Living in the Center

St. Benedict & St. Scholastica

The ride of your life: living in the center of ourselves while life moves up and down.

Like a sound wave or a roller coaster, they travel through space and time, creating peaks and troughs that can both wither us and give us new life. Dependent on hormones, circumstances, and other mysteries, our inner thought lives buoy and deflate us, and yet carry us through life like neurotic zeppelins.

Our highest peaks form in moments of divine centeredness and tranquility. We are at peace and a cloth of serenity covers all our rough places. Whether this inner space is reached through prayer, exercise, being in community with loved ones, or maybe even a good night’s sleep, it is possible for everyone. Seratonin fills our veins and we are in love, we are forgetful of self. We are inspired and humble. We are in the “flow,” as proposed by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. We are not necessarily overcome with joy, as emotions come to us in a rather disconnected sort of way in this state. We witness emotions as they are, as they come, simultaneously acknowledging our separateness from them.

Our inner thoughts sink to the deepest troughs when our emotions saturate our brains like a watercolor painting to the point that our heads can’t hold them in anymore, and they come out, one way or another. Can you say cortisol? It is the stress hormone. Sadness leaks out your eyes in tears, or anger quakes your trembling limbs. Words come out often senselessly. There is no one else and nothing else, besides the hurt you feel and its painful expression throughout your body. Sometimes the valley is where the deepest healing is done.

Most of our thought moments are in-between the summit and the valley. We hike mainly on the side of the mountain, which is made up of our superficial thoughts. We buy thoughts like “The sky is blue,” and “I am driving to work,” and similar insignificant thoughts in bulk. They are the corn syrup of our brains. They are everyday, in everything, and essential to our mental health. For we cannot live forever on the highest peak because we will certainly run low on oxygen.  Alternately, we cannot survive in the lowest valley because we may lose sight of our destination.

The following text is an illustration of the interplay of these peaks and troughs.

Crest

‘Let go. Release. Inhale peace, exhale fear. Inhale light, exhale darkness. Notice your breath. Your pulse. Feel the weight of your body sink into the ground beneath you, solid, stable. Let go. Release all your tension, let it sink into the ground beneath you. Breathe.’ All is peaceful, all is well. 

Trough

Heavy. I was strong but now I am weak as a crumpled paper crane. Fear of the unknown, what is invisible but present, astounds me. I am drawn to this little girl’s suffering, her beliefs and her innocence, and her manic reactions to life. I feel sick and look around the room as if for an answer. There is nothing I can do… nothing. I shake the fear away. Thoughts of myself and my past ebb into consciousness, though I have grown up, there are still questions. Why. Why death, and why didn’t you tell me, and where is she buried?  And did she die alone? I read poems and they remind me of you, a distant memory.

Somewhere in-between

I look around me. Sea, in all its glory, the blue, green and glow of the water. Warm, hard-packed sand. The sounds of ocean waves, seagulls hooting. Water rushes in, out. Hot towel beneath my legs, sand drying on my feet.  I am hungry. Thinking about fish and chips, lunch, the catch of the day. There is a British babe with a sun hat and a white ruffled tush sitting under an umbrella close by, looking out to the sea, waiting for it to splash her toes. On holiday. She and her mother are soft round shapes, making round sounds in their mouths.

If you are observant, you can start to notice your peaks and troughs, and even begin to have some control over where you are at in the spectrum. Look in the mirror. It’s your reflection. It’s what you see, and what you feel, and how you think. It is the expression of your inner-thoughts. It’s your emotional breakdown from last week. It’s the mistakes you’ve made and the hurts you’ve endured and the way they’ve influenced you. But it isn’t your essence, it isn’t the matter of your soul. It’s your reflection.

Now close your eyes. Take a breath, touch your face, hold your arms. There you are. This is you, the real soul of you, underneath the sensations of life and all circumstance, beyond the peaks and the troughs. You are the traveller on the journey. The feelings, the thoughts, though they shape you in places, they are temporary. Your thoughts are fleeting, but you are lasting, and you are eternal, because Christ makes his dwelling in you and it is he who is your center.

When sparks are flying and stress threatens to impinge on your sanity, there you are in the valley. As selfish thoughts fade and you find yourself hopeful and well, you are at the top. Some days the side of the mountain will be corn syrup boring, and others it will be a palatable place to spend time.

So let us greet each day with openness, no matter where our neurotic zeppelin takes us, for each morning is a new beginning and a new round on the wavelengths of life.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” – Galatians 2:20*

*I keep this verse close to my heart. It reminds me what I’m made of – or rather, Who I’m made of – and I find the courage to rise above the pesky circumstances of life.

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