Monthly Archives: July 2018

GROUNDING IN ALIVENESS

Part I: FINDING THE GROUND IN “GROUNDING”

Over-used, over-familiar expressions can lose their meaning. Let’s take a fresh look at 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.”

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 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.

North American nations are 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 standard practice. 

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 disconnect 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 the 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

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.

Grounding 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.

Like any other skill, alignment with living truth can grow through repeated practice—in our bodies.

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?

Part II: REMINDERS & PRACTICES

Here are some reminders and practices for connecting us directly 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.

Whatever 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 underneath 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. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, tell them you trust they are working hard to take care of you. Tell them they are doing a good job! While you affirm them, gently increase the tension or holding for a few seconds. Act like you and your body are a team, doing something important together. Notice 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 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

Modest, easy practices are enough to reconnect us with our source/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 or 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.

Safe Ground

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 and here.

Grounding in Shifting Ground

True grounding is not static. For example:

  • 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” does not mean motionless clinging. It means 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 in the middle of 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 and can enjoy being a body in motion, it is easier to dance with life’s unpredictability. When Life undulates, we can, too.

We can 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!

That is just what is needed in these urgent, unpredictable times. It is the collective awakening of our deep, fluid being-ness that will heal the earth.

Would you like to experience Dr. Vanissar Tarakali’s somatic coaching? You can contact her by email at vanissar@cs.com, or you can go to her website

SPELUNKING HELPLESS & BROKEN-HEARTED INTO THE UNKNOWN

You, you in particular were made for this time.

We need your helplessness & your broken heart.


On the Zee Rollercoaster

My parrot friend Zee had a rough couple of months: she lost her toenail in a traumatic accident, laid an unprecedented 2 eggs (sore, swollen butt!), began a major moult, then collapsed. 

Zee in limbo for 27 days, slowly recovering or slowly deteriorating. I could not tell. The vet didn’t know, and exploratory tests can stress small birds to death. Prayers are safer.

My familiar Zee sings in the shower with me.  Assists me with somatic work. Meditates with me. 

Her linnie parrot quirks keep me laughing: walking forward instead of sideways, burrowing under my clothing, hiding in my sleeve.

This Zee was mostly absent. Withdrawn from the world, sleeping like the dead in her warm retreat cave. Eating less and less. Some days she was better, other days much worse.

Me on the Zee rollercoaster.

Me by myself, with plenty of time to write.

I wrote to friends. “Zee is okay with this. She rests in her cage, content to nuzzle her turtle. But I am not so gracious.”

“How Are You Going to Embrace Helplessness?”

I wrote to the universe.

“Everyday Zee drags me into my scariest places. Into the unknown, where her health goes mysteriously up and down.

She insists I confront helplessness and uncertainty, that I face dire loneliness.

Either face it or numb and shut down to me–and Zee. I refuse to abandon her.

So I tremble and holler. Shake with terror and rage: it’s not fair!”

Death is certain, but she is too young. It’s too soon, it hurts too much.

Two weeks into limbo, my brother asks falling-apart-me, “How are you going to embrace helplessness? When you do, how will the peace that follows affect Zee?”

This koan and I grappled reverently. Violently.

I made an appointment for Zee to get $800 worth of tests, and tried to summon the emotional energy to crowdfund. A few hours later I cancelled the appointment. I wrote to the avian vet,

“I watched Zee get a lot worse today after I started gearing up for the Friday vet visit and obsessing about possible outcomes.

That instant feedback was sobering, a great contrast to yesterday’s mutual spaciousness and presence after I decided to trust her and her journey.

I see my efforts to control Zee’s health and conquer the unknown create distance between us. I have decided not to pursue these tests (with their potential chain of interventions).

I am committed to staying present with her. Surrendering to whatever unfolds is the only way I know to do that. Thank you.”

And so I stepped into the abyss

Helplessness, a Flint Sparking New Awareness

Soon after I wrote,

“Beginning to make room in my mind and heart for Zee to die if that is what she decides to do. Making room for her to continue in her strange limbo (this is the hardest). Making room for her to turn a corner and heal.

Determined to respect and trust her agency.

‘He (sic) that I love I wish to be free, even from me’ (Anne Morrow Lindberg).”
 
Our private drama unfolds while the news breaks in wave after sickening wave: refugee children ripped from their parents, never to be reunited. Toddlers alone in courtrooms, in cages, on concrete floors. Siblings forbidden to hug.
 
This helpless trauma-healer witnessing trauma in-the-making wreaked upon little ones.

I cannot bear it. Those children. My Zee so far away.

Is there any difference between helplessness and despair?

I don’t know but I cannot get out of bed.

I’m no use to anyone like this.                                                                                                                  So I do all the trauma healing things.

Healing trauma is a movement from contraction to fluidity. Releasing into fluidity means sweating, sighing, yawning. Or moving the whole body. 

Swimming has been a life-saver, as has singing and spiritual practice. My soft critter body, so afraid to lose one small bird, seeks comfort. Cries.
Cries and cries some more.

Somewhere in the crying, love shines up and out, reconnects me with Zee.
Readies me for action.

Not strategic action. Just my heart moving toward her heart.

We create the way forward. Wherever that is.

I’ve stopped fighting and straining for answers. I’ve finished screaming NO!

I am dropped, gently, into Zee’s zone. Into the moment. Into love 

Wake Up and Feel

This anguished heart, these burning eyes turn to face the unspeakable. 
I write:

“Realizing now how fully my animal body understood the significance of the 2016 election: for 4 days after, my urine stank of fear, my dreams were relentless torture scenes. 
My body knew a nightmare had invaded that would try to infect us all.

It took weeks of self-healing practices for me to move from terror-paralysis to creative, fluid action. To shake off the nightmare.

It is time to wake up and comfort one another, to awaken our fierce love, a love that will not permit merciless nightmares to come to life. 
45 is trying to bring his hideous inauguration speech to life, to inflict his American Nightmare lineage (MAGA) on the whole country, the whole planet.

This is an opportunity to say NO to the atrocities of the past: genocide, residential schools, slavery, internment, lynching, persecution. 

To say NO to the recent and current forms of genocide, slavery, internment, lynching and persecution: 

incarceration, detention, torture, family rupture, surveillance and deadly policing inflicted on refugees, immigrants, and people marginalized because of their class, race, ability, gender…

If you have forgotten, or if you never knew these truths, I invite you to remember.  
In remembering, you reclaim your own history, your own back. Your backbone. 
Wake up, remember.

This is an opportunity to wake up and feel what such atrocities have always felt like, have always meant for tender children and bonded families. 
This is an opportunity to say NO to the revival, celebration and amplification of America’s cruelest deeds and attitudes.

Trauma ruptures safety and connection. 
But you can thaw out and reconnect to the ancestors. Yours and theirs.

Let’s take this opportunity to thaw out, to wake up, to feel, to grieve, to love and to CREATE the compassionate world we long for.

We can re-do this country, we can ground it in truth telling, fierce love and action.”
 

Comfort One Another

We need to comfort one another. 
Now.

Are we still critiquing “call out culture”?                                                                                        Pleading for our movements to “call each other in?”

It’s way too late for that.
This threshold is dire.

Your beloved is dying right in front of you.
 
“Call in”?!
We need to COMFORT one another!

We are to be healing contexts for one another.
Nothing less makes any sense.

Collective abuse, collective trauma is rending our steadiness and connection right now. It intends to dishearten and debilitate us.

Callous fascism gloats while we cringe and snap at each other over petty differences.

Can we not find a way to love each other? Even now?

Unstoppable Love

A little bird–literally! told me: when we love, our creativity is unstoppable.

What have we got to lose by loving together?
We are already suffering together!

We are suffering collectively and oh-so-intimately:

“Just as the 2016 election plunged many domestic violence and child sexual abuse survivors into PTSD paralysis for months, the plight of immigrant children at the border is throwing many of us with attachment and other childhood traumas into an ancient despair and helplessness. 
I have observed this in myself. And it calls up my ancestors’ trauma as well. 
Both inner healing work and outer action are necessary to sustain this marathon of resistance.”

When child abduction and detention is carried out in my name, my suffering is instantaneous and personal.

I remember how
My beloved grandfather and his brother were swept up in the Home Children movement, a series of mass abductions of British 12 and 13 year old boys by British fostering institutions.

Their destitute mom had placed them in *temporary* care. Britain shipped them and hundreds of other boys to Ontario, Canada without parental knowledge or consent, where they became indentured farm laborers until the age of 18. 
My grandfather was a kind but often mute doormat; my granduncle never shook his depression or made any friends.

That wounded grandfather was my only ally when I was a child. If I cannot now turn my eyes away from the suffering of asylum-seeking families, perhaps it is my ancestor looking through my eyes.

When you see child abduction and detention carried out in your name, what do you remember? Who remembers their suffering through you?

When I go back and make these personal connections, it links me to those families and children being torn apart at the border. 

As I feel into my grandfather’s suffering, and remember his love holding my heart, I stop freezing. I start breathing. Who knows what I will do?

When you make your own personal connections, when you start breathing again, who knows what you will do?

Resilience is not the absence of trauma. It’s feeling and fluidity. The ability to create.

When we respond to scary fascist stories with thawed-out, spontaneous hearts, 
Who knows what we will do? 
Who knows what collaborations will arise?

Like Laura Bush and the Methodist Church and psychologists and national guards and breastfeeding moms and sidewalk cleaning services declaring their unstoppable love for immigrant children. 
Like political opponents joining together to say no!

Beyond the Known, Beyond Hope & Fear

Are we still trying to be rational?
Drawing familiar lines of us and them?                                                                                          Drop it.
 
We are all sitting ducks unless we love, love outside the lines, love ceaselessly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFam9Tkmeug

Are we still looking for hope?
Stop it.
Remember T.S. Eliot said 
“Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”

We don’t know what the right thing looks like!

[I don’t know what Zee’s path looks like. I can only follow her.]

Beyond the known, beyond hope and fear, is love. 
Love for ourselves, for each other, for people we disagree with, within and without our movements.

Zee–who after the full moon, who after 27 days in shadow, mysteriously began to recover; who as I write this is healing rapidly—Zee and I are here to tell you:

After feeling it all (you must feel);

eventually, after comfort, after containment;

after expressing unbearable helplessness, grief, rage, dread, confusion;

after collapsing in exhaustion;

a new kind of doing arises. Doing from being.

Once you land, you will be led, as Zee has led me, to your next move. 
You may find yourself protesting at a detention tent camp for children. Or calling your representative. Comforting your despairing friends. Or writing to folks. You may find yourself praying, tears shuddering out of your chest. Or sending money to RAICES.

Your fluid, creative body responds to the moment.
Who knows what you will do

You don’t have to figure it out. Follow your critter body; watch yourself unfold.

Your particular suffering contains the same potent magic as mine.

Your particular contraction can, in any moment, dissolve into a we;
a soft fractal unfurling of connection and momentum.

Resilience is not the absence of trauma. 

It is feeling and fluidity. Creativity that transforms trauma.

Our resilience is awakening fresh responses to stodgy-cruelty, institutional permafrost. 
Together we create the merciful world.

 

Would you like to be coached by Dr. Vanissar Tarakali?                                                             You can make a remote or in-person appointment here