Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide
You don’t need me to convince you that we are living in and through profoundly uncertain times. The question for all of us is how to go through it as effectively as possible. I’ve been calling on all the tools I have learned over the past 40 years for guidance. One highly effective one that keeps surfacing in my own practice as well as in my suggestions to SheEO Ventures is centering.
Centering comes from the martial art of Ki-Aikido, which is about dealing with strong energy coming at you. It’s a calm energized state where we’re literally grounded in our being so we’re better able to respond to whatever happens. We can’t be knocked over so easily by the unknown. It creates an inner stability and openness to deal with uncertainty. When we center, we turn off the stress response and so are more in touch with all our mental and emotional resources to handle the unknown.
It took me decades to understand how important this state is. I used to believe that if I contracted and became anxious, I was better prepared for whatever happened in the future. In fact, all I was doing was giving myself back pain and unnecessary mental misery. Now I center as much as possible and keep my mind focused on being stable and open to the present moment.
Centering is a practice, not a state that you can get into and stay in for life. I suggest you set aside a time every day to do it. It takes no more than 30 seconds. But it doesn’t work if you don’t do it. Put a reminder on your cell or computer. Every time the beeper goes off, center. When you find yourself worried or anxious, center. When someone else around you is freaking out, center. When you are calm in the moment, you can face uncertainty with greater ease.
Centering does more than calm us down. In a recent newsletter, Wendy and Tiphani Palmer, founders of Leadership Embodiment, an organization that takes practices from Aikido and applying them to work and life, write, “When we center, we open up and include whatever is around us. When we are inclusive, we are more connected, and we can be inspired to make a positive contribution…” Psychologist Rick Hanson puts it this way: “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.”
Here are three ways to center:
The first comes from the beloved Zen Mater Thich Nhat Hanh: He uses the metaphor of a tree. If you live at the top of the tree, you get blown this way and that by strong winds. But if you come down to the trunk, there is very little motion. He is referring to the fact that even when we are scared, anxious, or agitated, there is a deeper place in us that is undisturbed. So, to weather strong emotional storms, he advises to leave the heart, focus one centimeter below the navel (your tree trunk), and breathe.
The second is adapted from Wendy Palmer: focus on your breath, allow your inhale to travel up your back towards the sky, lengthening and uplifting your spine. Allow your exhale to travel down your front, softening the muscles around your heart and connecting into the earth. Inhale up your back, activating strength and dignity in your spine; exhale down the front, activating gentleness and openness in your heart. Relax your shoulder and jaw. For a moment, pay attention to the energy field around you. You are not just a physical body, but an energy body, whose energy center is in your belly. Imagine that field extends equally in front and in back of you, and side to side, and as much below as above you. Take a few seconds to balance that field. Now bring to mind a quality you want to embody—calmness, perhaps or presence.