Rest in Center

Rest in Center

Are you all over the place?

The Practice:
Rest in center.

Why?

Gravity and entropy are powerful processes in the natural world. Gravity draws things together, toward a center, while entropy scatters them into disorder. In much the same way, in our own lives, some things bring us to center, while others disturb and disperse us.

In terms of centering, be aware of your whole body as you take a long slow breath, or think of something you’re glad about. You’ll probably feel more at home in yourself, more drawn into your own core rather than feeling like Garfield the cartoon cat, spreadeagled up against a pane of glass.

In terms of feeling scattered, notice what it’s like to do multi-tasking, the mind drawn in several directions at once. Or what it’s like to open your email in-box and see twenty or more new ones calling to you. Walking down the street or through a mall, see how your attention moves out to various objects of desire: this attractive person, that shiny car, this pretty sweater, that cool new cell phone, and so on: for a few seconds at a time if not longer, you’re dispersed out and away from your calm, clear, autonomous center. And if you have any tendencies toward over-eating, -drinking, -sexing, -shopping, -etc., this dispersal gets more extreme.

Centered or scattered: it’s not a subtle distinction that’s just for yoga camp. When we feel grounded in a sense of center, we’re more resilient; it’s also harder to intimidate us with fear or manipulate us with greed. On the other hand, when we feel scattered, that’s stressful and thus bad for well-being and health. Plus it makes us more distracted and impulsive, and more prone to conflicts with others, and to compulsive or addictive behaviors.

When I’ve felt scattered, it wasn’t the end of the world. But it wasn’t good for me, or for others.

It feels a lot better to rest in center.

How?

Most of the inputs into your brain come from inside your own body, from your heart and lungs and other organs. Ancient structures in your brainstem and subcortex, such as the hypothalamus, begin the process of turning these signals into the fundamental feeling of what it’s like to be alive. Then more recently evolved regions of your brain – the insulas (or “insulae”) inside each of the temporal lobes on the sides of your head – refine these signals further into the embodied feeling of coherent, continuous be-ing. This primal sense of being a body is at the core of the stream of consciousness, and unless you are in extreme pain, tuning into it is immediately centering.

So follow the internal sensations of a single breath – the movements of the diaphragm just under your ribcage, the expansion and contraction of the chest, the coolness of inhaling compared to exhaling – and notice how this feels. Try this for ten breaths, counting them softly in your mind if you like. You could also be particularly aware of breathing in the area of your heart, or in the center of gravity of the body a few inches below your navel.

See if you can get a sense of your body as a whole, along with an attitude of acceptance, not judging. Doing this will tend to activate neural networks on the sides of your brain that support the sense of being peacefully present in the moment; it will also reduce activation in the “default network” running down the middle and top of your brain that fosters mind wandering and taking life too personally.

Fear tends to scatter the mind into frantic fleeing, fighting, or freezing, so as you tune into your body, register that you are basically alright right now . . . now and now and now . . .

Also tune into your good intentions, the goodness altogether at the core of you. Know your own benevolence, your compassion and kindness. This knowing is very centering.

Be aware of desires darting out into the world, reaching for this, pushing away that. Feel what it’s like to rest more in balance, present with life but not disturbed by compulsive desires. Open to a healthy disenchantment about the actual results of chasing this or going to war with that.

In upsetting situations or relationships, you could find refuge – a kind of center – in the answers to these questions: What’s really true? What matters most? What’s out of my hands? What are the most important things to do, and to be?

Even when we are anxious, sad, irritated, feeling inadequate, or depressed, there is a deeper place that is undisturbed. Awareness keeps working, the peaceful space in which experiences come and go. Deep down there is an inviolate wisdom, a “still, small voice” at the heart of you. To borrow a metaphor from The Lord of the Rings, no matter how thick and dark the clouds, stars are always still shining, filling empty space with light.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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