What is this practice of “de-centering,” and how does it relate to yoga, meditation, and living your life fully?

From the Buddhist perspective, as you meditate, you might have an experience of yourself that is less rigid, less tied to your story, your likes and dislikes, your constant seeking of comfort. De-centering takes the form of being more curious about others’ perspectives, noticing what others experience, and realizing that your imagined slights, grudges, and opinions are just that – imagined in some effort to keep up with and refer back to the “central headquarters” of a fixed self.

Robert Spellman, a Colorado artist, once likened the process of de-centering in artistic creation to moving our focus from objects to the space between the objects. In other words, a shift between figure and ground. What is the shape of the interstitial, moving spaces that are not defined, not fixed, and not full of familiar forms and labels? What if we could inhabit that space, and not constantly need to check back with headquarters to make sure what our experience says about us?

There’s another layer of de-centering as well in the arena of social transformation. Privilege in itself can be defined as social centering. Members of privilege (however that divides and overlaps with our identities: for example, I am a White female –White =privileged; Female =not privileged) always believe they are at the center. And so, recognizing privilege and attempting to move out of the center is an area of growth. ┬áIt’s a subtle practice of knowing when to use privilege to further equality, and when to step back and let others lead and be heard. We feel our way forward to find the balance.

The practice of de-centering joins recognition of our interpretations that support a separate self, and our work on becoming aware of the impact of privilege on others. As the authors of Towards Psychologies of Liberation teach us, we “need to learn to dis-identify from the unquestioned assumptions of [our] social location” to “shift from a sedimented identity.”

In yoga practice, there is a contemplation on the layers of being (koshas) that support the awareness of centering. As we engage in poses with breath and present-moment awareness, the experience of the physical, mental, and subtle bodies becomes more accessible. We understand that – counter to the popular notion of “centering” – we are touching the interwoven aspects of self that allow us to be more open, more other-focused, and more grounded at the same time. The experience of the body as a field of sensation that we can experience in the present moment becomes familiar.

As we use these practices – meditation, yoga, and social de-centering – our inquiry deepens and we are encouraged to engage further, with eyes more open. The approach takes courage, but isn’t that what the world is calling for from us?