Feature Stories

Developing Center in Your Life
Thomas Crum and Judith Warner
Aiki Works, Inc.

Aiki Works is an organization whose purpose is clear and simple: to provide individuals and organizations with the ability to bring forth the spirit, the balance and the power necessary to accomplish their goals while expanding substantially the overall quality by which they experience their life and their work. We provide people with the skills to integrate the spirit (vision), the mind (intellect) and the body (action) to such a high level that work becomes play and conflicts turn into magical opportunities for growth and excellence. It is our desire that everyone have the ability to:

  • Be calm in any conflict
  • Create successful relationships
  • Deal with pressure and stress
  • Achieve balance in a busy life
  • Understand true power and how to utilize it
  • Operate at peak performance - engage the magic of discovery while letting go of the struggle for perfection

To accomplish this we teach the art of centering through the Magic of Conflict approach -- a unique approach which builds upon the principles of the martial art of Aikido and presents a framework for reaching peak performance with maximum joy and minimum effort. The usual reactions to conflict and stress are fight, flee or freeze. The martial art of Aikido suggests another alternative, centered flow. When conflict occurs, the centered person flows by embodying these principles:

  • ACKNOWLEDGE -- Be aware that you have a conflict and what your feelings are about that conflict. Appreciate the other side's feelings and viewpoint without labeling them or judging them.
  • ACCEPT -- Show the other side that you want to work out a solution. Take responsibility for the fact that you are also part of the conflict and that all sides are in this together.
  • ADAPT -- Be willing to change and be open to new ideas. Be able to consider a wide range of solutions without excessive judgment.

THE ART OF CENTERING

It takes a special mind/body state to be able to respond to conflict as opportunity, to acknowledge and embrace it, and to be willing to learn and change. That state of being is centering. You are centered when you are moving on purpose, without irritation or frustration. You are centered when you are open to discovery, no matter what the circumstances, when you are willing to learn and you are willing to change based on what you learn. Center is a mind/body state. Your body pulsates, free of tension, able to move gracefully and appropriately. Your mind is alert -- with a heightened awareness of surroundings and an uncanny ability to focus on essentials.

Center is magical. It makes possible living without struggle. It is a place of peak performance and personal satisfaction. You are entirely present in the moment and you are of greatest service to others. You are manifesting integrity, compassion, and joy. Centering is a gift -- to you and to those around you.

How often are you centered? You have been there hundreds, maybe thousands, of times in your lifetime, but you probably are most aware of when you have been uncentered. For some of us, it seems that we spend most of our lives in an uncentered state, just getting by, trying to deal with the stress and strain of studying, parenting, growing up, working -- or even, remarkably, playing. What would it be like if we could turn our lives around so that we are centered almost all the time, making those times when we are off-center stand out as aberrations?

You can choose center anywhere, anytime. Often, we do not recognize center as a state of being that we can choose -- we think it is simply something that happens to us due to circumstances out of our control. You may recognize that you were centered at the moment you hugged your new born child, or received your diploma, or scored a winning goal. From this you might conclude that a special relationship or successful achievement is necessary for centering. The truth is that those external forces support centering, but are not essential. The potential to be centered is inside us all the time.

RECOGNIZING CENTER

To choose center, we must recognize it. We each categorize center in a unique way -- as a kinesthetic feeling, a sound, a color. All that matters is that you recognize your centered state of being. To increase your familiarity with your experience of the centered state, use this exercise introduced in The Magic of Conflict (Simon and Schuster) and used in all of our workshops:

  • Stand easily and naturally, with your feet approximately shoulder width apart.
  • Have a partner stand beside you, facing in the same direction so that you feel she is there to support you, not compete with you.
  • Have your partner reach over and place the fingertips of one hand very lightly just above the center of your chest.
  • Very slowly and smoothly your partner should increase the pressure on that point, as if she were going to push you directly back. This should be done smoothly, with no jerky or sudden motion. Stand naturally and do not try to physically resist this pressure.
  • You will soon begin to wobble. Confirm with your partner how little pressure it took for this to occur.
  • With your partner's fingertips in the same position on your chest, concentrate on your center -- the physical center of your body -- which, in a standing position, is located roughly a couple of inches below the navel. Touching that area with your finger will help you to focus your mind on the location.
  • Have your partner slowly increase the pressure again, without distracting your thoughts away from your center. Take any feeling of pressure on the chest down to your center, to actually feel it "from your center."
  • As your partner slowly increases the pressure on your chest, she will find that there is remarkably more stability, gained simply by you becoming more aware of your natural center. You will probably not realize how hard she is pressing.

Take time to play with this centering exercise. Repeat it so you begin to distinguish between centered and uncentered states, and notice what a centered experience feels like for you -- kinesthetically, psychologically, and sensually. The Energizer, a video featuring Thomas Crum, provides a visual demonstration of this basic centering exercise and is available from Aiki Works, Inc.

EMBRACE CENTER

Once you recognize center, you can begin to train in it. At first this requires trust. Do not expect major breakthroughs to happen daily. Let go of attachment to measurable outcomes. Persist in your training. Appreciate your moments of centeredness. Take in everything about your world at these times, and persist in your training. With time, centeredness will become akin to a familiar hearth where you can rest your weary bones and revitalize yourself.

Embracing center is acknowledging yourself. Centering allows you to experience your emotions without being dominated by them. It supports congruency between your values and your actions. If you live your life at this level, you come to not only know yourself very well, but to accept and appreciate who you are. This is a powerful place to be. There are many ways to train in centering. Here are some concrete examples on how to incorporate centering training into your life:

  • Recreate the image or feeling from the centering exercise periodically throughout the day.
  • Breathing is natural - for everyone! Begin to use your breath as a means to center. Breathe deeply and slowly from your abdomen whenever you are aware of tension in your body.
  • Choose two or three daily activities that you can use as reminders to center. For example, when the phone rings, center on the first ring, answer on the second. Other centering checks might be turning on your computer, opening the door to your office, at red lights.
  • Pasqual said , "All of man's troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone." Set aside 10 - 20 minutes each day for quiet reflection, introspection, meditation.
  • Unless we know where we want to go, we are unlikely to get there. Know your purpose in life, why you are involved in the activities that occupy your time. Be crystal clear on this and in times of stress reflect on that purpose before you take action in a conflict.
  • Simply and regularly ask "What's the highest level of me that can show up right now?"
  • Develop a network of people, programs, and literature that brings you back to center. Our strength is in connection, not in isolation.

CENTER AND POWER

True power is energy flowing freely toward a purpose. This contradicts the traditional perceptions of strength as toughness and rigidity. True power requires an absence of tension. Learning how to extend energy helps us to connect with other people. Feelings of separation are an illusion; connectedness is reality. If you have an argument and you walk out of the room, even though you separate physically, the energy of the relationship continues. Accepting your connectedness is an important step in solving problems.

When you learn to extend energy, you are growing rather than contracting in relationship. When conflicts arise, you have the ability to establish a more harmonious and connected state. As a result, all sides in a conflict feel greater rapport, and an increased sense of cooperation.

THE CENTERED LEADER

All the courses in communication and conflict resolution strategies are useless until we access an emotional intelligence which allows us the clarity and calmness to use what we have been taught. The art of centering gives us the access. Conflict is neither good nor bad, it just is. It is nature's primary motivator for change or growth. As we learn the skills of centering, we can disagree without being disagreeable, connect more deeply with one another, and create opportunities for even greater success as leaders of the 21st century.

Resources used to create this article include:
Journey to Center, Thomas Crum (Simon & Schuster, 1997)
The Magic of Conflict, Thomas Crum (Simon & Schuster, 1987)
From Chaos to Center, Judith Warner (Aiki Works, 1999)

Contact info:
Aiki Works
PO Box 251
Victor, NY 14564
716-924-7302
FAX: 716-924-2799
Aikiworks@aol.com
www.aikiworks.com

Thomas Crum

Thomas Crum is an internationally known author, seminar leader, and martial artist. He has developed the Magic of Conflict approach, an in-depth technology to turn conflict into opportunity and one's life of work into a work of art. Tom leads seminars and trainings for organizations as diverse as Walt Disney, Lucent Technologies, Home Savings of America, McDonalds, and the U.S. Postal Service. His work has taken him to many hot spots of the world including Russia, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. He is a popular keynote presenter, having appeared as the general session speaker in the programs of many national conferences and associations including the American Society of Training and Development.

He is the author of Journey to Center and The Magic of Conflict, as well as many audio and video tapes dealing with conflict and stress management.Tom has been a co-recipient of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) Vision Award for Performance Improvement for his role in the design and facilitation of Ashland Chemical's Simply the Best program.

In addition, Tom is an internationally know ski professional and martial artist. He includes principles and movements from Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan, and other mind-body arts in his presentations, creating an experiential approach to teaching conflict resolution and stress management. He has worked as a peak performance coach for both professional and amateur athletes. His residential programs include week-long ski seminars in Aspen, Colorado in the winter. When he is not out on the slopes, you probably can find him on a golf course, honing his skills for the golf programs he offers with some of the best golf teaching pros in the business.He is co-founder , with John Denver, and former executive director of the Windstar Foundation, an international education and research center developing appropriate technologies for a sustainable future.

Judith Warner

Judith Warner is the director of the Rochester, New York office of Aiki Works She leads workshops on conflict resolution and stress management around the world. She is the author of From Chaos to Center : A Training Guide in the Art of Centering and co-author with Mr. Crum of Your Conflict Cookbook: A Parent/Teacher Guide for Helping Young People Deal with Anger and Conflict. Judy has a Master's degree in Economics. In addition to leading workshops and individual coaching, Judy is an instructor in the martial art of Aikido -- an art that provides the base for many of the mind-body training principles of the Magic of Conflict Approach - and also works as a caregiver in a local hospice. Her training includes conflict resolution, mediation, qi gong and Meyers-Briggs personality type measurement.

Back to Features Page