Staying Centered

Mystery lives in petal rich places like the heart of a rose.

Chopping veggies in the ashram kitchen was my favorite job.  The sous chef would put a piece of potato in front of me and say, “This is your model, replicate it.”  Then for hours I’d stand chopping and measuring until I re-created hundreds maybe thousands of potato chunks just like her sample.

But I didn’t immediately like this assignment. My initial inner conversation went something like this; “Surely they could find a better job for me, one where I can use my talents as a psychotherapist? “ After my blustering ego quieted down the chopping became rhythmic and soothing.

This kitchen task was so different from my professional work it actually became refreshing.  Of course, I had to work at quieting my mind and to keep the knife moving.  But in time chopping became a spiritual practice and something in me shifted when that became my focus.  At dinner everyone seemed to enjoy the curried potatoes and chickpeas.  I felt satisfied with my contribution to their meal.  I also revelled in my recalibration from wounded ego to spiritual work.

Lately my days are focused on the needs of Don’s parents as they move from their home to an apartment in an assisted living facility.  It has taken weeks of physical work, organizing and compassionate listening to help them make a harmonious transition.  It reminds me of my veggies chopping assignment in the ashram.  Now is also a time when I must work to see a bigger context for my actions.

It leaves me wondering, can everything become spiritual work? It can’t be just the times when life is smooth that our soul is engaged.   I do not live in a in a secluded temple perched on a cliff in Bhutan, but in the busyness of a suburban life. I field calls from AT&T about the buzz on our phone line, shop and prepare food, garden… and offer care and support to granddaughters, children and parents.  And the care and support part has become more demanding over these last years.

Life looks and feels different when the mystery at my core guides my steps.  And that is easier for me when I am sitting in circle with women who are excavating their own souls.  Most of my professional work and writing falls under what I would call spiritual work.  So the path to my soul is well trodden.

But in my everyday life it is easy to forget my spiritual focus.  Often I have to take a breath and consciously calibrate that connection with the larger story of who I am. Inner turbulence makes me want to buy; “Five Ways to Stay Centered Forever.” It is the type of headline that splashes across magazines in the checkout line. It’s tempting.  Who wouldn’t want the shortest distance to relief?  Yet, my 70 years of living have taught me to be suspicious of shortcuts.

And maybe the problem is the idea of “staying” centered.  Being centered is a dynamic state, like balancing on a high wire.  There is no standing still.  Bobbing and weaving keeps us from tumbling.     It is the coming and going that beats down the weeds on the path home.  It is “being centered” and then “not being centered” where the lessons live.

Being centered requires connecting our daily actions to the bigger story of who we are. When that happens, chopping potatoes becomes spiritual work.  And as we continue to help Don’s parents make this transition may I remember that this too is a spiritual assignment.