Thursday, October 07, 2021

In the Garden of Spirituality – Thomas Crum

“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

– Pope John XXIII

It’s been quite some time since I visited the “garden of spirituality,” my series of reflections on key ideas, experiences, and practices in the spiritual life.

Today’s post could just as well be called “In the Center of the Garden of Spirituality,” as its focus is on the spiritual art of centering as defined and explored by Thomas Crum in his book, Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifyng Body, Mind, and Spirit.


Joseph Campbell once suggested that we are not searching for the meaning of life. We are searching for the experience of being alive. Centering is the art of being fully alive. And wherever the art of centering is practiced, things change dramatically.

. . . Centering is not an abstract term, but rather a practical tool available to all of us. . . . Centering happens as the mind, body, and spirit begin to align. Our muscles noticeably relax, our body straightens, clarity of thought and action become more prevalent, and vitality builds. Centering is not a stoic tightrope through life keeping us from our feelings and passions. Instead, centering is a spacious field in which we can embrace emotions and events with awareness and compassion. Centering will allow us to fully feel emotions and will at the same time give us strength to take action not from the ever-changing weather patterns of emotions but from our higher purpose.

We have each had the experience of being centered hundreds of times in our lives (often without being mindful of it). Centering happens in shades, in degrees of intensity. We don’t have to be perfect about it, because each shade makes a difference. Centering is “the zone” spoken of by great athletes. It can also be a barefoot run on the grass on a summer’s eve, with the wind in your face and the senses wide open. Center is a focus so present that time seems to stop as it does for a child at play. Center is a connection so deep that there is no separation between subject and object, an awareness so heightened that beauty and truth, the form and formless, melt together. It is like a delicate flower growing out of solid rock. Center can be a cosmic laugh rippling out to the ends of the universe. It can be simply relaxing in rush-hour traffic. Center is returning home. It is always a choice we can make.

. . . Our centering ability grows with practice. And isn’t life itself the ideal practice time? The challenges and chaos that we live in can be the sandpaper to smooth out our rough edges. And centering is a tool to help us get the job done with maximum joy and minimum effort. Life is worthy of our awe, our focus, and our laughter. A Christian monk, Brother Lawrence, once said, “It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God.”

. . . We are immersed in a world of major transition, both planetary and personal. Many of us are confused about our profession, our relationships, our purpose, our world. By staying busy, we can avoid taking a deep look and unveiling the truth about our cluttered lives and deepest fears. We can hide from the confusion, the uncertainty. But we do have a choice. We can be courageous enough each day to go inside, to our own center. We can discover who we really are and take a stand on our deepest values. This is how we mindfully live a life of center.

Center is about accepting the pressures of life. Center is about inviting change, not mindlessly holding on to a position. It takes courage to change our perspectives. It takes courage to examine which beliefs really work for us. It takes guts to get off a limiting, but often comfortable, point of view and shift to a larger viewing point. When we’re lost in a densely wooded area, it helps our perspective to move to higher ground. This enables us to witness our position – not in isolation but in relation to everything around us.

We can learn, each moment, to pierce through our cluttered thoughts to a higher purpose, and journey to higher ground. It is a path of learning and magic. It is the center of the storm.

– Thomas F. Crum
Excerpted from Journey to Center:
Lessons in Unifyng Body, Mind, and Spirit

Fireside, 1997
pp. 13-18

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Centered Life As an Advent Life
Cultivating Stillness
A Sacred Pause
Aligning With the Living Light
Mystical Participation
The Source Is Within You
The Soul Within the Soul
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Diarmuid O'Murchú on Our Capacity to Meditate
“Joined at the Heart”: Robert Thompson on Christianity and Sufism
Thoughts on Christian Meditation | II | III | IV | V
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
The Herb Spiral

Others highlighted in The Wild Reed’s “In the Garden of Spirituality” series include:
Zainab Salbi | Daniel Helminiak | Rod Cameron | Paul Collins | Joan Chittister | Toby Johnson | Joan Timmerman (Part I) | Joan Timmerman (Part II) | Uta Ranke-Heinemann | Caroline Jones | Ron Rolheiser | James C. Howell | Paul Coelho | Doris Lessing | Michael Morwood | Kenneth Stokes | Dody Donnelly | Adrian Smith | Henri Nouwen | Diarmuid Ó Murchú | L. Patrick Carroll | Jesse Lava | Geoffrey Robinson | Joyce Rupp | Debbie Blue | Rosanne Cash | Elizabeth Johnson | Eckhart Tolle | James B. Nelson | Jeanette Blonigen Clancy | Mark Hathaway (Part I) | Mark Hathaway (Part II) | Parker Palmer | Karen Armstrong | Alan Lurie | Paul Wapner | Pamela Greenberg | Ilia Delio | Hazrat Inayat Khan | Andrew Harvey | Kabir Helminski | Beatrice Bruteau | Richard Rohr (Part I) | Richard Rohr (Part II) | Judy Cannato | Anthony de Mello | Marianne Williamson | David Richo | Gerald May

Opening image: Michael J. Bayly.

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