NANCY G. SHAPIRO

FINDING CALM IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE

Finding Center

June 22, 2010


On April 28th I wrote a post titled Embracing Edginess. In it I quoted Pema Chodron from her book, Practicing Peace in Times of War:

 

If you want there to be peace—anything from peace of mind to peace on earth—here is the condensed instruction: stay with the initial tightening and don’t spin off. Keep it simple.

 

I’ve been practicing her wise words, especially the phrase …don’t spin off. So much so, in fact, that I skipped my last “blog-writing date” with myself—and consequently broke my date with you, my readers—because I was suddenly bombarded with synchronistic and fascinating items that deepened Pema Chodron’s words. I didn’t want to spin off before I gathered in all the new information…

 

These last three weeks I’ve been doing my best to re-enter my life after a month away, and finding it difficult. The news headlines aren’t helping with the unsettledness I’m feeling; the tragic oil well explosion in the Gulf, the world-wide epidemic of killings, the continuing economic slowdown, and devastating natural disasters have given new meaning to Chodron’s book title.

 

What does a person do in times of war? In times of crisis, upheaval, and seemingly absolute loss of control? In the face of the unknown?

 

Flipping through the pages of the May/June issue of Spirituality & Health magazine a couple of weeks ago I noticed an article called “The Heart’s Original Position” by Lisa Jones, taken in part from her new book Broken: A Love Story. It is the story of Stanford Addison, a Northern Arapaho man, who after becoming paralyzed in a car accident, spent the next ten years enduring “unwanted visits from spirits intent on endowing him with unwanted gifts.” Finally accepting his losses and these gifts, he became a horse gentler and healer.

 

While watching his brothers break horses, Stanford developed a horse-gentling method that earned a renowned reputation as both effective and non-violent, what he called “finding your center.” He worked with a center line—a suspended rope in the middle of a training ring. Once a horse’s halter was attached to that ring, the only place the horse could stand comfortably was under that center line. If it left the “center” place, its head would be pulled upward, an awkward and uncomfortable position for the horse. After a while, with lots of noisy, active attempts to escape, the horse would finally stand calmly under the suspended rope—it had found its center.

 

Perhaps the most important aspect of this method is that Stanford allowed the horse to find this calm place on its own. Remember Pema Chodron’s words; don’t spin off. However uncomfortable or distracted one is, or determined to escape from a situation, the ability to stay in one place or with one’s thoughts is the key to finding the center, the calm. It is where edginess, anxiety, a sense of overwhelm, or otherwise feeling off kilter is transformed.

 

It is where the edge becomes a ledge—a resting place, a sense of being able to gather one’s self and stand, centered, in the eye of the proverbial storm. It is a place where whatever “war” is going on inside or outside of yourself, perspective and clarity can once again be accessed.

 

As I mentioned, I am practicing this. Practicing, practicing, practicing. Last week as I was eating breakfast and looking out the window at our pond, a dragonfly flew to the bog garden and landed on the tip of a horsetail fern. Then it flitted out over the water, and landed again on the very tip of the thin green shoot. It kept flittering off, then coming back. Gulping down the last bite of egg, I found a pen and a scrap of paper and wrote:

 

perched on the very / tip of the horsetail fern / amber-winged dragonfly / returns again and again

 

In the Native American totem animal tradition, the dragonfly signifies illusion. Staying centered, calmly collected on the ledge of things again and again, a person can discern what is true and what is illusion. What can be done now, and what needs to be put aside. Who is speaking with integrity, and who isn’t. Which thoughts are valid, and which ones are just plain unproductive. And this brings me to the third wonderful synchronistic item that appeared just a few days ago.

 

Ever heard of the band Ok Go? I certainly hadn’t, until our friend Wayne sent this YouTube video our way. The song is called “This Too Shall Pass” and the Rube Goldberg setup of the video is a perfect artistic representation of what our complicated, convoluted thoughts look like, the ones that create illusion, overwhelm, falsity, anxiety, the edge. Listen to the lyrics: …when the morning comes, when the morning comes…let it go…this too shall pass. Like the dragonfly, we can return again and again to that still point by letting go of what keeps us from the understanding that all things do indeed pass, an understanding that frees us up to take each day in stride, full of creative energy that can lead to powerful solutions and insights.


As Stanford Addison taught his horses and Lisa Jones, as Pema Chodron passes on in her book, as the members of Ok Go are sharing (14 million plus people have listened to this video), and the dragonfly fully embodies—the heart’s original position is in the center of things.

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