I'm tired of driving (or, a lesson on centrifugal vs. centripetal forces)

It's funny how lessons from grade school take on entirely new meanings as the years pass.  I remember in seventh grade science learning about centripetal and centrifugal forces.  Very little of basic physics principles have otherwise stuck with me, but for some reason the difference between these types of forces have.  Perhaps it is because I recall a concrete image every time I think of these technical terms.

Our family had--still have, actually--a rope swing hanging from a tall, established tree in our backyard.  It hangs so high that you can reach thirty feet off the ground easily when you are pushed.  My dad, when pulling my small preteen weight back on the swing, once explained to me the difference in my spins.  He could push me so high that I could curl my legs into the air and spin in circles to gain even more speed.  "Tuck your legs and knees in closer, and you will spin faster.  That's centripetal force," my dad said.  "You are lessening the resistance from the wind and keeping the momentum in the swinging circle."

Centripetal force pulls a rotating object towards the center, while centrifugal force allows objects to drift and fly outwards.  In other words, centripetal is active; it resists centrifugal force, which results from failure to control the direction of motion.  Centripetal force usually is controlled, calculated; centripetal force is messy and inevitable.

Lately I feel like I have embodied centrifugal force.  I am spinning in every which direction, allowing outside pulls on my attention to take over, stress to escalate.  I prefer keeping my intentions at the forefront of my mind, so that I channel my energy instead of giving it over to the randomness that undergirds the order of the universe. 

Of course, sometimes outward drift is necessary and unavoidable: people need us, circumstances arise that require our response. 

But I remember how much longer my ride on the swing would last when I would pull my legs toward me, curling into a tight ball--and how quickly my speed would dissipate when I sprawled my legs carelessly.  I want to keep propelling onward through this crazy time, through this season of juggling two jobs and school and family and friends and play. 

I don't kid myself.  The outward pulls will always be present, just different.  All the more reason why I want cultivate the practice of preserving and directing my energy, so that I can keep on enjoying the ride.

Emily Rowell Brownlife, work, DC