Are you off-center? I mean off balance internally and/or off balance between your inside and the outside world. Sometimes I feel I am. Sometimes I know I am. Sometimes I am, but I don’t know it.
Near the end of my career as a psychotherapist—this was over 25 years ago-- I noticed some things about myself. I was more tired than usual during work hours, finding myself even getting sleepy between clients. I wasn’t as interested in my work. Before that time, I attended many Continuing Education programs, always interested in learning more, talking with colleagues about various techniques, strategies, and client types, and taking on clients with novel conditions—many of whom other therapists refused to see—being fascinated by the human mind. I couldn’t learn or experience enough. I loved helping people, making a real concrete difference in peoples’ lives.
Then something changed. I wasn’t really aware of it initially. I realized that some of my particularly difficult clients were draining me emotionally and I might have been able to endure this to some extent if they were getting better, but they did not seem to be getting better. I had really never told any of my clients that I wasn’t a good fit for them and referring them to another therapist. But I was starting to wonder about both my limitations—I had always thought I could or could learn to help anyone-- and I began to wonder about the unique needs of some of my clients that I just didn’t seem to understand well enough to help them progress beyond a certain point. And I just didn’t feel the same about my work, the joy, intrigue, wonder that had been there for years, just wasn’t there. It had become a drudgery; it was work to just go to work; it no longer felt like my vocation. Something inside me was off center and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Looking back and being honest with myself, I think it may have started with my overworking, taking on more clients than anyone else in my practice. I was motivated by the financial rewards—important due to my now growing family-- as well as the accolades of my boss, peers and office staff. I can now very clearly see how I was like the man who stole the gold, despite being in a crowd of people. All I could see was the money I needed to pay the credit cards, to pay for a new home, to give my children all the things they wanted or I thought they wanted. I was more worried about getting behind on debts and fearful of needing to file bankruptcy, although realistically I was paying my bills, and paying them on time. There was no real need to file bankruptcy other than my own irrational fears. But I was off-center.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, I was much more susceptible to being off center, not guided by my deepest self. Instead, I found my center by focusing on my job, on what I owned or earned, and by what others said about me. And I would acknowledge today that I was unaware that I was off center within myself and between my inner self and the outside world. I mean I did feel the tiredness, the reactivity about money, and the loss of interest in my vocation, but I didn’t realize it was due to being off center.
Have you felt ever felt off center? I would be surprised if you said “No, not me, never me.” There are so many things within and around us that pull our attention, that want to masquerade as our center. Advertisements use every means possible to manipulate us. They want our center to be Medicare Advantage plans, Video Games, Doritos, Coca Cola, Tick Tock trends, big HD or OLED TV’s. They use sex to sell beers, sodas, food, cars, or really anything. I remember a hamburger commercial that had some beautiful young woman eating a hamburger in a very sloppy way to associate sex with their hamburgers. I would laugh, if it is wasn’t so obviously manipulative. These are all designed to make us see only the gold, thus centering only on something outside of us, so our actions are determined by what the advertisers want our actions to be.
And it not just the advertisers, every person and experience we have can pull us off center, if we allow our center to be outside of ourselves. I know it is challenging to live life without dealing with the various stresses and strains of the outside world. I mean I let myself get off center a few days ago when I heard that Governor DeSantis formally approved measures to protect Florida’s investments from “woke” environmental, social, and corporate governance, ensuring that all investment decisions focus solely on maximizing the highest rate of return. What the heck is he thinking? Sorry, but you can see how easy it is to let something outside of you get you off center.
Back when I was struggling with my vocation as a psychotherapist, it was the physical repercussions of being off center that helped me realize I was out of touch with my deepest, truest self. Backpain—debilitating muscle spasms, frozen shoulder--stomach aches and all the other wonderful digestive problems, headaches from my eyeballs to my neck, as well as the tiredness that forced me to stop and reflect on what was going on within me. I have learned that, at least for me, it is my body shouting at me through aches and pains to pay attention, that makes me stop and pay attention. Because of that learning, that I unfortunately had to learn multiple times, I have developed habits/rituals that help me stay in tune with what my body was communicating to me, before I reach the point I am in significant or debilitating pain. I am mindful of the slow creep of tension in my back telling me, Tom, you are off center, reconnect with yourself stop letting things outside you control how you feel, how you act and react.
I wonder what you experienced as we did the body part meditation earlier in the service. Did you notice something physically off center within you as the two body parts touched? Perhaps a little tension in your neck or rumbling in your stomach. Perhaps an awareness that the clothes you are wearing to look good, don’t feel good on your body. Perhaps you noticed racing thoughts about any of a number of stressors or fears or anxieties or resentments. And when I read the prayer, did you notice how your inner self responded to it? Were you able to accept the message, let the words strengthen you, ground you, help you feel more flexible? Were you able to affirm that you, all of you, is as beautiful as the Almond tree in blossom? Or did you notice resistance to these messages within you? Did you say to yourself, “I am not that strong, or as grounded or as flexible as I need to be” and “I am certainly not beautiful as the Almond tree in blossom.”? Pay attention to these reactions. They may be telling you are out of touch with yourself. And of course, your reactions can let you know if you are close to your center as well—can you imagine hearing within you “yes, your are as strong and grounded and flexible as you need to be right now.” Or “yes you are beautiful inside and out.” Or maybe you may simply notice feel a calm, relaxed body.
Now I think we all know that being out of balance or being centered can ebb and flow. But by paying attention, we can get back to our center, we can calm our bodies, we can acknowledge the stress, and deal with it effectively, without letting what is bothering us or what is impacting us control us or cause us irreparable harm. As you pay attention to what is going on within you and you focus on guidance from your deepest self rather than what the outside world wants you to focus on, you will gain new awareness, learn more about yourself, and become more confident in your ability to re-center yourself and deal effectively with whatever comes your way. As Gautama Buddha once said: “Be ye lamps unto yourselves; be your own confidence; hold to the truth within yourselves as to the only lamp.”
I was able to come to some peace and center myself back then, but it took a dark night of the soul and a lot of soul searching to break the habit of going for the gold. But that is a different story. I can tell you today, I am much more aware of when I slip off center and have many strategies to help get myself back to listening to my deepest, truest self. I encourage you to make time to stop and attend to what your body, mind, soul is telling you, especially when the outside world is telling you to go for the gold, to go buy a sexy cheeseburger, or that you, your finances, your parenting, your work, is not okay. Realize your center will see you through, if you stay attuned to it, connected to it, even if there is a lot of stress, even if you don’t agree with the direction of the government in Tallahassee, even if you have debt. There will always be things you have to deal with, just don’t let those things cause you significant harm or get you too far off center. There is wisdom within you if you just listen. There is peace within you if you open yourself to it. There is love within you, always within you.May you be filled with lovingkindness; may you be well. May you be at peace. And may you be whole. Amen, blessed be, Ashai, Shalom.