Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
–William Butler Yeats, 1919
For most of the time I’ve been training brains, I’ve tried to figure out what differentiates happier, more satisfied people in any walk of life, at any age.
For several years now, I’ve been pretty sure that it came down to a person’s center.
Each of us has a still place within us—a center of who and what we are. It develops as we do and can become a stable place within us. It depends on nothing else. There we sense the connection with things outside our selves. There we best know ourselves within.
In recent years I’ve noticed how many people come to me for training—or just people I meet or know or love—who don’t even know they HAVE a center.
They are what they do, who they know, how many “friends” (they “know” only online), how much money. They have to be plugged in, texting, listening to their music, watching videos on the net, multi-tasking, judging and constantly being judged. Their minds race out of control. Ten minutes quiet, alone, with eyes closed is torture. They are stressed and driven and anxious and burning out. They need pills to sleep. They don’t know how to stop. They’re afraid to stop, to miss something. As a result, they miss everything.
We know—perhaps in our own experience—certainly in what we read—that there is a state called the Zone or Flow. Moments occur—for most of us unexpectedly and unreliably—when we perform at our highest level. We don’t think, we don’t try, we don’t judge. We are in this moment in this place, seeing it all at once, and we perform, briefly, at a level above what we considered possible.
There are brain activation patterns that are consistent with Zone states, and we can learn to move in and out of them or sustain them. Multiple studies have identified consistent brain patterns in eastern meditators. Others found that top-gun pilots flew their planes in the same state. Top performers in critical jobs, with huge potential for stress, had meditator brains. Top level athletes or artists while performing can be in that same state: present, still, aware, ready. So can each one of us.
Being in the Zone means operating from your center—from that part of you that has nothing to prove: Able to do what needs to be done; able to wait till it’s time to do it.
Finding the Center
The center is a “clearing” somewhere in each of us. If we don’t ever go there, it gets overgrown and hard to find. But practicing—perhaps with a system to guide you—can help you find the way, help you clear some space. The more you go back, the easier it becomes to find it and longer you can stay: being still without worrying that you’ll miss something—without getting “bored”. The more time you spend in your center, the stronger it becomes—YOU become. You begin to handle routine tasks better with less energy. You perform in stressful situations without being stressed.
There is a whole market in brain training called “peak performance”. Executives, traders, weekend athletes and others who’ve experienced Flow moments want to perform at a higher level. But the focus remains on what they DO. They PERFORM—get more work done or achieve higher rankings or get better grades. Performing is important. It’s a way of “keeping score” in our lives. But improving the outcome—performance—happens best when you focus on the process.
While Centering underlies peak performance, it primarily focuses on what you are—how you are—when you don’t need to be performing. It’s the ground from which peak performance grows. It is based on knowledge of yourself, a sense of who you are and how you fit in the world around you.
Maps to the Center
Meditation is a form of finding and getting comfortable in your center. Prayer can do the same—after we give thanks and ask for blessings and admit our sins—when we shut up and listen to see if God has anything to say. The spirit doesn’t shout—or at least not until the water’s already rising. The spirit whispers, and we have to be still to hear it.
It’s no accident that, in a materialistic, consumerist, adrenalin-soaked, debt-driven culture, everything is about doing more and doing faster and staying connected. Health care becomes a constant intake of drugs to keep production up, keep us acting and feeling as we are expected. Movements like The Secret exhort us to find our center to attract a better house or spouse, to lose weight or win the lottery. Brain hackers try to find the right diets and supplements and technologies to get the most out of their “equipment”. It all follows the same line.
But we’re going to talk about your center with a different focus:
Don’t go there to GET something. Go there to find out what’s there. It’s you.