Central Intelligence

Nature is a brilliant designer. Look at a tree, a flower, a landscape, and you’ll generally see a well-centered composition. Even in the case of infinitely complex fractal constructions, there’s an organic symmetry, a progressive spreading from a center point (or many center points) that can be viewed at virtually any magnification and still appear balanced, right, whole.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

Because we are a part of nature, this sense of centeredness is inherent to us, too. It’s built into our bodies, and it’s meant to be integral in our patterns of living. Which is why, when we lose our sense of center — mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually — things can get very uncomfortable. We’re designed to become progressively uncomfortable as our sense of centeredness diminishes. That’s how we know an adjustment is called for.

Unfortunately, many of us have a far higher tolerance for leaning, teetering and wobbling than is healthy. Like a spinning top that’s tilted off its proper axis, once we’ve lost our center point, we sometimes have difficulty finding the perspective necessary to regain it again. As a result, we spend enormous amounts of energy zooming off in directions that aren’t in our own best interests or, for that matter, the best interests of anyone else.

We naturally tend to feel most at ease, and function best, in centered states and environments. A well-designed house, for example, generally has its main entrance in a place that takes you rather directly to the home’s functional center — the place from which other key rooms and areas can be easily accessed. From the moment you enter, you know where you stand.

Imagine, by contrast, the experience of entering a house from its lowest, most distant corner — say, a basement-level door that opens up onto a long, dark, narrow corridor. Once inside, you’d have little sense of where the home’s center was, or how many rooms and hallways you might have to traverse to get there. Most of us get uncomfortable and claustrophobic just thinking of it. We would never want to live in such a home.

And yet, when we approach the challenges in our lives, that’s precisely the way we often proceed:

We start at the far corner of the stress or problem that is bothering us, and we get all tangled up in wrestling with dramas and details that are the equivalent of that little basement door. We feel pulled in confusing directions. And in many cases, we never make it up the stairs to get a sense of the larger layout, or a view of our available choices.

Whenever we start to feel stressed or overwhelmed by a situation, it can help to pull our attention away from the peripheral details and to come at the problem from the center. Think again about the image of that basement-corner entry. When you take your vision up high enough that you can see the floor plan of the whole house, you not only get an immediate sense of the home’s size, shape and center, you can also see that the basement door is really a very small, awkward and inappropriate place to be making an entry.

Now if we take our vision up even higher — say, to 50,000 feet above the roof — we may see that the house is only a small part of a much larger and more interesting landscape. Seen from this view, our central priorities become far more visible, and the best paths toward them stand out in far clearer relief.

It is easy, when we have our energy focused on pressing but peripheral concerns, to become obsessed, distracted and depleted. The best remedy, in many cases, is to willingly pull our perspective back a bit, and return our attention to the center of things.

Instead of asking questions like: “How can I fix this annoying problem?” or “How can I achieve this momentary goal?” choose to set those concerns aside for a moment. Reconnect with your core values, your most instinctive wisdom, and then ask: “What’s essential in my life? Who do I want to be? What do I want to contribute?” From your heart, evaluate how you are doing in these most important efforts, and where your attentions most belong now.

Usually, when we ask these questions, we get a much clearer sense of where our emotional, physical and mental energies have been going, and where they might be better spent. We reclaim our natural, centered state. We perceive our many blessings — and in the process, we find that we have far more to give.

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