My clients are often burned out high-achievers who come to me because they realize that they’ve been doing too much for too many people, taking responsibility for more than what is theirs to handle, and struggling to say no or make clear requests of others to step up. They long for a sense of balance so that they can continue making a contribution without sacrificing themselves.

Sound familiar?

If so, I’m excited to share with you the concept of centered responsibility.

To get a sense of what I mean by centered responsibility, I invite you to experiment for a moment:

First, as much as is possible for your body, sit upright, aligning your bottom, belly, heart, and head with each other. Then, lean your body forward, imagining that the leaning forward stance says, “This is mine to handle.”

Then, lean backward. Imagine that the leaning back stance says, “This is not mine to handle.”

Finally, look for the place between leaning back and leaning forward, where your bottom, belly, heart, and head align as much as possible. This is the shape of centered responsibility. Centered responsibility is the ability to discern what is and is not ours to handle and respond accordingly even in really challenging and uncomfortable moments of challenge.

Over-responsibility is the state of habitually leaning forward and taking responsibility for more than what is ours to handle. Notice if you can see yourself in any of the following examples of over-responsibility:

  1. Stepping in to save the day when others are capable of handling things adequately
  2. Taking charge in areas in which you’re highly competent rather than giving others space to learn
  3. Doing all the work in the group project
  4. Blaming yourself when a team project doesn’t go as you hoped, despite the fact that you showed up fully and others did not
  5. Saying yes when you really want to say no in order to avoid disappointing others
  6. Saying yes to more than what realistically fits in your schedule
  7. Stepping in for your boss who lacks leadership skills
  8. Speaking up on behalf of another person in an effort to avoid conflict
  9. Parenting your parents
  10. Blaming yourself for anything that is another person’s responsibility

Under-responsibility is the state of habitually leaning back and not taking responsibility for that which is ours to handle, for example:

  1. Blaming time itself for the fact that you wish you had more of it rather than doing the painful work of choosing priorities and saying no to what you just don’t have time for
  2. Ignoring your feelings
  3. Ignoring your needs
  4. Not making clear requests for what you need and want
  5. Lashing out at loved ones rather than learning to communicate your needs more effectively
  6. Stockpiling grievances or growing resentful of others
  7. Gossiping or complaining about other people rather than addressing your conflicts with them directly
  8. Draining your energy by trying to do it all rather than creating systems and fostering relationships that support you

Burnout often arises when we are over-responsible in some areas—like taking on more than our fair share of work—and under-responsible in other areas like not setting limits or communicating our needs.

Now, sometimes in life, we have to take on more responsibility than is ideal for us. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice our own needs to tend to a sick loved one, aging parent, small child, or community campaign. And often, it’s just plain painful that we don’t have time for all the things we long to do. Time management is grief work. There will always be more that we want to do than time to do it, and that can hurt.

And, at the same time, the more we practice centering, the more our habitual default state can become centered. And the more our default state is centered, the more gracefully we can dance between leaning forward and leaning back—between taking responsibility and creating space for others to do so as well. When our default state is centered, we have an easier time discerning what is ours to do, finding right-sized responses to our challenges, and returning to center.

Although many practices can help us access centered responsibility, one that I find consistently helpful for my clients and myself is physically embodying a shape of centeredness. I call this practice 3-Dimensions Centering, and I learned it from my teacher, Doug Silsbee.[1]

Throughout our days, our bodies habitually return to certain shapes—tight, relaxed, hunched, upright, leaning back, leaning in—and our shapes inform how we see the world and how the world sees us. For example, if you hunch your shoulders and hang your head, your view becomes limited, you might breathe more shallowly or start to feel down about yourself. (Try it, but not for too long!)

Likewise, when many people stand upright and centered between leaning forward and leaning back, it becomes easier for them to take a stand for what matters, face the challenges ahead, and access a sense of strength, coherence and trustworthiness. If you are physically unable to align your spine, I invite you to experiment with noticing what shapes help you access a sense of centered responsibility.

In the last three episodes, we’ve discussed the practice of pausing. From now on, I encourage centering briefly each time you pause. Pause, then center. Although centering can take some time to learn, ultimately, pausing and centering can take just a few seconds, basically no time at all.

I’ll guide you through the 3-Dimensions Centering practice now, and I invite you to follow my guidance.

If standing up is accessible to you, I invite you to stand up now. If standing doesn’t work for you, I invite you to practice sitting up or lying down or in whatever position works for you. Play with fitting my instructions to your unique position.

And, know that your eyes have options. This practice is traditionally taught with eyes open because practicing with open eyes can help us get centered when even in the face of challenging circumstances like a heated conversation. That said, if closing your eyes helps you to sense into your body the first times you practice, feel free to do so.

Begin by feeling the contact between the soles of your feet and the ground, the weight of your body resting down into the support of the land below you. Feel gravity resting like a soft blanket on your skin, the cells of your body settling downward, as if they were resting into tiny hammocks.

Then, feel for the buoyancy of the earth lifting up, filling you up all the way to the top of your head, like a tall glass of water. Feel for aligning your bottom over your feet, your belly over your bottom, your heart over your belly, your head over your heart, the top of your head reaching toward the sky.

Sense into the vertical dimension of your body, your height.

Take in your verticality as the dimension of dignity. Dignity is the state of knowing your worthiness, knowing that your best is good enough.[2] Getting curious about what dignity might feel like in the cells of your body.

Now, shift your attention to noticing your width. Notice the left edge of your body, from your face, your arm, your leg, down toward your ankle. Bring your attention through your body to the right edge of your body, from your face, your arm, your leg, down toward your ankle. Notice the space in between the left and right edges of your body.

Feel your body expand with each inhale, taking up space.  Notice the space you take up, your right-sized-ness, not needing to be bigger or smaller than you are right now. Sense into this horizontal dimension of your body, your width.

Take in your horizontality as the dimension of belonging. One definition I love for belonging is shoulder-to-shoulder-ness, that even when we feel alone, there are people out there facing very similar circumstances. shoulder-to-shoulder with us. Getting curious about what belonging might feel like in the cells of your body.

Now, bring your attention to the front edge of your body, from your face down to your feet. Then bring your attention through your body, to your back body, your head to your heels. Bring your attention back into the space behind you, and imagine that you have a tail connected to your shoulders and upper back, extending out onto the ground behind you. Like a sturdy T-Rex tail or a beautiful dragon tail. Feel for resting back into your tail.

Your tail and your depth represent all of the resources you’ve gathered through your lifetime and the four billion-plus years of resources that your ancestors have gathered before you. Your depth represents all that came before this moment and, also, your fundamental sufficiency, your enoughness. Not needing to know what enoughness feels like, just getting curious about what enoughness might feel like in the cells of your body.

Finally, if your eyes have been closed, I invite you to open them and sense into the space in front of you. The space in front of you represents the vast field of possibility and potential that is before you and all that is yet to come.

Feel yourself here, in this moment, connected with your dignity, belonging, and enoughness; belly, heart, and head aligned with one another; centered in this space between all that came before now and all that is yet to come. This place of centered stillness and pause—between the past and the future—is the space from which choice emerges.

Take a moment to linger in all of the sensations of this centering pause. Notice what you feel.

Then, slowly, bring your attention back to the present moment.

I invite you to return to this recording as often as you’d like for support getting centered. And, although this guided practice lasted several minutes, it is possible to get centered in just a second or two. I challenge you to play with sensing into your height, width, and depth whether you need it and notice what changes as a result.

I do this practice before city council meetings when the room stands for the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t say the pledge, and I’ve reclaimed this moment for myself—I stand up, place my hand on my heart, and then center myself before what is often a contentious meeting that lasts long into the night. And so I invite you to think about how you might integrate a centering pause into your life as well.

[1]  I first learned this practice from Doug Silsbee who learned it from Richard Strozzi-Heckler, who like many somatics teachers, studied the Japanese martial art of aikido.

[2] Embodied Social Justice


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