Finding Your Personal Plumb Line

Monday Author: Susanne Skinner

Egyptians invented the plumb bob more than 4000 years ago. It’s the simplest of tools and widely used today. It has two unassuming parts—a string and a weight.

plumb bob, centering, out of lineA plumb was used it to establish vertical points that were crucial in the construction of Egypt’s buildings, pyramids and canals. Using the plumb line, they tested what they built to see if it was perpendicular to the square or straight up and down.

Plumb is also referenced in the Old Testament Book of Amos. God speaks to Amos in chapter 7:8 saying, …” I am going to put a plumb line up against my people to see what is straight and true”, referring to the Israelites’ deteriorating moral standards. Metaphorically, God is measuring the actions and intentions of the people with the spiritual plumb line of Biblical law.

A personal plumb line make sense. Knowing what keeps you centered in your beliefs is a simple way to stay true to who you are. It also lets you know when you are off center.

Knowing Your Center

Each of us has a center. It is the intangible place that represents the best of you. It is where your intuition lives, where you connect with your Higher Power, and the place that allows you to pull inward to rebalance and renew yourself. Sometimes we forget just how important this can be. I center myself in family, friendship, faith…and food.

For ballerinas and opera singers there is a posture center. It is the imaginary plumb line that runs from the top of the head to the floor for measuring perfect posture. Ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles align with this center of gravity, so crucial to their performance.

In both instances it is about self-awareness; a mind-body connection to mental, physical and emotional harmony. Years of training and discipline make it seem easy when observing a performer, but we also possess the skills to find our center of gravity and live intentionally. 

Set Your Intention

This is actually a yoga phrase.  It means different things to different people but, when used as part of a centering practice, it offers self-focus. It can be inward or outward and both concentrate on caring for yourself. Intention has been compared to setting your thoughts on a specific course in the form of a wish, hope or even a prayer, and mindfully living into them.

Live less out of habit and more out of intentionIntention is another way of saying direction. Setting daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly direction is about creating tangible goals. It’s also connected to internal balance and continuity. When we realize our goals, we are inspired to continue and set new ones.

An important part of intention setting is gratitude. Your journey needs checkpoints that affirm the peace and gratitude of what has been fulfilled; a celebration of how hard you’ve worked.

If you allow yourself to focus solely on what has not been accomplished or remains unfulfilled, you will be unable to see or feel the joy present in each day.

A Personal Plumb Line  

The modern version of this tool is the spirit level; a bubble in a slightly curved glass tube or tubes filled with alcohol or ether. When the bubble is centered (vertically or horizontally) it is on plumb. To be off plumb means out of vertical or true. The expression ‘half a bubble off plumb’ has its genesis in this measuring tool.

We know what it feels like when we are off center. Pressures from family, work, community and our need for personal space demand attention, often leaving nothing to spare. When one part of our life becomes unbalanced it tends to domino into other areas and eventually we are robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Our personal plumb line is unable to stabilize itself until we acknowledge its swing away from what we know is true.

When the Line Starts to Swing

The direction makes no difference, a swinging plumb line has lost its center.  Sometimes it has to swing wide before we admit it, and we admit it only when our situation becomes untenable. I like to think I’m pretty good at managing the swings but our recent downsize and relocation forced me to re-examine my thinking.

plumb line, swinging plumb line, plumb bobHumans are imperfectly balanced. Life is a series of swings—some wide, some gentle. As we emptied our house and sorted through thirty years of memorabilia, hindsight reminded me of the many swings we encountered and how we responded.

I am in a smaller house now, in a different state with a reconfigured job in a home office.  So what hindsight did this bring me? Simply this: when we fail to recognize the swings, we risk believing they are normal and eventually they become the new normal. We rebalance the wrong elements to restore the plumb line.

Know Yourself

Knowing what we ought to do along with the courage and grace to do it is a daily challenge. It means being true to our core values; returning to our center, and not allowing misguided values to take their place.

When we moved I discovered things I should have changed and instead I accepted and incorporated them into my life. They became my new standards of balance.

zen garden, stones, meditationI recognized them only when they were no longer there. Chief among them commuting three hours a day to work, followed by living with less. Both were the result of a bigger change—our move—and provided insight and opportunity to adjust priorities.

I did not stop loving my job or suddenly regret selling our big house filled with stuff.  I simply sat by the water, took a deep breath and felt the weight center itself again.



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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

One thought on “Finding Your Personal Plumb Line

  1. Dear Suzanne,
    From distant Alaska I wanted to thank you for your words. Spot on, plumb and true! I have been reflecting on finding my center and setting my intention, thinking of a pebble tossed into the calm pond and the ripples moving outward; that was the direction of youth for me, ever outward. Now on the senior path, I am enjoying tracing the waves back to that one point. The image of the plumb bob emerged and I stumbled on your centered words. Thank you for this gift as we enter the new year. Holding to a bright, centered intention may prove to be the most powerful step we all can take in the strong headwinds about us. Thank you again. All song, all love, all light, Mark Whitman

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