The Ancient Modern
Searching for the Center, Part 3 / Joshua Alan Sturgill
What would a centered person look like? A Saint or a Sage? Perhaps. But sainthood as a title is different from inner sanctity. We trust that one implies the other. But sainthood can easily descend into a cult of celebrity. I have observed that frequently Saints are put in the place of the movie star or superhero; we assume that Saints are exceptions, persons gifted beyond the human norm.
However, several traditions assume that many, if not most Saints are unrevealed. We don’t know who they are. We don’t have their biographies. They are simple people living simply alongside everyone else. And these traditions—Christian, Buddhist, Taoist and others—similarly assume that all human beings are called to be Saints or to move toward sainthood.
Now, I’m equating Sainthood with Centeredness. My premise might be wrong from the start. But I find that holiness, sainthood, and celebrity have become such abused and confused terms that we might try a substitute in order to get our thinking away from two extremes: both of celebrity gurus (microphone-mystics), and of vending machine miracle-workers (this-Saint-equals-this-blessing). Those who are seeking their Center will likely not, in my view, be so prominent or so utilitarian.
So, for the rest of this reflection, I’ll consider sainthood as more of a quest than a title. I’ll be thinking about art and philosophy as well as religion, and in very specific terms unique to the contemporary culture. In other times or places, my description might not hold. I’m open to the idea that sainthood, the search for the Center, looks different now that it might have a decade or a century ago.
Also, because I want to be specific, I’m going to meditate on an individual—let’s say a male—but the ideas here would apply to a woman, and perhasp, to a group as well. So what does contemporary Centeredness look like? Here is one possibility:
The Centered man has no need or desire to be entertained. He does not get bored. He is more interested in interacting with real people and places than in viewing people or places through a screen. What comes through a screen does not hold his attention.
His possessions are few, according to his needs, his tastes and his occupation. He does not exteriorize himself—that is, he does not wear extravagant clothes or drive a conspicuous car. He does not speak often or out of turn; he is not addicted to alcohol, sex or other stimulants. But, he likely enjoys a good beer.
The centered man appreciates comfort, pleasure, convenience, but could be deprived of these things without feeling a sense of loss.
The centered man (of all people) most deeply loves his spouse, family, friends, co-workers. He treats with proper respect both his subordinates and superiors.
He is able to love because he brings all people to his Center, and (perhaps unconsciously) helps them find their Center. Many around him will begin to find their own Center by first finding his. He is private, but genuine. He is available to all, but intimate with few.
In times of cultural health and stability, the Centered man is the kind of person best fit for political office. But he flees farthest from politics when the culture is unstable or immature.
Quiet, loyalty, respect for food (for feasting and fasting traditions), reliability, humility before history and tradition, simplicity and joy in sexuality, attention to the present moment, quick to give honor and recognition to others, discernment and good humour: these seem to me to be the marks of Centrality.
Like the great work of art mentioned in the previous reflection, the Centered person is the intersection of all the parts or levels of being—individual, communal, transcendent. In him or her (or in a Centered community), we see both the individual and what is Beyond.
Centeredness is both a window and an altar.