y journey toward a Christian zen and adventures in the martial arts share many themes, but at the core of what I’m learning is the concept of being centered. Now, in the martial arts there are all kinds of reasons for wanting to remain centered as nearly all success stems from balanced movement and good footwork, but my journey hasn’t been as much about centeredness in the martial arts as much as through the martial arts and it is in this way that I find myself in a new kind of "spiritual orbit".
But centeredness is a difficult thing to write about and my attempts at an explanation might mislead more than guide. Meanwhile the temptation to latch onto one facet of centeredness and paint the remainder with the same brush is tantalizing - not to mention a violation of one of the core tenets of zen (and of proper logic). The good news is that centeredness is far from unknowable so hopefully the following contemplative mumbo jumbo might fill in some small corner of that picture.
I just realized how relational teeter-totters are.
Teeter-totters function on the principle of balance in a world where gravity pulls everything down. Now, when we say that we seek centeredness in our lives we somehow imagine the fulcrum of that balance as near the middle - like a teeter-totter; but it’s an illusion masking the fact that life’s priorities are rarely equally weighted. The truth is that work, family, recreation and personal development are often so drastically imbalanced that most of us feign centeredness by frantically re-positioning the fulcrum when things list too far in one direction. The end result is a reactionary approach to managing life where our sense of serenity or progress is measured more by how good we are at stabilizing the endpoints than by the condition of our hearts; so we end up with lives reduced to an endless search for the right pain, energy and time management strategy.
Then Christ comes along and in the midst of our striving and personal chaos says something totally absurd - yet perfectly zen: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
There is a subtle weightlessness that occurs if you take him at his word (as in, choose to believe him). It's almost as if someone stole into the back room of your heart and turned off the gravity button. Slowly things begin to lift off the floor and it takes a minute for you to realize there’s no longer a need to re-position the fulcrum to manage the stresses and anxieties of life. In the same way that astronauts on the International Space Station have had to rediscover daily tasks such as eating and drinking in a weightless environment, you're left with re-calibrating your inner world to account for the fact that "up" and "down" are no longer relevant and your life-management strategies of the past are seen as the fruitless striving that they are.1
Here, in a zero-gravity spiritual life, everything moves a little slower but with intention and we inhabit a way of being that accepts real-world occurrences as they are without fear, judgement or anger. It is in this way that we experience through Jesus’ words a zen-like serenity founded on relationship rather than on meditation. And all it takes is taking him at his word.
To be honest, I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be in my proficiency in operating in "zero-g" mode but progress is steady as I make time for training, forms and prayer. Most of the time I only inhabit true centeredness for a few hours until I lose my focus, switch the gravity back on and find myself caught up in the stresses of daily life (it sometimes takes me days to recalibrate). For now though I continue to spend my mental and spiritual energies processing these lessons. I’ve found that a combination of hard training and meditative prayer force me into long-form examinations - a remedy for my distracted, social-media-infected existence.
In spite of its appearing in a Psalm, "Cease striving and know that I am God." (Ps 46:10a) doesn't sound like an optional suggestion. ↩