference in your life. This is my idea of
appropriate meditative practices for a computer geek: fun,
brief, simple, and effective.
There is one pranayama text
available at Project Gutenberg: the Hindu-Yogi Science
of Breath (1903)
by Yogi Ramacharaka, aka William Walker
this book does have some helpful advice, it is not very
impressive: Atkinson was apparently one of those all-American
boys who realized he could start milking the suckers by turning
himself into a Hindu sage, complete with silk turban and
pretentious moniker. The links listed at the Wikipedia pranayama site
are more helpful.
Centering and the Chakras
There is another way to center yourself both mentally and physically, namely by working with the energies of the chakras.
The chakras are those esoteric energy centers which, as far as western high-tech medicine is concerned, simply do not exist. Well, in my humble opinion, it is western high-tech medicine which simply does not exist, or if it does, someday it is going to implode. Western high-tech medicine is founded upon a horrendous fallacy, namely that the human body is a solid machine made of something called "matter". If you want to repair the machine, so the current thinking goes, all you have to do is cut it open and rearrange the parts, or (better still) take something out. And if this doesn't work, no problem--you then must simply persuade the owner of the machine to start swallowing the latest heavily-advertised pharmaceuticals. What could be more simple? If your car needs repair, all you've got to do is get it mechanically adjusted right?
Wrong. Very much so. As far as I'm concerned, the human body is not a machine, nor is it a computer. The human body is an energy field, an energy field which is 99.99% empty space. You cannot repair an energy field by subjecting it to any kind of mechanical technique, no matter how sophisticated. Every time you try it, something will inevitably go wrong, and then there are a bunch of whole new problems. And then newer ones, and then newer ones, and then on and on we go, down the great American health care rabbit hole which leads to nowhere. Those secular humanists who waste their time on impossible fantasies like biomedical engineering simply do not understand the bedrock reality of our physical existence, namely that it's all vibes, man.
All of which means that the energy fields which we call our bodies probably do contain those subtle energy fields called chakras. The word chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning wheel or disk. Says Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life (1987): "At the inner core of each one of us spin seven wheel-like energy centers called chakras. Swirling intersections of vital life forces, each chakra reflects an aspect of consciousness essential to our lives. ...Chakras are centers of activity for the reception, assimilation and transmission of life energies."
We have seven primary
Third Eye Intuition,
Solar Plexus Power, integrity
If you have any psychic sensitivity at all, you have probably been able to sense the whirling energies of your chakras. And if you want to bring a sense of centeredness into your life, you've got to know how to bring all seven of these energies into balance. There are allegedly many different ways to do this, such as yoga, chanting, meditation, and so on. I'm no expert on the chakras and never will be, but when I started getting interested in centering, I wondered if there were any kind of chakra-balancing exercises I might start doing which would help to center me. As usual, I did a lot of research, but I didn't find anything which made sense.
Nevertheless, I did end up developing one simple chakra-balancing exercise which I do twice a day, morning and evening, and which seems to work. The exercise simply consists in closing your eyes and focusing on each of the seven chakras one by one. In the morning I focus on opening up each chakra, breathing energy into each one, and filling them with gold and silver light (as well as with the light of their appropriate color). I start with the crown chakra at the top of the head and then go downwards to the root chakra at the base of the spine. When I've finished with the root chakra, I visualize all the chakra colors coming together to form a rainbow of light in my heart chakra. I then try to focus on this light and pray to keep it within my being throughout the rest of the day.
In the evening, just before I go to bed, I again mentally focus on each chakra, but this time I do a releasing. I again start with the crown chakra and focus on its energies slowing down and growing dim. I then go downwards through all the other chakras, relaxing and releasing each one's energy into the earth. I can usually feel the energy and the stress of the day dropping out of me whenever I do this. When I finally climb into bed, all of my energy has diminished so much that sleep comes almost immediately.
That's all there is to it, and it only takes a few moments each day. Maybe it helps and maybe it doesn't, but it hasn't hurt me, and let's face it--the more meditative practices you have in your life, the better off you are.
But while working with the chakras is all well and good, we're not finished yet.
Now the preceding statement
might sound slightly ridiculous. Isn't the whole idea of four
elements completely out of date? Has not modern physics
identified more than a hundred elements which constitute the
physical reality of our universe? Yes, of course, but... if you
start talking about elemental energies instead
of physical matter, the whole idea of four elements starts to
make sense. Not just to me and to the ancient Greeks, but to
countless poets and philosophers over the years. I long ago lost
count of how many great minds interpreted reality in terms of
the energies of the four elements, up to and including Empedocles, Aristotle, William
Butler Yeats, T.S.
Eliot, and J.R.R.
Tolkien. Says Northrop
his preface to Gaston
of Fire (1968):
"earth, air, water and fire are still the four elements of
imaginative experience, and always will be."
I am convinced that only
when these four elements are balanced in your psyche will you be
centered. In reaching this conclusion I have been influenced by
psychologist Carl Jung,
who believed that our personalities possess four distinct
aspects: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. I must
admit that I have never been overly impressed with Jung's
obscure prose and lack of scientific rigor. But his theories of
personality were based on his long study of the elemental
aspects of alchemical literature,
and they make sense to me. My own experience of life tells me
that you can reasonably interpret both life and experience
through the energies of earth, air, fire and water. This is
especially true when you work with tarot.
It has long been noted that the minor arcana in the Tarot deck
correspond not just to the four elements, but to the four sides
to our personality, which can be defined as follows:
Earth Physical Sensation Pentacles
Air Mental Thinking Swords
Fire Spiritual Intuition Wands
Water Emotional Feeling Cups
So if you want to be centered, you need to bring your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual energies into balance. If any of these energies are out of whack, I can guarantee your life will be a mess, you will make bad decisions, and you will never get what you want. In other words, you will go through your life uncentered.
Which is something you see a
lot of here in 21st century America, where emotional extremism
is the great curse of our times. I used to think that people
nowadays were so overly obsessed with air energies (thinking,
communication, information) that they could never achieve any
kind of harmonious balance in their psyches. But excesses in the
realm of air are nothing compared to the kind of chaotic
emotional turmoil which constantly poisons the life of millions.
Everywhere you look these days you find too much political
hysteria, corrosive relationships, lust for creature comforts,
chronic self indulgence, or--worst of all--the kind of
suffocating complacency you get when your vanity tells you that
you are a superior being who's got everything figured out. This
last is the worst. I am referring to those zillions of
unimaginative egomaniacs who have decided that their political
or religious beliefs are the correct ones, that they have
positioned themselves on the side of the angels, and that there
will never again be any need for reevaluation of their most
cherished views. Talk about utter stagnation. This is not
success in life--it is emotional excess taken to its absolute
frozen limit. Settle down in a rut like this, and you will find
yourself as imbalanced as a human being can get.
Well, there is one very
practical thing you can do to dampen down your emotions: make
sure you follow the advice in my second book A
Spiritual Guide to Planetary Transformation. The
more you accept my guidance in this book, the more centered you
You might also take a look at the other books of Gaston Bachelard, who is one of the few 20th century philosophers who actually had something worthwhile to say:
There is also an interesting site (in French) devoted to him:
We now need to take a look at meditative techniques from Daoist traditions. Chinese sages seemed to have understood centering as profoundly as did the ancient Hindus; indeed, the most basic patterns you can find in Daoism, including the circular Yin and Yang symbol, always give off a sense of balance, of unity, and of centeredness. We need to remember that the most fundamental patterns of Daoism are concerned with yielding and withdrawing, with inaction rather than action, with returning again and again and again to the source of life. If you are a good Daoist, you discover the truth not by striving or grasping, but by releasing, surrendering, and focusing your attention on natural energies or patterns. All of which makes for very good centering.
Most people are familiar
with the great Daoist scriptures: the Dao de Jing and
the Zhuangzi. However,
there are other shorter treatises which can also give us several
Secret of the Golden Flower
The Secret of the
Golden Flower is
a celebrated Chinese classic whose anonymous author discusses
various meditative techniques, all of which are designed to
"turn the light around" or help us achieve spiritual
illumination. The author describes his experience of spiritual
reality in terms of such superb poetic beauty that The
Secret of the Golden Flower is worth
studying even if you don't want to follow the techniques. I
reread this text recently and was struck by how frequently the
author refers to the idea of the center. When the light is
turned around, after all, you have brought it to your very own
There have been several translations of The Secret of the Golden Flower into English, including:
Spiritual Alchemy for Women
Thomas Cleary gives us several translations of unusual Daoist texts in his book Immortal Sisters (1989). What's interesting is that all of these texts were written by women, which is not exactly the norm for most Chinese classics. One of the most intriguing is Spiritual Alchemy for Women, written by one Cao Zenjie (1899).
When you read this text, you can immediately see that Cao Zenjie knew a thing or two about centering. Practically every paragraph gives us specific instructions about achieving balance, harmony, or union. What is of particular interest here is Cao's recommendation that women when meditating should direct their attention to the sternum. She writes: "Men begin practice with the attention in the lower abdomen, just below the navel. Women start work with the attention between the breasts."
In other words, men should focus on the hara when they meditate, which corresponds to the Svadhistha or abdomen chakra. Women, on the other hand, should focus on the Anahata or heart chakra. The reasons for the difference are not explained, but it is obvious that Cao knew what she is talking about. On those rare occasions when I do attempt sitting meditation, I always focus on the energies of my heart, and if you are a woman, I recommend that you do the same. What, after all, could be more centering?
Japanese Cult of Tranquility
In 1960 German writer Karlfried von Dürckheim published a wonderful book entitled The Japanese Cult of Tranquility. One of the key concepts in the book is centering, and Dürckheim understood very well why it is so important:
When we lose touch with the kernel of our essential being, we identify exclusively with our outer shell. When our sense of inner achievement becomes muted, we turn to the noise of the outside world and lose all sense of our living center. We are caught in the bondage of a hardened periphery; we are alienated from our spiritual powers, and we try to find fulfillment by protecting and indulging the ego, or in the excitement of cheap stimuli, or by satisfying instinctive desires, or we get lost in the sensations of the mind. We run from ourselves. We fly from life's calm rhythm to find refuge in the measured beat of organized existence, relinquishing contact with the indestructible within ourselves for security in the transitory world. We drown the quiet voices of being in the noise of worthless illusion.
Dürckheim then goes on to give us directions for exercising the center, and they are some of the best ever written:
The exercise of the center of being! To speak of center is to conjure up an image of a circle possessing a central point which is in a certain relation to the periphery. The periphery is outside, the center inside, representing depth as opposed to superficiality. All points on the periphery are related to the center equally; viewed from the center they are all eccentric. Movement from the center to the periphery is centrifugal, that from the periphery to the center is centripetal. The periphery can revolve in circular motion while the center remains motionless, governing all surrounding movement as a whole. We experience each of these aspects in the exercise of the center as they affect ourselves. We say of people that they are centered or that they are eccentric, meaning that their way of life is in harmony with their essential being, or conversely that a lack of proportion prevents them from being themselves and endangers their individuality. People all possess their own formula as to the relation between centrifugal and centripetal motion, but it seems to be generally accepted that the rhythm of such motion is to be determined from the center and not from the periphery.
If we should set about the exercise of the center in the same form of consciousness as we would any other task, in other words, with the ego asserting itself as the subject and accordingly determining and fixing the thing to be done as object, we will not be spared an unpleasant experience.
In our efforts to find the center within ourselves, the more determinedly our ego asserts itself and causes us to make ourselves into an object and to adhere hard and fast to this object, we will only reach a painful state of rigidity in which all life comes to a standstill. We would experience in an almost unprecedented manner in our own person the extent of the threat offered by the forces of the ego, which turn the living natural world into so many dead "factors." We are not concerned with the question as to how far the human mind and its talent for creative activity is rooted in this ability of the ego; we are only concerned with its negative aspect, that when we regard ourselves from the viewpoint of the ego we become the victim of our own reflection. But we are more than just an ego, and therefore, if we take ourselves and our ego's instinct to be the central point seriously while practicing the exercise of the center, we can perceive life coming to a standstill in ourselves.
This experience may be accompanied by a serious shock, when all of a sudden we feel unable to escape from the state of rigidity forced on us by the ego. It is not possible here to examine how this painful state may be overcome and gradual outgrown. It depends, in all cases, on people relinquishing their own small self as the subject of the search for a center. If we succeed in doing this through conscious meditation (not concentration!) we will feel the rigidity in ourselves giving place to some new center. This new center is quite distinct from that other one, which in reality was nothing but the ego, identical with itself and reflecting its own identity eternally. We can now experience the center of our being as something far more than ego, far more than just self. Having succeeded in attaining it will we now discover everything being submitted to it and being made a harmonious part of it in such a manner as to transcend the tension between subject and object. Everything is now centralized in perfect harmony with the systole and diastole of the universe.
We all know something of this state of being from those fleeting moments in life when we suddenly feel as if we were "rounded off" and perform whatever we have to do with perfect ease. Everything seems in its proper place and we can accept in perfect equanimity disturbances which at another time might have deeply distressed us. It is not until this sensation is destroyed by some sudden thought or emotion that we are thrown once more into the old decentric tension of subject and object, and it is only by sheer concentration of the will that we can master the situation. Life from the living center is replaced by life governed from the periphery. The exercise of the center aims at giving us as a lasting possession, something that we ordinarily only experience as a passing happy moment--occasionally, for example, on awakening--as the gift of chance, of whose significance we are hardly aware. This is the exercise of becoming a "hinge" which remains motionless even when the door is turning on it--to use an image from the German mystic, Meister Eckhart. The Japanese people to whom I mentioned this story felt it to be a perfect designation for what they themselves experienced in exercises of the center.
The exercise of the center is integrally linked with those of immobility and breath, and lies at the core of all Japanese education. The Japanese have a special word for the center of body and soul: hara. The number of expressions in which it is found indicates its importance for them. There are master schools that make hara the sole object of their exercise, while every master art in Japan considers that it is necessary to possess it in order to achieve success in whatever one is doing. To the Japanese, what we experience in the "center of being" is none other than the unity of life, bearing all, permeating all, nourishing and enfolding all. Our consciousness is ego-centered and thus separated from the true center: the purpose of these exercises of immobility, breath, and of the center of body and soul is to help us to regain it...
Well, there it is. All you
really need to know about centering in some very beautiful
I am almost at the end of my
centering treatise. Here are a few final odds and ends about
centering practices which I think are valuable:
Contemplating a mandala as
a meditative practice always produces a centering kind of
sensation. The mandalas which have been created in eastern
cultures over the years have got to be some of the most wondrous
works of art ever created. If you spend some time contemplating
these designs, and go into them as deeply as you can, and will
get the same effect as that of great music. You don't
necessarily have to focus your attention on a mandala: any kind
of centering design, such as that of the Tree of Life or
any kind of sacred geometric design will have this effect.
You always go into your center whenever you pray. This is a practice which never fails: any attempt to reach or communicate in some way with the Divine will automatically bring your mind, body, soul and spirit into a unity.
And saying a prayer or a
blessing before a meal is a particularly effective way to
center. Kaiten Nukariya's The Religion of the
tells us of "a contemporary Zenist who would not drink even a
cup of water without first making a salutation to it." Here is a
centered human if there every way one: a human being who is
neither to be rushed nor distracted by the ephemeral, who is
continually aware of the enormities of time, space and eternity,
and who is humble enough to feel gratitude for even a sip of
water. Get into a mindset like this, and the grace of
centeredness will be yours.
To conclude: the one single thing that matters in all of the above is Buddhist idea of practice, namely that the practice itself is the goal, not the alleged goal itself. You do it just for the sake of doing it, not in the hope that you will actually get anywhere. So if you want to be centered, all you need to do is practice being centered, and behold... that is what you are.
center is omnipresent;
the whole universe is within it.
--The Secret of the Golden Flower