Part I: FINDING THE GROUND IN “GROUNDING”
In North American healing and spiritual practice circles, people often use the expression “grounding,” as in “I need some grounding” or, “I wish I was more grounded.”
Over-used, over-familiar expressions can lose their meaning. Let’s take a fresh look at grounding.
What is Grounding, Anyway?
To be grounded is to be in direct relationship with your aliveness, including your body’s sensations. This aliveness, rooted in the earth’s aliveness, is innately congruent. Truthful.
This direct relationship should come naturally to us: Our bodies are built to be in constant relationship with the earth. Instead of wings or flippers, we have feet. Our bodies are built to be in and of the earth, with butterflies and dragonflies, spiders and ants bustling all around us. We are meant to live among the flowers and herbs, bushes and trees.
Gravity’s steady embrace anchors us to the ground. We are part of this earth. Immersed in it. Just sit outside anywhere, even in the heart of the city. Sitting quietly, you begin to notice insects, birds, squirrels, and insistent weeds. The earth’s aliveness includes all of us, even if we live in green-less concrete. Life happily crawls all over us and through us as microbes and bacteria. As embodied beings, we cannot not be part of the living, breathing earth.
Yet we get cut off from that direct intimacy. Collectively and individually, we numb and distract. As we disconnect from our sensations, we lose our direct relationship to truth, vitality and other beings.
Collective Lack of Ground
Collectively we exist in a culture of dis-embodiment and dissociation. This nation is founded on the denial of First Nation genocide, the denial of the enslaved-African holocaust, and paved over with generations of dishonest rhetoric. It’s an American way of life. Just listen to the words of politicians, and then observe their actions.
James Baldwin illuminated these connections in The Fire Next Time:
“To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread…Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion…of…any reality — so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality — for this touchstone can be only oneself.”
In this environment of collective-delusion, even those of us who hold ideals of non-violence, inclusive, community-based accountability, and social justice can lose our taste and stamina for truth. It is all too easy for our muscles of courage, integrity, follow-through and responsibility, to atrophy.
Individual Lack of Ground
Individual fakeness, flaky-ness, and phony-ness all begin with self-delusion.
When we are disconnected from what our senses are telling us, we miss the moment when we let someone down; we sleepwalk through actions that are incongruent with our values. We compartmentalize. Our left hand—literally–does not know what our right hand is doing.
This fog of disconnection makes it almost impossible to feel our impact on others. To acknowledge harm, and make amends.
Finding Integrity in Your Ground
What does it take to notice when you fail to embody micro-non-violence, micro-accountability, micro-compassion in your day to day?
What does it take to say, “I messed up; I’m sorry.” What does it take to say, “I am sorry I harmed you.” “I’m sorry I spread gossip.” “I am sorry I judged you for no good reason.”
What does it take? You may say it takes humility. To me, humility means living close to the ground, immersed in the living earth. Our senses rooted in vitality, wide-awake to ourselves and others.
Grounding Within Discomfort
So we have plenty of reasons to cultivate—collectively and individually–a direct relationship with “what is” –with truth!—for the sake of all beings. What else is grounding for, if not this?
Like any other skill, alignment with living truth can grow through repeated practice—in our bodies.
This practice can be painful. Recently on retreat I was blessed with an intimate, microscopic view of my habitual defenses and self-obsessed thought patterns. Ouch. It was pretty clear that melting my entrenched defendedness would take patience and persistence. At the same time, I felt closer to the ground than ever before; unencumbered and sublimely alive.
Facing our integrity-lapses is not fun. Staying in direct contact with our “what is” takes courage, and humor. But it does not have to be an ordeal or a big deal.
Part II: REMINDERS AND PRACTICES
Here are some reminders and practices to directly connect us to vitality:
Reminder 1: Aliveness is Here and Now
The raw immediacy of sensations, emotions is always present; you just need to open the door that is in front of you. Vitality arrives through many different doors–myriad emotions, and all kinds of sensations and body states.
When the door appears, open it. Acknowledge the fear, the anger, the familiar chronic-pain. Is your head buzzing? Are your legs leaden? Is your chest warm? Are you enraged, despairing, or delighted? Listen to the stories you are telling yourself about this moment. Beneath the story, beneath the sensation or emotion is pure aliveness. Straight-up vitality, with no agenda.
Reminder 1 Practices:
- Say “yes” to whatever presents itself. Saying “yes” is a way to collaborate with what your body-mind is doing. Here is how it works: When you find areas of contraction or tension in your body, say “yes” to them. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and tell you trust they are working hard to take care of you. Tell them they are doing a good job! As you say yes, gently increase the tension or holding for a few seconds. Act like you and your body are a team, doing something important together. See what happens when instead of fighting your body, you join appreciatively with it…the body always feels safer when we appreciate and support its efforts. Often with safety comes softening.
Reminder 2: You Can Trust Your Aliveness
Many of us have learned to fear our unstoppered vitality. Here’s where Machig Labdron’s http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art67742.asp advice, “Go to the places that scare you” applies. Using a gradual approach, you can acclimatize to being anchored in your raw aliveness. Just like starting a new exercise that builds unused muscles, or getting used to spicy food, you can increase your tolerance for aliveness little by little. As your fear begins to melt, you start to enjoy the inflow of the earth’s vitality, and the flow of your vitality.
Reminder 2 Practices:
Reminder 3: Aliveness is Simple, Small, and Local
Easy, modest, obvious practices are enough to reconnect us with our source/the Source. Try out some micro body movements; make sounds that match your feelings. Again, work with whatever is present. Simple, small, gentle approaches gradually build your fluidity and robustness, and help you sustain your grounding in aliveness.
Reminder 3 Practices:
- When you feel stuck, don’t try to get unstuck. Just sing about how “stuuuuuhckk I feeeeeel! Oh, nooo, I am so stuck!” etc. Or journal about what is happening (sensations/feelings/thoughts) right NOW. Do not pause. Do not censor yourself. After a few minutes, check in with your body sensations. Notice if anything has shifted. Whether it has or has not, continue singing or writing for awhile, and be curious.
- If you are feeling physically or emotionally contracted or rigid, allow yourself to stand (or sit) and sway back and forth or side to side. Pretend your trunk and limbs are seaweed swaying on the ocean floor. Remember how it feels to watch someone doing Tai Chi. Make sure you sway several times, and then notice how you feel. If it feels good, repeat it!
- Try out some micro-movements: wiggle your fingers elegantly, or frantically. Wiggling your fingers consciously can be powerful. Blink gently, with awareness. Speed up and slow down your blinking. Find that Goldilocks pace that brings all of you into the present. Any movement can be transformative. Focus on your breath and breathe with curiosity or passion; changing how you breathe can wake up your aliveness.
Of course, the prerequisite to being able to trust and ground in your aliveness is to first establish a steady sense of feeling safely held. Those of us who have had that steadiness robbed from us by trauma or oppression need to go back and rebuild that foundation.
Some tools to help you establish safety can be found here: http://www.vanissar.com/blog/emotional-first-aid-for-the-holidays-or-anytime/
and here: http://www.vanissar.com/blog/finding-home-in-your-bones-videos-with-dr-vanissar-tarakali/
Grounding in Shifting Ground
But we can’t stop there! As these examples illustrate, true grounding is not static:
- Babies do need to be held snugly. And also, rocked. Happy babies like to be bounced, or thrown (safely!) up in the air to laugh with delight.
- “Secure attachment” http://www.ounceofprevention.org/research/pdfs/SecureAttachment.pdf is not about motionless clinging. It is about having a reliable, loving reference point so a child (or adult) can move fluidly between home/family and larger social spheres.
- Our “solid” bones are–on a cellular level–brimming with movement and activity. Bone marrow generates blood cells, while bone tissues cyclically shed and rebuild.
- Even concrete vibrates and dances on a molecular level.
In these times of upheaval and possibility, we need to be able to find and re-find our ground within earthquakes, to blend—metaphorically and literally–with the earth’s cycles of quaking and stillness.
Familiarity with our own body’s shake-ups and resolutions primes this resilience. Small and large movements constantly unfold in our bodies. We can tune in to the rhythms of digestion and elimination, of breathing and sensing in our organs. When we are relaxed with our own internal movements, when we can enjoy being a body in motion, it is easier to dance with life’s unpredictability. When Life undulates, we can, too.
We can learn to return, again and again to that raw, direct aliveness.
It turns out that being deeply grounded in our bodies is earth-shaking. The more you embody your aliveness, the less predictable you become—especially to yourself! And that is just what is needed in these urgent, unpredictable times. Only the collective awakening of our deep, fluid being-ness can heal the earth at this point.