centres and needs

Centres are not an NVC concept but I find they integrate very nicely with NbC. They were introduced to Western culture in the first part of the 20th century by G.I.Gurdjieff, but the information he shared was greatly expanded, clarified and deepened in the body of knowledge known as the “Michael Teachings“, collected from the 1970s until the present day by a number of channels.

Centres can be thought of as the interface between the personality and the world. Human beings have seven centres through which we experience the world, called Physical, Emotional and Intellectual (the three ordinal centres), Instinctive (the neutral centre) and Higher Physical (aka Moving), Higher Emotional and Higher Intellectual (the three cardinal centres). Ordinal relates to the personal, immediate and earth-bound focus, while Cardinal relates to the bigger picture, longer range and less material aspects of life. We all use the ‘neutral’ Instinctive centre which takes cares of basic biological functions and habitual processes, but otherwise we have a primary and secondary centering for day-to-day living, chosen from the three ordinal centres and sometimes including Moving centre. Thus as adult members of western society our ability to use at least one of the three ordinal centres is typically impaired. In this culture, it is intellectual centering which predominates and is most highly valued, with our focus on words, thinking, reading, writing, comparing, analysing etc. Outside the sports and fitness arenas, which not surprisingly attract more people who are primarily physical or moving centred, relatively few of us are even conscious of most of our bodily sensations and processes, and whatever our centering, we have our biases. 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 fluidity of centering are often film and stage actors, dancers and musicians. Many branches of yoga, the softer martial arts such as T’ai Chi, and newer developments such as Tensegrity are also effectively designed to promote the balancing of the  centres, as were Gurdjieff’s ‘movements’.

Of the abstract or higher centres, only the Higher Physical or ‘Moving’ centre is fairly commonly accessed, even for people who are not Moving centred. The sexual act often begins (and sometimes ends!) with purely 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 can blend to a considerable 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 in general rather rarely managed by adults; it can most easily be 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, and some kinds of meditation including simply focusing on the breath.  Examples of higher centre experiences include 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, the transports of rapture that playing or listening to music can bring, or the seeing how everything fits together, in the ‘eureka’ moments which mathematicians and scientists report when they suddenly solve a complex intellectual problem.
Psychedelic drugs provide a direct short-cut 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 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 use 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 rather dull and earth-bound, but a dreamer floating 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, not to be stuck in any one corner. 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, painting with a broad brush we can see that the ‘survival’ needs like food, water, sleep and air belong to Instinctive Centre, while basic but not immediately essential needs such as rest, shelter, space and touch relate more to Physical Centre. Intellectual Centre would be where we approach more abstract needs such as clarity, knowledge, order, humour and respect. And needs like affection, appreciation, comfort, connection and belonging would be largely the province of Emotional Centre.

In the Higher Physical or Moving Centre we encounter adventure, creativity, courage, freedom and the kind of effortless flow of energy when we’re ‘in the zone’. In Higher Emotional Centre we might encounter the experiences of bliss, harmony, empathy and compassion. Higher Intellectual Centre is where we experience awareness, 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 of ‘love’ 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 cases where the distinctions are trickier to elucidate and to describe.

Nevertheless I hope this is enough to offer a glimpse of how centres relate to our experience of human needs and how it all ties together with the Beauty of the Needs. By 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 unconscious 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 Higher Centre experience of the ‘Beauty of the Needs’, including access to qualities 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.