At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
– T.S. Eliot, from “Burnt Norton”
The world is turning.
I started writing this post in late June, after the attack at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. I had intended to finish and publish in early July after I returned from a conference, but was rocked again by the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, of police officers in Dallas, and further violence in the US and around the world. From this vantage point, the turmoil appears to be increasing in every sphere you could name: political, social, religious, economic. We sure do have a lot of it here in the US.
It can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel hopeless.
My hope is for lasting change – for personal, political, and cultural revolution.
I’m a bit of a word person, and I find it helpful to look at the origins and roots of important words. The verb “revolve” has a few definitions, but here’s a basic one: to turn in a circle on a central axis.
“Revolution” comes from the same root word – it is the turning.
My hope for our world is in people and organizations that are working for revolution – turning things around – in ways that create peace with justice for those whose voices have been silenced and whose lives have been undervalued for too long.
If our world is turning, what is the axis around which the revolution spins?
As Eliot points out in the poem excerpt above, every turning has a center. (This poem has been a favorite of mine for many years, since I discovered it sitting on the floor of a bookstore with a friend in high school. As a whole, the poem speaks to past and future gathering in the still point of the present moment, but as with any great poetry, the language applies to so many other ideas). At the center of any movement, there is stillness around which everything else revolves. In this stillness is the dance that allows all the movement in the revolution to take place.
Nature shows us this clearly. Look at a hurricane from above, or the center of a galaxy. You can see the calm eye of the storm in this photo of Hurricane Daniel from 2006.
Look at a bowl thrown on a potter’s wheel. By centering the clay on the wheel, the spinning creates strength and the potter can build a beautiful thing from the center out.
If we are mindful that we are not the spinning, we find the center.
A center-point that moves isn’t stable. Think of a bike wheel, or a revolving door… without a stable center, the bike wheel comes off, and the door fails to move. But just as Eliot said, we don’t “call this fixity.” It’s not stiff or immobile. There is a place of still, stable, dancing strength.
Shut off your social media – or even your internet – for a minute. Notice how you’re sitting. Don’t try to sit up straight…allow a point of stillness wherever there is tension. Don’t try to quiet your mind…just allow that your thinking could be still, even if it doesn’t feel that way now.
When your body has this quality of stillness, so does your mind. When your mind has this quality of stillness, so does your body.
You could be running a marathon with this stillness, or working at a computer, or calling your elected officials, or marching in a protest. The Alexander Technique gives us tools to learn how to find our still point in every activity, and to move through our lives without being pulled “off center.” It’s mindfulness for your whole self – embodied in all that you do.
This stillness is your place of strength.
From there, you can reach out into the spinning world and do what needs to be done. From there, in the midst of a spinning life, you can see the options you have for what they are, and choose how to proceed. When you leave the center and start to feel “wound up,” return to that place of stillness in yourself by noticing where your body and mind could use less effort, even as you’re simultaneously booking it down the street to a meeting or dealing with an emotionally difficult situation.