Gathering to the Center
One aspect of my ongoing “inner work ” is to find out what it really means to have a “center.” But, the problem with living in the Western world is that everything in our lives is designed to pull us away from our center. Marketing is an industry founded on this principle. In fact, some of our largest corporations are so market savvy, they convince us that their product is necessary or even essential to our well-being, or at the least integral to the acceptance and admiration of our peers. It’s all designed to get you to believe that something you buy will make you a better person that something external to you can really alter or improve who you are as a person, without you really having to do much more than make a purchase of this “right” product.
We are subtly taught to evaluate ourselves and each other based on criteria like what kind of car we drive, what clothes we wear or where we live. Again, everything on this list is external.
So, given our general Western world upbringing, how are we to ever hope to grow and develop what many Eastern mystics and Indian gurus call a “center,” a place within us where we truly feel the most of “ourselves” a place from where we can sense our true needs and desires and from which we can make our best decisions? I’m talking about learning how to turn our attention inward instead of outward.
I guess I’ve always been a “seeker” of some sort or another. I’m just plain curious. As far back as I can remember, I’ve wondered how things work or why things happen. Interestingly enough, I’ve also spent an equal amount of time wondering why certain things don’t work or why some things don’t happen. In my early life, most of my curiosity was relevant to the world around me … the physical world. I’d ponder questions like, “How do they make balloons?” or “What kind of a machine do they use to wrap a stick of butter? ”
Later in my life, I began asking more socially relevant questions like, “Why do people do what they do? Why do people have wars and kill each other? Why do some people want to control other people? Why do people give up?” I really believed that by understanding how the human species operates, I’d learn how to become a better person, simply by avoiding all of those pitfalls that “everyone else” fell for. I was still spending most of my time looking for the answers by observing the world around me. But for all of the answers that came to me, most were just feeding my intellectual curiosity. At some point I began to sense that no matter how much knowledge I gained, I was still lacking real Wisdom. My heart was feeling an emptiness beneath it all. My brain was well fed but my heart was hungry. This “hunger of the heart” began prodding me to begin asking questions like, “Why am I so pissed off right now?” and “What is it that I’m expecting to get in this situation?” or “Is this the right activity for me to be doing right now? Is there a better choice? Is there a choice that would work for the greater good and is more in line with my present state?”
I began to realize that these latter questions could not be answered by looking outward. Instead, the answers would come bubbling up from within from my center. With practice I’ve learned that in order to hear these answers I have to be quiet enough to catch them as they surface. And that’s where ChiRunning gets involved. My running practice is teaching me how to listen to my body. The more I strive to “listen,” the more I realize that my body is always talking to me, giving me all of the answers that I need and even some answers that I’m not looking for.
What is the new paradigm of “inner work?” How can we develop a center amidst the constant media bombardment designed to leave our centers in the dust? Take a look around you. Sports and body-oriented activities are at an all-time high. The new spiritual path is not through meditation or stillness, but through self-observation and body-sensing both of which can be easily incorporated into any sport or physical activity. This is the new paradigm of “inner work.” The answers really are all in your body. Your body is one of the greatest tools for learning about yourself. It can be a tool used to discover your strengths and weaknesses, your limits and your potentials. You can learn when your body is working as a whole unit, or when it’s fragmented and inefficient.
I call it “undergraduate work” at the University of Danny, and although I have no idea of when I’ll graduate, I’m enjoying my course of study. It’s the most challenging, and at times, the most enjoyable “class work ” I’ve ever done. It’s also the only school I’ve ever attended where having to repeat classes is a guaranteed part of the curriculum.
So much can be learned about oneself by developing the practices of self-observation and body-sensing. Just ask yourself, “What am I doing right now and how does it feel?” Although these two questions sound simple, they require you to look inward for the answers. Practicing this regularly will eventually lead you to a deeper sense of yourself.
If you can learn to develop a center while you’re running, it has the potential to spill over into your everyday life and help you to feel that same center no matter what activity you’re caught up in even if it’s a marketing blitz aimed directly at you.
Like Yogi Berra might have said, “No matter where you run, you always get somewhere.”