centres and needs

Centres are not an NVC concept but I find they integrate very nicely with NbC. They were introduced in the first part of the 20th century by G.I.Gurdjieff, who worked extensively with centres and in particular with freeing his students from the habitual use of just one or two centres to be able to access all the centres equally. The concept was expanded, clarified and deepened in the “Michael Teachings“, channeled from the 1970s until the present day.

Centres can be thought of as the interface between the personality and the world. Human beings have seven centres, some of which are more easy to access than others, but without training we habitually use only one or two of the three ‘lower’ centres: Physical, Intellectual and Emotional, as well as the ‘neutral’ Instinctive centre which takes cares of basic biological functions and which we all have access to. Most of us experience the world primarily either through our thoughts (Intellectual), our emotions (Emotional) or our bodies (Physical), and as adult members of western society our ability to use at least one of the centres is typically impaired or non-existent. In this culture, it is intellectual centering which predominates and is most highly valued, with our focus on words, thinking, reading, writing, comparing, judging etc. Outside the sports and fitness arenas, which not surprisingly attract more people who are primarily physically centred, relatively few of us are even aware of our bodily sensations and processes, and even emotionally centred people are rarely able to simply experience their emotions without slipping into Intellectual Centre to analyse or judge them. A balanced human being would be able to use all centres equally and move cleanly between her physical, emotional and intellectual perceptions as the situation demanded. In our culture such people who train in multi-tasking their centres are often film and stage actors, dancers and musicians, as well as top sportsmen and women. Many branches of yoga, the softer martial arts and newer developments such as Tensegrity are also effectively designed to promote the balancing of the lower centres, as were Gurdjieff’s ‘movements’.

Of the abstract or higher centres, only the Higher Physical or ‘Moving’ centre is fairly commonly accessed. The sexual act usually begins (and sometimes ends!) with physical stimulation, but in aptly-named ‘love-making’, the energy can also shift relatively easily into the Higher Physical, where we are transported ‘out of our bodies’ into an ecstatic flow and no longer experience the separation which is a quality of the lower centres. As all the Higher centres blend to some extent, we can also experience emotional union and intellectual realisations more easily at such moments.
Apart from in sexual love, the shift from the ‘lower’ centres to their higher partners is difficult and is usually achieved by passing through the neutral Instinctive Centre. Some Instinctive Centre techniques for getting out of our habitual centering include rhythmic drumming, listening to droning music, trance or psytrance, fasting, yoga, repetitive movements and chants, saunas and sweat lodges, ingesting mind-blowing drugs, some kinds of meditation such as Osho’s ‘Dynamic’ meditation, and simply focusing on the breath. All traditional cultures had some such techniques. From Instinctive Centre it is relatively easy to move into the higher centres – witness the energy high that can come after heavy manual labour, the ‘buzz’ that people get from running a marathon or climbing a mountain, the sense of love and connection that can be created in singing or circle dancing in a group, or the seeing how everything fits together, in the ‘eureka’ moments which mathematicians, inventors etc report when they suddenly solve an intellectual problem in a new way. Psychedelic drugs also provide a direct line to the higher centres, for example MDMA (Ecstacy / Molly) for Higher Emotional Centre or cannabis for Higher Intellectual Centre, bearing in mind that the lines between the higher centres can be very blurred. Just as on the modern day rave and dance scene, but with perhaps more wisdom and understanding than the average club DJ offers, many shamanic traditions used a combination of ritual, instinctive centre techniques and ‘plant medicines’ to access the alternate perceptions of the ‘spirit world’ which the higher centres offer.

None of the centres is ‘better’ than the others – a life without ever experiencing the higher centres would be just going through the motions, little different from what most animals experience, but a dreamer in the higher centres all the time would hardly be able to sustain his life, never mind hold down a job or take care of children; the point is to be able to access the totality of our being, which includes the experience of all seven centres. One connection with NVC is that each centre has its own set of needs, although we don’t always have the precise language to delineate these – we don’t even have good words for the higher centres themselves, as they are so outside our daily experience. However, we can see that the ‘survival’ needs like food, water, sleep and air belong to Instinctive Centre, while basic but non-essential needs such as rest, shelter, space and comfort relate more to Physical Centre. Intellectual Centre would be where we approach more abstract needs including clarity, knowledge, communication, humour and creativity (thought precedes action). And needs like affection, appreciation, comfort, connection and sympathy would be the province of Emotional Centre.

In the Higher Physical or Moving Centre we encounter ecstacy and and also the kind of effortless flow of energy when we’re ‘in the zone’. In Higher Emotional Centre there are the experiences of bliss, beauty, awe, and unconditional love. This is also where compassion and empathy live. Higher Intellectual Centre is where we experience harmony, meaning and truth.
In the higher centres, the needs appear more clearly as the qualities of essence which they really are. Unfortunately language often fails us when we seek to describe the nuances of experience here. For example, the ‘love’ I have for chocolate cake (Physical Centre) is clearly not the same as my ‘love’ for my friends (Emotional Centre), nor for the heart-opening experience which holding a new-born baby or watching a golden sunrise in a beautiful natural setting can be (Higher Emotional Centre). It’s not just a matter of degree: these are different qualities of energy and really require different words. In this example we could perhaps talk about ‘appetite’ versus ‘affection’ and bring in foreign loan words such as ‘agape’ for unconditional love, but there are other examples where the distinctions are trickier to elucidate and to describe.

Nevertheless I hope this is enough to throw some light on the relevance of centres to our experience of human needs and how it all ties together with the Beauty of the Needs. Escaping the trap of our habitual centering, whether that consists of repetitive stories we tell ourselves (Intellectual Centre), negative feelings we indulge in without examination (Emotional Centre) or the tics and tensions we hold in our bodies (Physical Centre), we can balance our thoughts, emotions and sensations and sink instinctively into our deeper needs. There we are naturally drawn to the Beauty of the Needs which is of course a Higher Centre experience, involving access to ‘needs’ such as joy, comprehension and flow.

If this much whets your appetite, you might also be interested to consider how an understanding of centering can enable a fuller and more nuanced picture of the human response pathway than that described by OFNR.