A Mindful Perspective: Life at the Center of Self
Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC, BCC
I talk a lot with my Clients about centering, the act of living in the center of oneself. It is so very difficult not to be pulled off balance by thoughts and emotions. Unless we are mindful, unless we continually examine our own thoughts and feelings, we might fall prey to unhappy or stressful ideas and/or feelings about ourselves, our relationships including family and friends, our work or the behaviors of colleagues, addictive substances, and about life in general. People and things push or pull us, and we stumble. It happens to me, and it happens to my Clients.
Here are some examples of ideas that could unbalance us and that we should examine carefully before accepting as personal truths:
I cannot be happy until this person loves me.
If you cannot be happy without a particular person in your life, you are off balance. We can love and support other people, but we cannot dictate whom they will love; and if we try to manipulate them into loving us, our personal power evaporates. It is “out there” somewhere, wherever we imagine that person to be – which is probably not even where they are. One thing is sure. We lose contact with ourselves; and our power is lost to us.
It is my responsibility to make my husband or my child happy.
You cannot change another person. Neither can I. If you will consider how difficult it is to change yourself when you truly want to change, you will realized how impossible it is to change someone outside of yourself who feels differently about things than you do. You can love your husband and your child – and I hope that you do – but you cannot change another person.
I cannot live without alcohol.
This thought lies at the base of all addictions. When we imagine being without that substance we imagine we rely on, there is this thought and the panic that it engenders. It is, however, just a thought producing a feeling. Be mindful. Sit with your thoughts and feelings. Sit with yourself, and you will see what I mean. Addictions are insidious, but they are based on thoughts; and your thoughts belong to you.
Money is the most important thing in life, and whoever has the most is the happiest.
Unconsidered values (those we have not “thought out”) can take us far from the center of self. People get exaggerated ideas about the importance of wealth from many places: parents or grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression; CNN; Hollywood stars and elite sports figures… the list is endless. Look more closely. Are they really so happy? Then why all the self-destructive behaviors? I am not saying that money is unimportant. I am only saying that an unexamined, singleminded quest for wealth could lead us far from the center of self.
Jonathan is a bad person.
Judging someone else is always uncentering. While I am judging someone else, I have left myself far behind. If we are mindful enough to see that we are doing it, the act of judgment can be useful. Most people judge others when they are unhappy with themselves or with their own lives. So… if I catch myself criticizing someone else, I say, “Lane, what is going on with you that you are being so critical of Ellen?” It usually doesn’t take me long to figure out what is bothering me.
I am a hopeless loser.Thoughts like this have caused many a depression – and understandably so. When I have Clients who have low self-esteem, we have to do some emotional excavation. We have to go back and find out, not without some discomfort, where the tendency to devalue themselves came from. Many people do not want to blame their parents or other family members for having hurt them; and so they will balk at defining their pain. I completely understand that. I always tell them that we are not here to blame anyone. I say to them, “Once we have discovered whose ‘fault’ something is, where are we? Nowhere. We are exactly nowhere.” It is, however, important for us to realize that things other people said to us and about us when we were too young to process them are most likely still with us today. When we recognize old injuries for what they are, we will be less influenced by them. We will be more able to release them.
I am a dancer, a very old dancer. This year, I have taken ballet class for 61 years. Ballet and other forms of dance require a constant centering and re-centering. So do Yoga, weight-lifting, running, and most other sports. Allowing the arms and legs to be ruled by the core muscles of the physical center requires mindfulness. Where is my balance? Where are my arms and legs? Where does my momentum come from? Where does my strength lie? These are questions that are implicit within the dancer who must center constantly as she moves from stillness to flight in the movement of music and the flow of the dance.
Similarly, to live at the center of self, it is necessary to ask the same kind of questions about our thoughts and feelings. We must never take them for granted or assume that they are “true” just because we think or feel a certain way. When we do so, like the dancer, we risk falling. Why do I think this? What makes me feel that way? What are my thoughts and emotions right now? What do I need to correct in order to re-center? These are questions that we should ask ourselves more or less constantly. The quality of our lives depends on it.