If you have ever played a sport or game that requires the use of your whole body — from surfing to shinty — you know something about gravity.
If you’ve ever danced or walked a tight rope, you know gravity. Trapeze artists are very well acquainted with the force.
All athletes use gravity, even if they don’t realize it. Basketball players defy it, curlers embrace it, gymnasts hope it will be kind to them.
But the gravity of the earth is not the only thing at work in most of these games. We all have a center of gravity, and athletes know how to control theirs.
Imagine a football running back bolting straight ahead and suddenly cutting to his left while staying on his feet. Picture a cyclist in the Tour de France taking a turn at 30 mph on two wheels thinner than a ball point pen. Picture a ballerina leaping into the air, one arm out, one arm up, legs in splits with toes pointed, and landing with the weight of a feather.
Professor Newton and you
It was in 1687 that Isaac Newton published Principia Mathematica, giving an account of gravity.
Even he could not feel gravity, but he could feel that apple falling on his head. Most of us never think about the pull of gravity, but it is what keeps us in our chairs when we sit and our beds when we sleep.
If you drop your phone from 4.022 feet, it hits the ground in exactly half a second, according to the Omni Free Fall Calculator. You will not catch it.
But if you trip and begin to fall, you can and will adjust your body in order to not hit the ground. That is why the bike rider and the ballerina can lean and leap and stay upright.
What you are doing to stop the fall is moving your center of gravity. That is the point in your body around which everything else is equally distributed. Usually we call that being in balance.
When you stand on one foot, for instance, and begin to waver a little, you might stick out your arms. That is a way to move your center of gravity and retain balance.
A skater attempting a triple Axel (named for Axel Paulson, who invented the jump) in competition has to move their center of gravity while they are rotating 3 1/2 times and landing on the edge of a blade while facing backwards.
Sticking out your arms is not an option. (Here’s a cool video of the first American woman to successfully land a triple Axel in competition.)
You cannot know consciously where your center of gravity is in a jump like that. In fact your center of gravity is sometimes outside your body. But your amazing mind, relying on a lifetime of experience, knows where to move it to keep you upright.
The Global Gravity Crisis
Gravity is the force that “attracts a body toward the center of the earth,” and we measure that pull in weight.
I’ve noticed that in my bathroom, where my scale is, there seems to be more gravity than there once was. Perhaps there is a Global Gravity Crisis, and I intend to look into it.
Clearly gravity hasn’t changed, I have. It is the constant of gravity that allows me to use a simple bathroom scale to measure my physical weight.
Unfortunately there is not a scale that measures the weight of the world on me. Nor is there one that accurately measures the weight of my own baggage, comprised partly of social but mostly of spiritual failings. Carry a weight like that long enough, and gravity will drop you to your knees. That’s a good place to lay down your burden, by the way.
The problem with almost any kind of weight loss, as many of you will know, is that we tend to put it back on.
Next week I’ll write about how to lose weight (and keep it lost), but for now I need to get back to my own center of gravity.
Balance me this
As we age and use our muscles less, we also begin to lose our balance: our ability to stay steady and upright. There are easy ways to regain physical balance, and the fun part is that it helps you sense your center of gravity.
The more active I am, the better my balance is. The better my balance, the less effort I use in every activity. In other words, life is a little easier.
What about my moral center of gravity? Where is it, how can I feel it, and how can I improve it?
I think that’s what a lot of us look like morally. We decide (usually subconsciously) that we are going to push our moral center of gravity to the limit, and eventually we fall.
Like the child spinning, moral decay doesn’t start at top speed, it builds. We compromise on some “small” thing and don’t fall down. How bad can this be? The old potato chip commercial said, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” They were right, nobody stopped at one.
If you have good moral balance, though, you will recognize that one “not good” decision as tripping over a rug. You’ll find your center of gravity and not fall, even if you think you looked silly in the process.
So when you get too much change, give it back. When someone gossips to you, don’t repeat it. Have the courage to stand up for what’s right and the kindness to hold the door for someone else.
Learn where your moral center of gravity is — somewhere on that line between your heart and your mind — then be aware of your moral balance.
It gives a whole new meaning to “staying upright.”
Do good. It’s in you!