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The Center Will Not Hold: A Rumination on Growth in Chaos

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I woke up extra early one morning this week thinking, “the center will not hold.”

Like many phrases, I have retained only an intuitive sense of meaning versus clarity on origin and context. That day, I felt a deep need to know more. I needed to understand what EXACT center was not holding when the Irish poet W.B. Yeats originally wrote his poem. And then again when Joan Didion considered the concept in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her 1968 collection of essays .  

I need to know because my personal center isn’t currently holding how to be an effective leader in centering an organization for mindful, equitable, sustainable growth. 

I need to know because I’m dizzy and exhausted.

I need to know because I feel the spin, turning and turning in the widening gyre, as Yeats described it. Where the falcon cannot hear the falconer and where I am unsure of who or what is bird or prey, hunter or hunted.

Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” in 1919, post World War I, amidst the first-round of Irish Troubles and a flu pandemic.  Yeats’ cosmology posited that certain patterns, which he called gyres, existed and he represented them as two cones, each connected to the other. One of Yeats’ cones is represented by Concordia, unity; the other by Discordia, desire. 

Didion wrote the title essay of her 1968 book about the counterculture goings-on in 1960’s San Francisco, fragmenting her prose to mimic the widening gyre of societal fragmentation, centering herself in the narrative, a technique of the then “New Journalism.” I can imagine Didion sitting on the pinnacle of Yeat’s inverted cone watching the widening gyre of the world she inhabited, writing about where “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

And this is where I am now placing myself to try and observe what is widening and spinning, the expanding trauma vortex of our contemporary society, littered with the vocabulary of reconciliation and the growing speed and dense gravity of the purposefully fragmented and fragmenting tools of technology.

trauma, trigger, glimmer, cohesion, shared, Kardashian, somatic, embodiment, race, equity, influencer, AI, healing, nature, oppression, climate change, pandemic, cryptocurrency, virtual reality, mental health, diversity, inclusion, sustainability, gig economy, misinformation, remote work, social justice, cybersecurity, augmented reality, mindfulness, gigafactories, K-Pop, deepfake, blockchain, Gen Z, mindfulness apps, hybrid work, boundaries, enneagram

Where we feel it all, say the words, demand a plot and when we lose it, we join another incoherent stream. And in this maelstrom, the nonprofit world I inhabit, I also see:

  • Strategic planning for growth based on models that are failing institutions around us;
  • A changing workforce that wishes to find deep meaning in work with hyper boundaries around time, attention and agency;
  • New and ever-changing funding models in philanthropy so that sustainability has to be reimagined and clawed into our organizations year after year;
  • Consultants and facilitators who yearn to teach a better model but who have not built one, seen one, lived in one, funded one. I place myself in this yearning;
  • Like-purpose organizations in a constant competition to outmaneuver each other for limited dollars.

Dr. Peter Levine, grandfather of Somatic Experiencing, has a trauma response model that includes twin vortices in the river of life, the first one beginning its swirl of fight, flight, freeze, fawn, perseverate, medicate when trauma occurs. The second is a naturally forming counter vortex where all yoga, breath, nature, laughter, connection, healing glimmers live.

He sees the resolution and ultimately, the gift of transformation occurring when we can move easily from one vortex to the other discerning the full bodied elements of each without getting swallowed by either. At present, we seem to be combining these vortices with TikTok speed and a full but inexperienced vocabulary so our collective ability to discern, swim and stay afloat is further diminished. We are barely able to throw a lifeline since we too are drowning. 

This is my outcry. My lament. My attempt at sense making in order to re-center.

The Well, the organization I founded and run, will be well. I will be well.

But first, I need to find my center through personal practice, time and space, and re-imagining. 

I need to bring images and limbic system-knowing to the conversation of growth. We need to get out of the swirl and into the space of what we mean in the here and now.

My colleague Bryce and I started drawing some circles this week. A large well with smaller springs around it. Where reciprocity, scale, co-nourishment and impact can be reconsidered.

At a conference earlier this year, equal parts gorgeous and uncentering, there was a discussion of nucleated forestry, where one needs only to plant 16% of a field if properly done because “healing circles grow toward each other.”

There is something to this. I know it. 

Whatever is your lament, whatever is your hope and wisdom, I hope you find a way to center it as the gyre continues to widen around us.

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Our programs have been nourishing the community since 2005. In 2019, we became the non-profit, A Mindful Moment.


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