Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thoughts on Centering

We often use the word 'center' and it's different variants to describe a certain state of mind/body/spirit.  Over thirty years ago I chose Center States Tai Chi for the name of my Tai Chi 'center' which wasn't simply about being geographically positioned in the heartland.  What does 'center' mean?
 It's quite a popular word.  In one dictionary there are no fewer than thirty definitions encompassing a wide range of fields such as: geometry, football, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, physiology, mathematics, architecture, and mechanics.  The Oxford English Dictionary prefers that we spell it 'centre'.  As a stand-alone verb, it can mean to come to a focus; converge; concentrate or collect.  In this case the OED's record of first use was Oliver Goldsmith who wrote in the 18th c.: "While thus I debated, in reverie centred, An acquaintance, a friend as he called himself, enter'd. . ."

In Tai Chi we also use 'center' in several different ways - as noun, adjective and verb.  Physiologically we talk about moving from and breathing into the center.  This is related to a specific anatomical point known as the tan t'ien located about an inch or two below the naval and about a third of the way in.  The tan t'ien is where we focus or center our breath (ch'i) and mind intent (i) during stillness (standing meditation) and movement (form or sensing hands).  This helps to facilitate proper diaphragmatic breathing and focus the motion in the pelvis.  In relation to balance, we center the weight on the middle of the foot which also refers to an anatomical point called yung ch'uan (bubbling well) where the root lies.  There are also corresponding points in the center of the palms.

In sensing hands (t'ui shou) we work to maintain and strengthen our center physically, emotionally, and mentally while at the same time engaging in a game of hide and seek with a partner.  You cultivate a truly relaxed center and learn to distinguish that from one that is protected by rigidity and resistance.  In this process you will inevitably and disconcertingly experience your own rigidity and resistance - your un-centeredness.  It's noteworthy that, from early childhood, one of the places we hold chronic tension is around our center (tan t'ien).  Relaxing the belly and 'sinking the ch'i to the tan t'ien' work to loosen and open a center frozen with tension.  If you persevere with the process of form and sensing hands, you will gradually start cultivating a center or core that's source is relaxation, not tension.

Perhaps one of the more important uses of center is seen in the notion of 'Central Equilibrium' which is one of the original 13 postures of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.  Central equilibrium is often represented by the preparation posture that we use for standing meditation, but like ward-off, central equilibrium is not only contained in one posture, but is present in all postures and is the attitude one tries to achieve in sensing hands.  It is a place of quiet alertness, total presence, and infinite potential.  A highly creative state that is born from emptiness, a state sometimes referred to as wu shin (no mind).

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