It’s Real and Accessible
– the central, innermost, or most essential part of anything
– the seat of one’s deepest thoughts and emotions
Many, perhaps most of us sense that we have a core of our being. A deepest part of our personhood. We might think of that core as embodying classic virtues like character, courage, kindness, and integrity. Perhaps we associate our core with ‘having a gut feeling’ – a trusted internal sense of good and bad, right and wrong. If religiously or spiritually inclined, we likely identify the core of our being as our soul or spirit. Many other words are used to designate an innermost part of ourselves: center, psyche, ground, heart, mind, self, source, being, essence, root, and more.
All these ways of referring to and regarding our vital center are valid and relevant. Of primary importance is what they have in common: an implicit, embodied knowing of a creative, spacious, attentive presence at the core of our being that radiates love, strength, and wisdom.
We may not be aware of or feel connected to this conscious center of potent goodness often. In fact most of us, the great majority of the time, are not consciously aware of our spacious core of being. But whether readily accessible or deeply buried, I believe virtually everyone has at least some intuitive sense of a wise, compassionate, awake presence at their core.
I contend that this sense is entirely justified, that the core of our being is a genuine presence that we can know experientially and become increasingly familiar with, to the profound benefit of ourselves and those around us.
This can sound ‘spiritual’ and/or seem to suggest a belief in God. And if that perspective works for you, the existence of a conscious core of being can certainly be seen through that lens. But the existence of a centermost vital presence does not need to be viewed in religious or mystical terms to be valid, understood, or – most importantly – experienced.
What George Said
In this passage from a widely acclaimed commencement speech to the 2013 graduates of Syracuse University, celebrated author George Saunders paints a vivid image of this presence at the center of our being:
That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
Taken literally and seriously, Saunders’ assertion that we have an inner core that is “as bright and shining as any that has ever been” has two profound implications. The first is simply the enormous potency of the radiant goodness that lies in our “secret luminous place.” It is thrilling if not easy to envision that we have within us the same inherent ‘stuff’ that made a human being as creative and wise as William Shakespeare. As committed to justice and nonviolence as Mahatma Gandhi. As caring and compassionate as Mother Teresa. Imagine having deep within yourself the same extraordinary potential that they manifested in their lives.
Now imagine that each and every one of us has this luminous core. This is the second momentous aspect of Saunders’ proclamation. This is not a one-on-one pep talk by a coach telling a gifted young athlete that they could become the next Lionel Messi or Serena Williams. In fact, he is talking to an audience far beyond the throng of college graduates assembled that day in Syracuse.
Saunders speaks to all of us, including you and me, right now, urging us to believe that we all have at core of our being an ineffable dazzling presence, and that we can “come to know it better” and share it with others.
Our Reluctance to Take it Seriously
Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center.
– Anaïs Nin
If true, the existence of a spacious, loving, attentive presence at the core of our being has life-transforming ramifications. The very idea can be intimidating, and it is frequently dismissed as illusory. Yet a center of being has been posited, pursued, and promulgated by wisdom traditions in all cultures from time immemorial. Nonetheless, in our contemporary western world, declaring the existence of such an inner core is a controversial claim.
Yes, many voices in our culture passionately endorse the idea of seeking to know a center of our personal being, and countless sources of wisdom and guidance are readily available to anyone who chooses to take up the quest. But in our predominantly secular, outwardly directed society with its pervasive physicalist mindset, the idea of having an incorporeal conscious essence at the root of our being is essentially a non-starter.
In this intellectual environment, it’s no wonder that our sense of having a vibrant, aware, creative, real core can be less than robust.
Opening Up to Our Core Presence Changes Everything
Rejecting out-of-hand anything that sounds remotely ‘spiritual’ is unfortunate, especially now when we are in a period of tremendous social upheaval and facing existential threats. In so doing, we willfully ignore a treasure trove of wisdom and teachings, both ancient and modern.
Even more consequential, if we refuse the possibility and/or ignore the experience of a wise and caring core, we are likely to give less credence and attention to our natural experiences of embodied, felt knowing. Our sense of connection to other people and all of nature can even become diminished.
When we discover and begin to connect to our own attentive, creative core, we awaken to the existence of an attentive, creative core in all human beings. Likewise, sensing the core of another person lights up our connection to our own as well. Indeed, meeting a friend or loved one usually triggers our sense of connection between our conscious cores.
This reciprocating dynamic greatly enhances our capacity for building healthy, compassionate relationships and advances our collective ability to effectively address our common problems and opportunities.
It seems clear to me that the most valuable mission we can undertake is to develop our inclination and ability to connect our everyday, lived experience to the spacious, attentive presence at the core of ourselves and others.