From the Board: January 2023

Each month, a member of the board will share a reflection on the Soul Matters monthly theme. The theme for January is Finding Our Center. This month’s post is offered by Brian Zais. 

In physics, the “center of gravity” of an object is the point that is, well, centered in the mass of the object.  It’s the middle of the weight, the point at which you could balance the object on your finger.  But it’s not always in the center, and not always even in the object.  If you’re standing with your arms at your side, your center of gravity is roughly in your abdomen, midway between your navel and your spine.  Right in the middle as you’d expect.  If you stick your arms straight out in front of you, your center of gravity shifts slightly forward, but is still located inside your body.  But if you pick up a stool in your outstretched arms, your center of gravity is now actually located outside of your body, slightly in front of your sternum.

An object will stand if a line drawn straight down to the ground from its center of gravity falls inside the base of the object.  When you’re standing with your arms at your side and your center of gravity is in your stomach, that vertical line ends up between your feet, and you can stand.  But with the stool held forward in outstretched arms, the line from the center of gravity, now in front of you outside your body, falls in front of your toes, outside of the base formed by your feet, and you fall over forward.  You are forced to take a step forward to expand your base so the center of gravity is above it to stay upright.  Or you will subconsciously lean slightly backward to keep the shifted center of gravity over your feet.  But something has to adjust to keep you from falling over.

We are often encouraged to stretch ourselves, to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to grow.  Or to get stronger.  Or to learn new things.  Or to advocate for needed change.  But stretching mentally means our emotional center of gravity shifts in exactly the same way our physical center of gravity changed when we held the stool away from our body.  If we stretch far enough, make ourselves too uncomfortable, our emotional center of gravity will find itself outside our base of support and we’ll figuratively fall over.

There are two ways to prevent this.  The first is to reduce the stretch, keeping our emotional center of gravity over our base.  But that’s not very different from just sitting back and letting the world go by without trying to improve it, or only aiming for small increments of progress.  The better way, in my opinion, is to expand your base so you can stretch farther without tipping over.  You can build your base through many ways: financial security, a support network of friends, family, your church community, organizations, knowledge, and many others.  So rather than thinking about “centering yourself” as drawing back your center of gravity inside your base, work to expand your base so your center, even when pushed or stretched, is still inside your wider base.  With a wide enough base, you can still be centered (not tipping over) even as you deliberately push yourself off center!

Brian Zais
Member, UUCM Board of Trustees

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