Foundation and Center

Back in the terribly fragmented EEeee post, I briefly touched on the idea of foundation and center. I think of this as a tai chi concept, because that is where I encountered it most clearly, but actually it’s just basic physics. No architect can get by without it. Actually no one can get by without it, but some need to be more consciously aware of the idea than others. It isn’t something you have to actually think about every time you stand up, even if you are practicing it.

In the physical sense, “center” refers to your center of gravity. I’m really wishing I had a video clip of Mr. Wizard explaining what center of gravity is. That’s where I first learned of it when I was a kid. In short, if you were to hang an object, any object, from a string, the center would always fall directly under the point of support. Alternatively, if you were to balance an object, any object, on a support, the center would always be directly above that support. If it isn’t, the whole thing would fall down. I found this video on YouTube to help get a good visual on that.

I use this principle in my tai chi class to explain how balance works. In most humans, the center of gravity is a point inside the lower abdomen. While standing, look down at your feet, then imagine an outline that includes your feet and the space between them. Alternatively, you can draw the outline around any point of weight-bearing contact you have with the ground, be it a chair leg, wheels, or a cane. Notice the position of your center in relation to that line. If you lean, notice what happens the very instant that your center crosses the imaginary line. You start to fall. (Please don’t really fall!) The space that imaginary line encloses is your foundation. Notice how much smaller it gets when you pick up one foot. Depending on the width of your stance, you probably reduced it to about a quarter of its previous size. If you rise to the ball of your foot, then you probably knocked another two-thirds off the remaining space. As long as your center stays over what’s left of your foundation, you’ll be fine. As soon as it wobbles out of that area, you get into trouble.

What does this have to do with paganism? Nothing specifically, I guess. I just think it’s something that applies to EVERYTHING. This is one of those physical laws that seem to translate well metaphorically into psychological and spiritual worlds. How many times have we been told to “Ground and Center?” I don’t think Foundation is exactly the same idea as Grounding, but they do seem related.

Foundation is the line you must not cross lest you find yourself on your way to a fall. If you stay on this side, you’re safe. It’s amazing how precise the line actually is, nothing fuzzy about it. The fuzzy part might be your awareness of your center. Know thyself, or else. Can you handle that one cookie without blowing your diet? Or will it tip you over the edge until the whole package disappears? To answer that question, you have to know your own center.

This is not the same thing as pushing past your comfort zone. The comfort zone is where you can handle things easily. Then there is an area where you must use greater effort and skill to succeed. Going past your foundation, however, is pushing to the point of failure. The line might not be visible, but it really does exist. No amount of will power can change it.

Let’s look at that will power thing for a moment. Going back to the standing example, leaving your comfort zone might be like leaning at an odd angle. Sure, you can do it. Doing so will both strengthen and tax your muscles. Old style tai chi was taught by having students stand in various stances until they increased their internal strength and stability. At first it’s not so bad, but the longer you do it, the more your muscles tire. Eventually you must either return to a comfortable stance, or risk falling down. After you’ve rested, you can try it again later. Resting is not failure. It is preparation for the next workout. Also remember that people get bad backs and various chronic aches and pains if they lean on a daily basis. You must rest. You must return to neutral on a regular basis, or you will pay for it in the long run.

Only you can figure out what Foundation and Center mean to you. They may mean different things in various contexts. Heru told me recently that he was my center and Ra was my foundation. It will take awhile for me to really appreciate what he meant by that.

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3 thoughts on “Foundation and Center

  1. Nornoriel says:

    OMFG, someone else remembers Mr. Wizard. *flail* That made my night. (I’m such a dork, lol)

    “This is not the same thing as pushing past your comfort zone. The comfort zone is where you can handle things easily. Then there is an area where you must use greater effort and skill to succeed. Going past your foundation, however, is pushing to the point of failure. The line might not be visible, but it really does exist. No amount of will power can change it. ”

    SO. MUCH. THIS.

    I wish more people understood the difference between foundation and comfort zone. A lot of times when people have done the “go past your comfort zones” argument – or at least when they’ve done it to me – they’re arguing to go past the foundation instead.

    Anyway, good post. I think finding one’s foundation and center is really the key to all the things, and I’m surprised it isn’t discussed more.

  2. Alverdine says:

    This was a really interesting read, because the link between grounding and balance in a metaphysical sense and a physical sense isn’t one I’ve thought a lot about. I have neuro issues which mean my balance and body awareness is quite poor, so for me the link between physical and mental balance is… complicated. I’ll have to think more about this. 🙂

  3. […] the Foundation post I mentioned the need to return to neutral, to rest. It’s a practice I need to […]

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