Throughout my adulthood I have sought what I call the “center of life.” It’s a felt thing rather than a place. It comes, I’m quite sure, from a fear of existing only on life’s periphery, rather than being inside experiences. A fear of what Thoreau called a “life of quiet desperation.” Rather, I have desired to create one that “affect(ed) the quality of the day.”
According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, “flow” is the term for feeling deeply connected to the moment, for being so alive time is lost and what you are doing is equal to existence itself. Perhaps looking back we can all find a time or two when we experienced such intense immersion, when time fell away and we lost all but the feeling of immediate “aliveness.” For me, I’ve found flow often when standing before my class and seeing them sparked by some thought or idea. I remember it vividly when volunteering at a halfway house for women in recovery, teaching stress management and mindfulness. In those classes there was no separation between the words, the experience, those women, and me. I’ve known it in conversation over tea with a friend. And found it simply spending time with my little family.
It’s also come when I’ve sat on a beach in Hawaii and watched the moon set, or snorkeled beside a dolphin off the coast of Kona, or felt my feet planted firmly in the sand or my body held weightless as I floated on the ocean in the Turks and Caicos. It’s come when walking through the jungle of Costa Rica or the forest of New Zealand and seen the joy in my son’s eyes. I always get into flow when I’m planning a trip, discovering myself lost in the pages of websites and articles and vivid descriptions and pictures of places I want to go.
I have felt it in the big moments, and in the small ones. Long ago I gave up the plan for some “big stage” on which to teach and the idea that only the big stages matter. My study and teachings in mindfulness and my work on what many would consider a small stage at a community college have helped me learn that the center of life is found in the moments in which we are alive. Truly alive to them. No matter the where or the what. Breathing in and opening to what is, is how we find it.
And still…I yearn for the opportunities to connect my individual life with Life with a Big L. To be a part of different places and experiences, to breathe them in and leave a little of my Self.
When I travel I plan and I go with Flow in mind. I realize that now. It’s not a perfect way – it can leave me perhaps needing too much from each trip. I know that. And yet, I go and never do so without learning something – about wherever I am, and most certainly about myself.
So…what is the center YOU seek?