The Necessity of Centering
By NANCY PATRICK
Now that we have cast our ballots for our president for the next four years, approximately half our population feels devastated. Regardless of the ballot I cast, I understand that it appalled another person who voted for the other candidate. As I write this, I do not know the outcome, but I believe my thoughts and feelings will capture the essence of those who do not recognize the reality in which they live. Some use the expression “out of sorts” while others say their insides may explode. Some may even experience what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”
When our lives become so overwrought with anxiety, doubt, fear, and hopelessness that we no longer function as our normal selves, we may need to seek the help of a spiritual adviser, a life coach, or a therapist. However, many people today find solace and spiritual healing (a return to self) by employing a technique called “centering,” “grounding,” or “mindfulness.” This technique aids in restoring balance to our inner beings when we have spun off our soul’s axis.
I personally know a theologian who had such an experience several years ago. He relates a story of how he found himself in a vast spiritual desert where he could not function normally. He felt he could not turn off his brain, nor could he sleep. He eventually entered a hospital for treatment. During this time of isolation, he focused on what he referred to as his centering prayer. I do not know the content of his prayer; however, centering prayers come in a variety of content patterns.
This man finally returned to himself after spending time doing nothing but focusing on his own center. Each of us has our own center, which is the foundation of our being. Unfortunately, we can fill our lives with so much extraneous material that we lose ourselves in the process. We have all observed public figures who began careers as public servants but fell prey to greed and ambition. Those people lost themselves in the sea of oblivion.
Former Abilenian and friend, Ann Whitaker, recently recommended a new Netflix documentary to me. The unusual title, My Octopus Teacher, did not exactly grab my attention, but I thought I would give it a try so I could exchange ideas with Ann. What I found in this unusual film represents perfectly how one man found himself by centering in his unique way. (There is no one correct method to center oneself.)
The man is Craig Foster, a South-African film maker and free diver. Free divers go deep into the water without diving equipment such as oxygen tanks or wet suits. Foster dove with only a snorkel and fins. Divers must be able to hold their breaths for extraordinarily long periods of time.
In his forties at the time, he found himself “out of sorts,” looking for meaning in his life. He loved the deep, cold waters of the kelp forests off the Cape of South Africa, so he began diving every day, filming his surroundings. Although I have a fear of deep water, the variety and beauty of his underwater world stunned me. Plant life abounded as well as myriad creatures I had never seen. Foster’s body seemed to float among the kelp and sea creatures as he merged with their world.
One day, Foster observed an octopus in her den. He began focusing on the life of this octopus as he dove each day. He never disturbed her in any way, simply floating close to the den’s opening. After several days, the octopus did an incredible thing—she stretched out one arm and touched Foster’s arm. He eventually returned her touch and explored the anatomy of her arm. She let him turn her arm and feel the suction cups along its length.
Remarkably, one day the octopus left her den, swam the short distance to Foster, and sat on his chest where he could pet her. I could sense a love affair developing between this human being and the most unlikely of lovers. Day after day Foster followed and observed the octopus in her daily routines, until one terrible day a pajama shark chased her to her den, ripping off one of her arms before she could pull it into the den’s protection.
Foster watched in horror as his octopus weakened and grew ill within her dark cave. He feared she would die, but miraculously he noticed a tiny new arm growing from where the shark had severed the other one. The octopus began healing as her new arm grew, restoring her to her own self and purpose.
Then one day, Foster observed his octopus welcome a male octopus into her den where they mated. Shortly afterward, she produced her harvest of eggs and came out of the den, weakened and spent. As she lay on the ocean floor, vulnerable yet fulfilled, other sea life began feeding on her defenseless body. As Foster continued to observe, he saw one of the pajama sharks swoop down and snap up the octopus’ body. Foster sadly understood that his relationship with this mysterious and other worldly creature had ended as she had fulfilled her life expectancy and purpose.
By the time this story ended, Foster had dove every day for a year. He had also come back to himself during this surreal experience with a non-human being. The quiet and serenity of the underwater world and all its plant and animal life had slowed his mind and eliminated his anxiety as he focused on the wondrous cycle of life, not just for people but for all living creatures.
The story of Foster and his octopus teacher comforted my own mind as I live in a world torn by violence, hatred, intolerance, and selfishness. I discovered my place in the world and accepted not only the impermanence of physical life but the permanence of life through our progeny and through our minds. Although my parents died almost a decade ago, they continue to live vividly in my memory and in my dreams. Together, we all comprise a complex, well-laid plan by our Creator. I certainly do not understand all of it, but I accept that the details manifest as God has designed.
If you find yourself in the half of our population devastated by election results, resolve to work on centering yourself. You are not alone, nor do you have to fix the wrongs of the world. Find a way to meditate, focus, pray, breathe, and relax. Find your own “octopus,” in whatever form it takes. Embrace it and let it lead you to a sense of peace in the midst of what may seem chaos.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing