Post 05 – What Does It Mean To Be Centered?

This week’s reflection prompt:

What do you do to center in your personal life?
Did the summer reading have any influences or takeaways that have stuck with you?

Well, to answer the second question first, I wrote about the summer reading, mostly reflecting on my takeaways on how I’d use it in the classroom.  This reflection will be more of my own centering and mindfulness practices.

What is mindfulness or centering?

I see the terms synonymous with a practice of singular focus.  This can look like a lot of things; in our classrooms at my school it’s typically an exercise of bringing awareness to your breath and body.  It can be a state of flow (complete mental immersion in an activity).  I can be quiet moments of prayer.  It can be exercise.

Early mindfulness.

The moment in my life that I can first remember having this sort of focus was when I was in 4th or 5th grade and was beginning to run.  I’d go with my mom to the track.  I remember thinking about nothing but the rhythm of my breathing; longer inhales and shorter, quick exhales.  I’m sure I had focused moments of play plenty of times before that, but that was the first conscious moment of deliberate focus that I remember.

Mindfulness in reading sacred text

My mindfulness practice now revolves primarily around the time I spend in the morning reading the scriptures (Bible) and praying.  Last year I was going through a book that would take a very small passage and have you read it several times, see what you notice or what sticks out to you, and pray through the passage (which could look like either thanking God for what happened in the passage, asking God to make the truth expressed in the passage more of a reality in your life, asking God to transform you more into the kind of person described in the passage, etc).  It would then end with a time of direct focus on the passage.  For me, I would try to recite it from memory in my head (which wasn’t too hard as they were usually just 2-5 verses) and I’d focus on the implications of it as well as whatever it was I was learning about God.  In the book, it would even say “if you get distracted, bring your attention back to the passage.”  That’s the exact language we use at school when we have students focusing on their breath.

My time in prayer is often spent in thanksgiving, praying for help or wisdom, or praying for others.  Gratitude and wishing ‘goodness’ on others is a staple in non-faith-based mindfulness practices as well.  I think it’s one of those things about the human condition that points us to God and the way he designed things.

Mindfulness in thanksgiving.

Regarding the prayers of thanksgiving, they have really helped to begin to build a mindset of contentness in my life; not necessarily feeling like I’m always chasing the next big thing.  Of course, it’s easy to be content right now; I’ve got a great relationship with my wife, I’m connected to my community at church, I feel valued and appreciated at work, I have a schedule that opens up a lot of time for me to work on my hobbies and interests outside of work…I’m just hoping these habits I’m building now while it’s easy to be content will carry over into times later when it may be more difficult to find contentness.

Mindfulness in prayer.

Regarding my prayers for help and wisdom, the act of just asking God for these things helps redirect my focus on Him and my need for Him.  To make it analogous to the breathing exercises we do at school, we tell students to continue to focus on the sensation of their breathing…how it feels to breathe in…to breathe out.  We say that if their mind gets distracted, gently bring it back to their breath; bring it back to what gives and sustains their life.

My time in prayer is that constant redirection.  The distraction is when I begin to pursue other things that are not the giver and sustainer of life…pursuit of money, materialism, approval of others, self-sufficiency, success.  Having or even wanting these things isn’t necessarily bad, but when the idea is that ‘what’s missing in my life and in my soul is more money, approval, satisfaction, autonomy, stuff, etc…and if I have that…then all will be well’ it’s a problem.  That’s the distraction.  The prayer is the refocus that God is the giver and sustainer of life…that the deepest parts of me just want to be connected to my Creator…even if it’s through this non-physical medium of prayer and sensing His Spirit and reading the Scriptures in faith that that’s a primary way He has communicated with us…that’s what it means to me to be centered.

Well that paragraph got a lot more intense than I anticipated.

The prayer for others is a reminder that it’s not about me.  The more I pray for other people, the more compassion I find I have (particularly for those I’m praying for).  The less I pray, the more I make it about myself.

Mindfulness in exercise.

I also see exercise as a form of mindfulness like I did when I was younger.  I’ll still go running occasionally sans headphones to just be more in tune with my body; how do my feet feel against the ground, how’s my breathing, how are my joints, are there ways I can lighten the impact of each stride, etc.  On lighter runs or even just driving in silence, I find that it gives my mind an opportunity to just let it do what it does; no real external stimulus but just letting some of the problem solving gears turn or let ideas I’ve been pondering ferment a little.

I tried to give this blog some structure but feel it’s a bit all over the place.  I don’t know if that’s a sign of a centered or non-centered life.  Oh well.

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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