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By Mark Lundegren
Did my enigmatic title catch your eye?
Whatever or whoever drew you to this topic, let me say up front that my suggestion a powerful but subtle “seventh center” is waiting for you is both a simple and extraordinary fact of life.
The suggestion is simple in the sense that the seventh center does indeed exist and wait for us all. We mostly need to learn where and how to look for it, and then can seek it ourselves. And this important personal achievement, involving a new outlook on life, is the seventh center for another simple reason – it is preceded by six other “natural centers” or personal tunings, each of which are practical self-awareness exercises that together form the content of my Natural Center workshops.
At the same time, the seventh center is extraordinary too. In part, this is because it initially proves hard to understand or even focus on for most of us, and thus lies beyond the scope of a one-day workshop exploration of my overall centering technique. The seventh center is an act of deliberately training our awareness to perceive life in a powerful new way. In this sense, it has similarities to the other six centers I introduce, but in practice is far more challenging and elusive to get hold of, and once grasped, equally more profound and liberating.
It is true that all seven of my forms of natural centering take time to master and require regular use if they are to inform and improve our lives. But the seventh center often takes considerable time even to approach in earnest, just as it offers far deeper insights into ourselves and the world around us once mastered. Much like my initially inscrutable title, the seventh center typically presents itself to us enigmatically at first, even as it is indeed simple in many respects. And despite its underlying simplicity, the seventh center really does provide remarkable new personal clarity, allowing life to be experienced in a far more liberated and richer way, and is extraordinary for this reason more than for its difficulties.
If you will stay with me for a few minutes, I will take you through the overall idea and process of natural centering. I will also briefly summarize the six centers that are the content of my Natural Center workshops. Then, I will both introduce and leave you to consider for yourself the ultimately simple, often initially elusive, and always truly extraordinary use of our human awareness that I call the seventh center.
To give you a flavor for this last part of our discussion, let me immediately add that the seventh center is correctly seen as a personal feat of self-understanding and even self-transcendence, one that is perhaps best left unnamed, even as it has historically gone by a number of names. In naming the seventh center, we at least initially make it more obscure and complicated than it is in reality, but we also make it more accessible and attainable in time.
Or, to put it another way, we must talk about the seventh center to explain it and point the way to it, even as we must leave all talking behind to reach it and make use of it.
Natural centering explained
Though the term “natural centering” sounds esoteric and reliably conjures visions of hand-spun fibers and yoga postures, in reality it is based on cognitive-behavioral science and is an entirely modern practice.
Natural centering focuses us on new practical awareness and increases our potential for choice in our patterns of thought and action. It is pragmatic and understandable, even as it can lead to profound changes in our outlook and the quality of our lives. The idea of exploring natural centers in our lives is related to traditional notions that we should seek moderation and temperance in our thoughts and behavior. But natural centering is different in an important and even crucial way.
In the technique of natural centering, our goal is not simply to informally observe and reduce extremes in our lives. Instead, the technique focuses on specific key dimensions of daily life and asks us to examine our overall functioning – our dominant patterns of thought, feeling, perception, and action – within these dimensions. Natural centering then involves pragmatically choosing and reinforcing new functioning or centering within the dimensions over time. In practice, finding and functioning from these new, more intentional natural centers usually proves more powerful, satisfying, and beneficial.
Much like traditional and other less structured movements to moderate extremes in our outlook and behavior, natural centering provides important benefits in two principal ways: 1) more simply, by exposing and reducing patterns of patently ineffective and unsatisfying functioning in our lives, and 2) more subtly, by subjecting greater portions of our life and functioning to self-examination, promoting more attentive life and often far more optimal functioning.
Unlike informal or piecemeal adjustments to our lives, however, the relatively structured technique of natural centering provides a clear and repeatable process to promote sustained personal attentiveness, and specific high-impact areas of focus for our attention and improvement efforts. With a bit of sustained practice, the result can be quite powerful – in the form of rapid and increasing changes in our self-awareness, personal orientation and values, health and well-being, and overall quality of life.
Take the prototypical example of Nicole, a woman in her thirties who consistently lived at a distance from some of the six natural centers that I highlight and explore in my workshops. Nicole was frequently irritable and withdrawn, often frustrated by events in her life, and prone to feelings of low self-worth despite a fairly accomplished professional life.
Nicole’s few close friends and long-discouraged family had repeatedly counseled her to relax, enjoy life more, curb her palpably angry demeanor, and pay more attention to her health. This well-intentioned advice and encouragement was to little or no avail, however and had not led to meaningful changes in Nicole’s unfortunate and, as is often the case, self-reinforcing life trajectory. In fact, it was only by losing a bet with a family member that Nicole agreed to attend one of my Natural Center workshops.
In the relaxed but structured setting of the workshop, and after resisting its foundational ideas for a time, Nicole eventually got into the flow of the exercises. She almost immediately surprised herself by achieving important new insights into her personal functioning – concluding that she was highly uncentered in two specific areas, and slightly uncentered in two others. At the workshop, she decided to work for three months on the two principal areas where she was least naturally centered, and formulated an action plan with specific goals.
The first six natural centers
Nicole’s self-assessment, which was reinforced via guided pre-workshop feedback, was that she was unnaturally unbalanced or eccentric in the natural centers I call Alignment and Mediation. At the workshop, she agreed that these clearest asymmetries in her functioning were hard to justify, even as they were familiar (if previously unnamed) and likely the root causes of the most serious quality of life issues plaguing her.
At the same time, Nicole was heartened in the workshop by seeing that she was fairly well positioned in four of my natural centers and from the idea that many of her quality life and functioning issues might be grounded in specific underlying causes – in her case, from a perceivable and actionable misshapenness or unnatural asymmetry in two specific areas.
As outlined before, the six centers that I use in my Natural Center workshops guide us to examine powerful, natural middle positions in specific areas of our lives, each shown by research to be essential contributors to our personal effectiveness, natural health and well-being, and quality of life. All of the six centers are important, and their significance and power can be validated through our exploration of the centers and use of the centering technique:
1. Balance – is the natural center between less powerful and satisfying extremes of attitude and action in daily life. I sometimes refer to Balance as harmony in our immediate general approach to life. In my Natural Center workshops, participants self-assess their degree of Balance along 100 cognitive and behavioral scales, taken from modern personality theory. The exercise reliably provides new insights into both our surface and mid-level imbalances and often highlights less than optimal underlying functioning that is subject to near immediate action.
2. Alignment – is the natural center between our present and future life, which I call our degree of harmony with time. Alignment asymmetries involve our goals or ideas about the future. These asymmetries are often deeper than those involving inadequate Balance in our daily life, but are no less actionable. Like the attentive bringing of new Balance to our general demeanor and behavior, achieving new control of our Alignment with time can have important quality of life impacts on our functioning, happiness, and value to both ourselves and others.
3. Mediation – is the natural center between being less and being more than we are. In an important sense, Mediation involves achieving a basic harmony with oneself and our life in the larger world – and thereby, with the larger world and life itself. The idea of Mediation comes from the work of the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, who felt achieving a centered position on the continuum between timidity and grandiosity was essential to the mastery of modern life. Since Roger’s time, research has suggested that this mode of centering is quite important, helping to promote natural, adaptive, and healthy life.
4. Spin – in my Natural Center workshops, I use a spinning top as a learning aid, so it will perhaps be understandable that I use the term Spin to refer to my fourth centering. I define Spin as the natural center between passivity and impulsive action, the place of coordinated effort or harmony in personal movement. If the first three of my centers are oriented primarily toward attitude, strategy, and outlook – preparing ourselves for optimal life or creating conditions that will improve the quality of our actions – then Spin is the natural centering of our life and actions themselves. Though controlled and attentively-centered Spin, we can we learn to act more optimally, intelligently, deliberately, cohesively, and even elegantly in time.
5. Reach – is the natural center between internal and external life, the point where attentive awareness and deliberate action meet. Ultimately, our centering in Reach compels us to act attentively and optimally in the world, and not simply to either attend or act. For many of us, living in a modern world that emphasizes autonomy, introspection, and self-concern, Reach involves a new external focus of our attention and re-emphasis of elements of natural quality of life that lie beyond an expressly self-interested approach. For others, dominated by tradition and prescribed thinking and conduct, Reach involves bringing our awareness out to meet our actions in a slightly different way, in this case to examine and optimize culturally-dominated functioning.
6. Placement – is the active centering of our personal environment between limiting extremes, or what I sometimes call the pursuit of harmony in place. Against the historical backdrop of our civilized preoccupation with wealth and status symbols as an adaptive strategy and surrogate for natural fitness and well-being, a topic I have written about elsewhere, Placement asks us to consciously define and pursue what we most need in our environment to optimize our health, happiness, and quality of life. For almost all of us today, this mode of centering suggests important change in our external settings, even as we engage in our present circumstances more optimally through the first five centers.
In Nicole’s case, she tasked herself to work at better Alignment between her present and future, seeking to intentionally re-center herself in this important dimension of quality of life toward the present. For Nicole, this meant new exploration of the natural joy of simply being in the world each day, taking specific steps to live more in the moment and intrinsically (living for life’s sake), and creating daily reminders to live with her goals rather than for them.
Nicole also used Mediation to re-assess her many significant and far-ranging goals. In her case, as with others using this centering technique, this led to some unexpected changes. In some areas, centering in Mediation recast a number of Nicole’s goals as doubtful or tangential, and ultimately allowed her to eliminate less attainable and less important goals in favor of more achievable and more important ones. In other areas, however, the use of Mediation prompted her to raise her personal standards and add important new goals. This involved higher standards for the ways Nicole valued and treated others, how she managed life’s daily stresses and demands, and her health and fitness.
Overall, the result for Nicole was substantial and soon self-reinforced new progress toward improved quality of life, as is the case for others using my centering technique. Today, Nicole enjoys a far happier and healthier life, one that is more satisfying to her and those in her life, and one that is far more naturally and powerfully centered than before.
If you are interested in exploring these six natural centers on your own, you can begin simply by beginning. All of the centering techniques I have described start with new self-understanding and encourage new and more attentive choices. All require and promote adequate patience, curiosity, and creativity in our lives. Together, the techniques ask that we practice them and explore their use – in a powerful and compelling natural balance between humility and courage that we all should seek to attain in any case.
Since practice in my six centering techniques is the means to their lifelong use and gradual mastery, start small by looking for obvious extremes in your life that are hard to justify on practical, personal, or philosophical grounds. Ask close friends and family for candid and valuable (and often relationship transforming) feedback regarding: 1) how and when you are at your best, 2) how and when your functioning is less optimal than they believe it might be, and 3) what you might do to improve the way you function at these times.
In this way – through a new questioning of whether we are naturally centered in the domains I have outlined – progressively freer and higher quality of life often waits for us as I have suggested. None of the six centerings are difficult to understand or use, even as we may spend a lifetime mastering, practicing, and learning and benefiting from them.
The elusive seventh center
It is an extraordinary experience to become more naturally and optimally centered in our lives as I have described – in our dominant personality traits, in our actions and goals, in our outlook on life, and in the background setting in which we live.
This is true partly because use of the six centers is entirely a pragmatic process, and even a simple one, requiring just a bit of practice and then ongoing persistence. Owing to idiosyncrasies in our long-evolved brains, we often do not have a good natural sense of how this deliberate and relatively easy modern process can quietly but quickly carry us forward in our lives.
The extraordinary ease and quietly building change of my first six centers cannot be said of the challenge of achieving the seventh center, however, which can begin and persist as a struggle or quandary once we take it up. And our effort toward the seventh center can remain this way until we complete the centering process and resolve the fundamental dichotomy or conceptual barrier that blocks our way. For these reason, I leave the seventh center out of my Natural Center workshops and encourage people to harvest the many practical and comparatively easy benefits that the first six centers offer us, before taking on the seventh center in earnest.
When you are ready to explore the seventh center, like the other six centers, you can begin at any time. As I have suggested, the seventh center is a waiting riddle of sorts, a riddle that contains an essential lesson in life and our human awareness. This riddle sits unobtrusively beside or within us all, throughout our lives, and is ready for us whenever we are ready for it. The seventh center involves an important and specific new world awareness and self-understanding, one that has been around us as long as there have been people. And the seventh center has been understood in just this way for centuries, if at various levels of depth and with different suggested approaches to its mastery.
Perhaps, before continuing our discussion, I should warn you that if you keep reading, you soon will be exposed to the riddle of the seventh center, and may well become preoccupied with it. And I should again underscore that its initially formidable but ultimately flimsy gates may not open for you right away. Always, we must be careful of what we ask for and how we spend our time, even in the case of new understanding.
Like the other natural centers I have described, the seventh center lies midway between two extreme or opposing and ultimately limiting states. But unlike the natural centers between extremes in our personality, outlook, behavior, time orientation, or sense of scale in the world, the opposing sides of the seventh center are far more subtle and more fundamental to us. Their opposition or dichotomy goes to the foundations of what it means to be aware and intelligent as human beings, as I promised in my introduction.
The two sides of the seventh center are thus in a sense steep and harder to climb, even as they can eventually let us see beyond our personal foundations to an entirely new landscape of understanding within us. Given this steepness, the seventh center looks or feels to some like an abyss at first, even as it is universally a new high ground for everyone who has reached or aligned themselves in it.
So, are you ready to begin to unravel the riddle of the seventh center and seek what lies beyond its twin gates? If yes, then let me simply but perhaps initially unhelpfully offer a one-line definition of this seemingly mysterious, but ultimately clarifying and liberating, natural center:
The seventh center is the midpoint between affirmation and negation.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? But wait, read my definition a few more times and think about the specific meaning of each of the words I have used.
As you read and think through my definition, does it seem more and more cryptic, and less and less clear what I ultimately mean? It does to many people, even as this is the simplest definition of the seventh center that I know.
To make the crucial idea that this definition contains more concrete and accessible, let me elaborate on my definition. Since the word midpoint is fairly straightforward, I’ll focus on the words affirmation and negation. We all know what these words mean, but often do not initially understand the scope, essential quality, and tremendous power of the processes within us that these words can be used to describe.
If I personally call myself a writer and teacher, I affirm these aspects of my life. I affirm. If I say I am not a writer and teacher, or a male and an earthling, I negate these aspects of my life. I negate. In a similar way, and importantly, if I call the seventh center a midpoint or say it is not a midpoint, I also either affirm or negate. The same can be said of a great many things, and even everything.
It’s not hard to appreciate that this basic two-mode approach to thinking (and speaking) governs all or almost all of our mental functioning, with thoughts and words varying by degree and direction rather than the more basic quality of containing an affirmation or negation. It is also not hard to understand the survival value contained in this way of thinking, and why it was selected over other potential ways of thinking by natural evolution.
In our original time in nature and across life today, we must routinely decide to eat a food or not, to approach a place or not, to befriend another or not, and to make many other choices of this sort. I say all this, of course, while proposing that an alternative state of awareness is available to us and now may be useful to us in advanced civilization. Probably worth keeping in mind.
In examining human intelligence, and really all intelligence, it turns out that thinking in the form of affirmations and negations is extraordinarily powerful and even optimal under most settings. This is especially true when thoughts are nuanced and further clarified through secondary affirmations and negations, and it is not surprising our minds have been shaped to rely primarily on this general approach. We sit on a rock, or not on a chair. We like spring weather, or do not like winter. The sum of two twos is four, or not five. Mozart’s body of work is exuberant, or not sufficiently serious. And so on.
Importantly, this essential diametrical quality of our intelligence or cognitive patterns is not limited to thinking and language. Our emotions and intuitions share a persistent character of being either affirming or negating.
For example, we may feel affirming or negating inner sensations that we call happy or miserable, or some other word, while understanding that these sensations have an independence from the language used to describe them (they are even generated from a different part of the brain than is used for creating words, though words can influence our emotions). Sometimes, we cannot muster words to describe our emotions or intuitions accurately, but this in no way diminishes their reality, or their doggedly affirming or negating quality.
Now, I have suggested that that this diametrical quality of our minds is ubiquitous and far-reaching, and also that there is a natural midpoint between all forms of mental, linguistic, and emotional affirmation and negation. This seems like an obvious contradiction, doesn’t it? But such is the nature of the seventh center, as I had warned. You may decide that this contradiction or riddle is not worthy of your time right now, but perhaps you are intrigued with the notion that there is an important, even life-altering lesson waiting in this contradiction and in the facts of our minds as we normally accept and use them.
Certainly, centuries of Zen masters and practitioners in other meditative traditions have thought the lesson of the seventh center universally worthy of our time and attention, since this purported place between affirming and negating has been their long and unwavering locus of practice. Perhaps you will decide it is important and begin to pursue its waiting lesson too. My only caution, other than the potential time involved in seeking or unraveling the riddle of the seventh center, is that it is not a substitute for mastery of the other six centers I have described, or for pursuing progressively more attentive and health-seeking life generally.
If you would like to take up the challenge of the seventh center, a good way to start is by beginning to regularly examine the thoughts and feelings occurring within you, patiently and in present time, and then those that are occur in the people around you (via both verbal and non-verbal communication). Gradually learn to categorize these thoughts and feelings as either affirmations or negations. Also learn to observe which patterns dominate in you and others, in general and in different settings.
Through this new exercise of your attention, you increase your understanding of the subtle ubiquity and persistence of affirmations and negations within us all, and thereby make your way to the steep and grainy, but ultimately flimsy, twin gates of the seventh center. Importantly, you may also find a peculiar new motivation within you – to seek a place of temporary relief, where you can rest from the incessant barrage of affirmations and negations we all experience within and around us.
In practice, seeing and then examining the gates of the seventh center – our continual natural movement from affirmations to negations and back again – turns out to be the means to pass through these gates and achieve the new human experience or perception I have suggested is possible and important. This passing through, as I said, goes to the foundations of our human awareness and is not easy for most of us, but the experience is worthwhile and even liberating in ways that are hard to describe.
So, as I sit here at my desk and laptop, let me end our discussion today with more questions than answers, and thus better set you on the path of new curiosity and attentiveness that leads to the gates of the seventh center.
If I call the laptop I am typing with a laptop, I affirm. If I call it other than a laptop, I negate. The same with my desk, the room around me, and the world around my room.
But there is a third choice. There is something, which I have called a natural center, between a laptop and not a laptop. There is an opportunity for awareness between typing and not typing, between reading and not reading, between a world and not a world. Can you sense what this is? Can you go there and see everything and the world from this third choice, and thus pass through to the seventh center?
Whether this is hard, or if you begin to grasp the waiting center almost immediately, you are not alone. After all, the seventh center lies between simple and not simple.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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