“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.”

– John O’Donohue, For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing

There’s a sense that I measure my life by how close to center I am. That’s the word I use. Center.

Not happiness. Not earnings. Not growth. Not passion. Not purpose. Although I suspect those all contribute to the Distance to Center equation.

It’s hard to describe exactly what center is or where it lives.

My center doesn’t have a geolocation you can pinpoint and measure. You are 45 miles NW of Center. It’s more like a spacial awareness than a linear distance. Like a radio signal. Or that Hot and Cold game you play as a kid: Cold. Freezing. Getting Warmer. Warmer…Hot. Hot! HOT!

It’s more like what US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.” That’s how center is – I know it when I feel it.

99% of the time it’s Off-Center. There are times when I grace center or dance around it. Rarer moments when time and space float away and I feel a deep sense of alignment – bang on center. It’s short but sweet – five, ten seconds max.

It’s equally frustrating. Like trying to stick two magnets together at the same poles. For a brief kiss you get deceptively close, but good luck living there forever.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is famous for his work on Flow – a mental state where a person performing an activity is “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

I’ve experienced flow. I’m experiencing it writing this now. But that’s not quite what I mean by center. These short but sweet moments feel more profound than flow.

When I’m on center, I’m not only fully immersed – it feels like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing. I’m fully present in my body, seeing the world through crystal clear eyes. And simultaneously, having an out-of-body experience – curiously and impartially observing a single human life. My single human life. I’m standing at a precipice viewing the landscape of my entire life, somehow touching both the human and divine. 

Behind me, my past: every single action and encounter has led to this very moment. Ahead: Everything is waiting for me.

Photo by lovely shots on Unsplash.

Or something like that.

The closet term I’ve heard to describe these moments is from psychologist Abraham Maslow: Peak Experiences. Maslow described such moments, as “being hit” by something and with an emotional chord struck inside.

It’s strange. And again, it’s rare. I can count these moments on one, maybe two hands. Some occurred while traveling alone. Most involve the natural world – laying on a park bench in Vilnius with the sun shining on my face; running along Reykjavík’s Faxaflói Bay. Some have occurred immersed in work – delivering a workshop or giving a talk.

Just as quickly as these moments arrive, they disappear like steam. Immediately I’m thrown back in the unremarkable throes of everyday life. It’s like the title of Jack Kornfield’s book: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

Center is knowable, but not reliable. Less like the North Star – a constant through the ages – and more like Mystique – a shape-shifter who never allows me to know her entirely.

Whoever it is, whatever it is, wherever it is, whenever it happens… I’m grateful.


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