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THE CORE


          As you go through this website, you’ll notice that we repeatedly talk about something we call the "inner core of calm, ease and contentment."  In fact, our main theme is this:  By remembering to pause and reconnect to that inner core, everything in your life will become easier and more effective.  This pausing to reconnect is what we mean by the phrase, "remember to breathe".

So What is the "Core"?

          The core is not a physical place or thing – it’s an experience that’s natural to us when our brains are balanced and well-integrated. When we have access to the experience of the core, all kinds of positive physical changes occur that can, and have been, measured.  But to give you a better feeling for what the experience of the core is like, we're going to use a couple of metaphors.


The Wheel of Awareness

         One of the best ways we’ve found to illustrate what we mean by the core is psychiatrist Dan Siegel’s image of the "wheel of awareness".   The image of the wheel helps us to make a simple distinction – the distinction between our awareness (the center or “hub” of the wheel) and everything we’re aware of (arrayed around the rim of the wheel).

      The experience of being anchored at the hub of the wheel is what we mean by being "centered in your core."  That experience has a quality of openness and freedom.

      It’s open in the sense that your awareness is not stuck in any one aspect of your experience – it can be wide and flexible, taking in many aspects of experience.

      It’s free in the sense that you’re not compelled to act on, or react to, anything you’re aware of on the rim – you’re free to choose where and how to direct your attention, and how to respond to whatever you attend to.

   According to Dan Siegel, “The wheel of awareness is now being used in a variety of schools, in psychotherapy practices, and meditation programs.” 

   Siegel reports that at one school, “A teacher told me that a young student said she needed a time out to ‘get back in her hub’ when she was finding herself about to fight with another child in the school yard.” 

   Siegel goes on to say that "'coming back to the hub’ is a quick metaphor one can use as an easily accessible reminder to remain in, or return to an open, mindful place.”

The Depths of the Ocean

          The ocean is another helpful image – one that has been used around the world for many centuries.  In this metaphor, all that we’re aware of is on the surface of the ocean, and deep beneath the surface is the experience of just being aware, the experience of the core. In the depths of the ocean, all is quiet, clear, and peaceful.  From those clear, calm depths we can look up and calmly see the play of thoughts, memories, hopes, and fears on the surface – without having to react to them.

You can also come up with your own images that will help evoke the experience of the core for you.  Click here for the story of how one mother did this for her seven-year-old son.  

How Do We Contact This Core?

Mindful Awareness

          One approach to contacting the core involves the development of mindful awareness.   This is the practice of distinguishing between our awareness (at the “hub” of the wheel of awareness) and what we’re aware of (around the rim of the wheel).  This practice helps us to remain at the calm hub of the wheel as we relate to the inner and outer events on the rim .  And that gives us the ability to respond to those events with greater freedom, wisdom and compassion.

          Cultivating mindful awareness trains and develops the mid-prefrontal cortex ("MPFC"), which then makes it easier and easier to maintain mindful awareness, even in the face of challenging events.  

Positive Emotions

          There’s another, very different way to access the core which some people find easier – that is, by evoking a positive emotion.

          Scientific research over the past 20 years has shown that it’s actually possible to evoke powerful, positive emotions at will through a process we call heart-centering. 

          In heart-centering you take a few slow, gentle breaths, imagining that you’re breathing into and out from your heart.  As you continue breathing into and out from your heart, you bring to mind a person, a place, or a moment in your life that evokes for you a feeling of appreciation, caring, love, gratitude, safety, or some other positive emotion. Once the feeling is strong and vivid, you can let go of the image that evoked it.  

          As you relax into the feeling, letting it fill your heart, and mind, and body, you'll get a taste of the calm and ease at the core of your awareness. 

  

Dr. Roland McCraty, in his book “The Appreciative Heart,” describes an experience of the core that can come about with sustained practice of this kind of “heart-centering”:

You feel a deep sense of peace and internal balance – you are at harmony with yourself, with others, and with your larger environment. You experience increased buoyancy and vitality. Your senses are enlivened—every aspect of your perceptual experience seems richer, more textured. Surprisingly, you feel invigorated even when you would usually have felt tired and drained. Things that usually would have irked you just don’t “get to you” as much. Your body feels regenerated—your mind clear. At least for a period of time, decisions become obvious as priorities clarify and inner conflict dissolves. Intuitive insight suddenly provides convenient solutions to problems that had previously consumed weeks of restless thought. Your creativity flows freely. You may experience a sense of greater connected- ness with others and feelings of deep fulfillment.

Acting From the Core

          For some, experiences of the core may come spontaneously in the midst of certain activities.  

          The psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihayli (M’high CHICK-sent-m’high) studied artists back in the 1960s, and noted that many of them described a state in which they were so completely immersed in what they were doing that they felt as though there was almost no separation between them and their painting. They had a sense of spaciousness, contentment, and ease.    

          In describing the experience, they used a phrase that was popular at the time – "being in the flow".  Csikszentmihalyi shortened it to simply "flow" and described it as ". . .being completely involved in an activity for its own sake… Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost."  Other phrases that have been used to refer to this flow-like state include being "wired-in", "in the groove", "in the zone", and  "in the now". 

          Csikszentmihayli later spent many years talking with different kinds of people from all over the world – people of different cultures, gender, race, and age – who had all experienced this flow state.  They included cyclists, elderly Korean women, Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members, welders, Navajo shepherds, assembly line workers in Chicago, chess players, as well as many others involved in a wide variety of activities.

          So flow isn’t about a particular kind of activity – rather, it has to do with our way of participating in whatever the activity may be.  Something that was common to all those who experienced "flow" – and which seems central to having the flow experience – is being able to give yourself completely to what you’re doing, while letting go of all concern about your "self". 

          The "self" you’re letting go of is the configuration of desires, fears, hopes, etc. on the rim of your "wheel of awareness"with which you you identify. 

           As you shift your attention away from those desires, fears, etc., it becomes anchored in  your core. It is this anchoring of attention in the core while being engaged in action that gives the experience of flow.

Many athletes have described similar experiences while in the midst of a particularly intense moment of a game.  The basketball player Bill Russell describes it this way:

Every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it would become more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. That feeling is difficult to describe, and I certainly never talked about it when I was playing. When it happened I could feel my play rise to a new level… At that special level all sorts of odd things happened….It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. Even before the other team brought the ball in bounds, I could feel it so keenly that I’d want to shout to my teammates, ‘It’s coming there!’ – except that I knew everything would change if I did. My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.  

Coming Home to the Core

          It’s not necessary to be an accomplished artist or athlete in order to contact the core.  Nor is it necessary to practice mindfulness or heart-centering.  The fact is, throughout the day there are many moments (though often all-too-brief) when we spontaneously let go of self-concern and come back to the hub.  These moments might include stopping to take in the beauty of a sunset, having a particularly intimate conversation with a good friend, or simply sitting back to enjoy a piece of music.  

          Many people describe the experience of coming back to the core as an experience of "coming home". No matter where we are or whom we’re with, the spacious, heartful awareness of the core can embrace the moment with a deep feeling of ease. The more we come back to our core – the more we "remember to breathe" – the more "at home" we feel in the world.