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Seeking The Center

Submitted by on August 19, 2012 – 11:00 pmNo Comment

Author: Ted Nottingham

In a world of noise and chaos, there is hardly anything more important to the health of the human soul than to find solitude and stillness. In the cleansing from distraction, we can realign ourselves with a natural rhythm which has been nearly lost to our twenty-first century lifestyle. It is this peace and centering that we yearn for in vacation and escape, but it is so vital to our well being that we need a taste of it every day, not merely on special occasions. Some of us are so alienated from the depths of our being that we fear silence and aloneness, when in fact it is the road home to our True Self, beyond noise, beyond chaos, beyond time. These moments alone with ourselves are the foundation of an authentic spiritual life. In solitude, we find our center, and from that place, we come into deeper contact with all people.

We are all familiar with the eye of the hurricane. This is a good image for living out our spirituality in daily life. As the events swirl around us, as our emotions — and other people’s — get stirred up, we need to keep one foot in that calm place. Otherwise, we are thrown out of our center and hurled into the storm. Then, as Dorothy said so well, “we’re not in Kansas anymore”: anger boils, fear digs into us, imagination catches fire, depression weighs down on us, impatience grits our teeth as we react to everything from the size of the grocery store line to the length of the red light. For some folks, this is a recurring treadmill that seems to have no way out. But there is a way out! We are not meant to exist in this manner. When Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord always” he isn’t being a pollyanna. When Jesus tells us “do not worry about your life”, he isn’t offering us a good idea but is calling us to walk on the Way, to sell all we have (our fears, requirements, habits, attitudes) and seek first the kingdom. As the Psalmist stated: “Be still and know that I Am God”.

The legacy of spiritual teachings across the centuries offer us many ways in which to incorporate into our daily lives this crucial aspect of our spiritual journey. Whether we call such methods “practicing the presence of God”, “centering prayer”, “recollection”, “mindfulness, the ancient “hesychia” (inner tranquility) or any number of names coming down to us through different traditions, the fundamentals remain the same. The aim is to establish a place of quiet within us, an inner sanctuary, where contact with the Spirit can occur and be maintained, regardless of the external circumstances.

The spiritual discipline required to create such an oasis where we can remain sensitive to the “still, small voice” is both subtle and very demanding. It begins as a matter of attention. Understanding that God is always present and it is we who are absent, we must disengage our attention from the things that pull us every which way so that some portion of our awareness can be retained inwardly for contact with the Spirit. Otherwise, we are “leaking cisterns” as Jeremiah called us, forever wasting our emotional energy and attention on passing things, always making “mountains out of mole hills.” The popular saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” is rooted in the deep wisdom of the saints who have gone before us. It’s the small stuff that will steal our peace and keep us disconnected with the Presence of God. Isn’t it amazing that a small cloud can block out the sun? Self-control (one of the fruits of the Spirit) enables us to manage our use of attention during the day so we can chase the cloud away and let God be part of our reality.

Clearly, the time to create that quiet place within, the secret room where Christ tells us to go pray, is not in the midst of a crisis. It is in the ordinary pattern of our life that we need to establish such a foundation. The ancient teachers suggest that we regularly take ten minutes in the morning and ten at night, and stick to that discipline religiously. They claim that the very repetition of that small effort has a long term impact on our psychology. Here is a simple approach to entering your center:

  • Quiet the mind: Anyone who has attempted this knows that it is no easy task. We seldom reach a stage where there is absolute silence. Seek the deeper silence behind the noise of our thoughts.
  • Slow your breathing : Breathe slowly and deeply. You can actually lower your blood pressure and reduce your heartbeat
  • Relax your body : Sitting with your backbone straight but not rigid allows the energy to flow with less obstruction.
  • Bring your hands together: One hand placed over the other palms up allows the energy to circulate in the same way as connecting a circuit.
  • Sit in silence: Just ten to twenty minutes a day will recharge your batteries more powerfully than several hours of sleep. It won’t be long before you will want to increase that private time because it is not just refreshing, but life giving.

The goal is to carry into all circumstances a quality of receptivity that keeps us in touch with the Spirit and therefore available to its promptings. This is how we become people of peace as well as instruments of divine blessing to others. The Quaker author Thomas Kelly reveals the true purpose of this kind of spiritual discipline:

For though we begin the practice of secret prayer with a strong sense that we are the initiators and that by our wills we are establishing our habits, maturing experience brings awareness of being met, and tutored, purged and disciplined, simplified and made pliant in God’s holy will by a power waiting within us. For God works in our souls, in their deepest depths, taking increasing control as we are progressively willing to be prepared for God’s wonder.

So put time aside to sit quietly and free yourself from the hordes of thoughts crisscrossing the highways of your mind. As you will find out quickly, we can’t erase those swarming mosquitoes, but we can watch them go by as boats going down a river (to quote Thomas Keating, author of “Centering Prayer”). The trick is to not get in the boat! In this way, we establish a certain inner freedom from our feelings and thoughts and start the journey of mastering ourselves, of setting our house in order. As this new center of peace and stability within us is strengthened, we gradually find that it remains with us throughout the day, not merely at times of meditation and prayer. This begins the process of truly becoming temples of the spirit.

Ted Nottingham is the pastor of Northwood Christian Church in Indianapolis (

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About the Author

Ted Nottingham is the author and translator of a dozen books, the producer of numerous televised programs, and the pastor of Northwood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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