The Myth of the Immutable Center
Seldom am I asked directly, “Where’s my center?” or “What grounds me?” But in thousands of little ways, – the briefest of sighs, the anxious turn of phrase, the bewildered look, the pause which reaches for remembrance of purpose, – I encounter again and again an unspoken query.
What am I all about, really? Who am I, when all is said and done? What’s at the center of this person that is me?
Words often fail to capture the depth of concern or the scope of the question. Yet the instinct to dig deeper persists. To know and experience what may be enduring or reliable within one self haunts even the most cavalier and carefree person. Philosophers wax eloquently about the search for meaning; priests and prophets offer credos and religious guidance; the arts and literature are rife with evidence of longing and searching. And still I am left with my self and my quest for what holds me and my world together.
Too often I default to thinking there must be something incontestably and undisputedly true, as if there is something immutable and utterly defining about who I am. A Platonic form somewhere out there… I could begin to make a list: I am a man, a son, a husband, a father, I am an American citizen – I could continue to accumulate the facts of my existence. Even so, I acknowledge I could quite readily alter some of these “facts”. And then my mind kicks in, and I want to know more of who I am, truly.
This is more than a question of identity; for me it is a matter of describing my own experience of finding myself, if you will, in process. I am less being and more becoming. That is what it means to me to live fully alive. There are indeed certain constants but even the constants change. Language, for example, is a constant. I have relied on language since I could first speak, though I have no memory of what my first words may have been. “Love” has been a part of my vocabulary since I was a young child but my experience, my understanding, my knowing of love has evolved and changed. And wondrously, mysteriously, a sense of unconditional love has come to flourish in my life and centers me even as it moves me.
Rocks and rivers, tossed pebbles and rippling ponds, stones and fragrances – the paradox of the the stable yet dynamic nature of this world perplexes me. “Give me a place to stand and I can change the world.” (Archimedes) We search for the rock. “No man [sic] ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and it’s not the same man.” (Heraclitus) And we must navigate the river. The persistent and powerful course of events which define our lives are beyond the control of any one of us. We prosper or perish, depending on our readiness to know ourselves as always emerging, constantly engaging, forever changing, yet one with ourselves and a wonderous Universe.