October 31, 2022
Grounding
There is something about this season - the season of settling back into routine, prepping for the chaos of the holidays, and the release of the activity of the summer that inspires an appreciation for the sensation of “home”. It is this time of year that impresses the fleeting quality of life and everything in it, and the depth and briefness of our most life-affirming act – the breath. It instills the importance of savoring before something is lost to us - perhaps forever. It can be so easy to get caught up in the wind, and to lose ourselves momentarily in the process, but if we still ourselves into the activity of the moment, we find something of an antidote to the impermanence of everything around us.

I stood on the edge of the water with my feet sinking into the sand and I closed my eyes. The waves were soft and slow, and with each lap of the water my feet eased deeper into the sand beneath me. I felt a stillness come over me that edged out from my core - as if I couldn’t move if I tried. With my eyes closed I felt safe, even with the strangers around me in this foreign country where I barely spoke the language. A peacefulness washed over me, and I followed my breath as it rhythmically and seamlessly synced itself to the waves. I felt at home. 

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I had planned for the theme of November to be grounding but I didn’t plan on the many conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks to center around the subject. But there is something about this season - the season of settling back into routine, prepping for the chaos of the holidays, and the release of the activity of the summer that inspires an appreciation for the sensation of “home”. 

In Chinese medicine this time of year is associated with the Metal element and the process of alchemization. The meridians and organs affiliated are the lungs and large intestine (our largest digestive organs), and the emotion is that of grief and letting go. It’s a time of composting and transforming.

In Ayurvedic medicine this time of year is also associated with Vata energy, the energetic quality of which is flighty, and quick. It’s the energy of space and air, the pulsing of the heart, the inhalation and exhalation. It’s the feeling of floating through the air like a leaf that has just left its branch - fluttering about in the wind as it eventually makes its way to the ground. 

It is this time of year that impresses the fleeting quality of life and everything in it, and the depth and briefness of our most life-affirming act – the breath. It instills the importance of savoring before something is lost to us - perhaps forever. 

It can be so easy to get caught up in the wind, and to lose ourselves momentarily in the process, but if we still ourselves into the activity of the moment, we find something of an antidote to the impermanence of everything around us. 

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Grounding is one of those terms that can be obvious in some moments and completely illusive in others. It’s similar to balance in that way. Balance is not something that is “achieved” but is rather in constant development. As the earth spins, the air shifts, and the environment around us adjusts, we’re asked to adjust with it. Just think about the last time you stood on one leg - did you notice that with every shift of your breath your balance shifted with it? It’s just the same with grounding. What feels solid and solidifying in one moment, may feel stubborn and constrictive in the next.

Additionally, what could feel grounding for me may be the opposite of what is grounding for you. It’s not a one-size-fits all practice. Standing on that waters edge could be all I need, but perhaps it would make you feel restless and anxious to move on.

So in order to all get on the same page, let's clarify a definition of grounding that we can work with for purposes of this article. 

Every literal definition of grounding that you will find in the dictionary has something to do with placing an object on the actual ground, or the process of turning something from air (like ideas) into material (like practical actions).

At this time of year, nature mirrors this definition. As we watch our summer harvests decay and mold into the soil, we watch the leaves from the trees become mulch, we are watching the act of settling. Metaphorically, we are witnessing the energy shift from being expressive and extroverted to concentrated and introverted. We are watching the process of integrating, digesting, and processing, in ourselves and in the world around us. 

On a more personal and sensory level, what do you feel in your body when you call these images to mind? Does a feeling of yielding or surrendering come over your body? Do you feel a more solid foundation build within you? Do you feel an inspiration to connect more deeply to your true nature by getting more quiet? 

There is a presence that comes with the sensation, no?

Finally, just like anything else, grounding lives on a spectrum. On one end, we can be completely untethered and erratic with our energy, boundaryless and malleable and impressionable. And on the other end we can be rigid, too stiff, stubborn and immovable, static and closed off. Both ends are stemmed in fear or loss of control, while the center point of easeful groundedness is just that - centered, stable and full of self-trust.

For example, perhaps you’re running late to a family gathering, and still have a few errands to run before you head over. Perhaps you’ve been spending a lot of time already at work, trying to balance out the expenses of life coupled with the expenses of the holidays, and your stress level has consistently been higher than usual. At this moment you’re likely on the more flexible and flighty end of the spectrum, and you might need to exercise a little more stabilizing grounding practices to find your way to your center.

These types of practices can be simply slowing down your movements, and your breath. You can calm your nervous system by regularly breathing deeply into your belly, taking you out of fight or flight mode. And you can reclaim your frantic energy from the activities around you by doing a practice we mentioned in last month’s journal - simply remind yourself that you have a body.

Or another example, let’s say you’ve been feeling the stress of the season hitting you hard, and you’re starting to get angry and closed off to the social commitments and activities. You’re feeling pulled in too many directions, and rather than going with the flow, you find yourself hunkering down and becoming more rigid around your friends and family. You’re letting people in less and less, and developing a false sense of control by staying guarded. It sounds like you’re on the more stiff and rigid end of the spectrum, and you might need to apply more releasing and freedom inducing grounding practices. 

In this instance, the practices might be finding free movement, such as dancing, or even just going for an aimless walk. It might be supportive to take a long shower or bath, and journal to open yourself up energetically and cleanse mentally.

Do you see how both examples demonstrate the action of coming back to center, or coming back to yourself? It doesn’t necessarily matter what practice you apply to inspire you back, but what does matter is that it connects you to your sense of self, and your sense of home inside yourself. This is the essence within the definition of grounding.

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The most common image of grounding that might come to mind for most of us is the symbol of the tree. What I think mostly gets lost in this image, however, is that the grounding of the tree doesn’t just come from its roots, although that’s obviously a key part. The roots absorb the water and nutrients from the soil, and connect the tree to its home base. But the rest of the story lies in the trunk and branches of the tree. The tree trunk is layered with rings of age that develop over time, and branches allow for the tree’s full development and unique expression out in the world. There is no story of a tree if it’s just its roots.

We are similar. We need the essentials like clean water, food, oxygen, community, and love. But we also need to feel rooted in who we are, understanding of our layers, our depth, and our ways of thinking and being. Developing our individual and unique truths and then expressing those truths out into the world is an innate human need and act. The ways we express and move through our lives are as important to our sense of groundedness as feeling connected to a home base, our definitions of family, and our ability to be still. 

When we take small actions to enhance our sense of groundedness every day, home becomes a place that we carry with us in every moment. We can trust ourselves to discover and know our needs, concerns and emotions and how to work with them and advocate for them. We feel safe enough with ourselves to tend to our wounds, and apply the necessary healing they ask for. We feel capable of handling change because we know at the end of the day we’ll watch out for ourselves, have our own backs, and we can figure out whatever comes up. 

The same goes if we feel grounded in our relationships and communities. When we feel supported in our communities, we feel more able to rely on the trusting experiences around us. We feel safe to express our needs, concerns, and emotions. We allow ourselves to look at wounds and give ourselves the ability to heal them. We can find comfort in the examples and support of the people around us. If we’re feeling grounded in a relationship, we might be able to face change more easily because we feel safe together. Challenges become shared and trust can even build in how we rely on each other. 

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When ungrounded, we can’t settle and take root in a space because it feels temporary. It may feel like we’re hovering above a place or relationship, or even ourselves. When we let ourselves be whisked away by the changing winds around us, or the temporary thoughts and emotions that move through us, we risk uprooting ourselves from our sense of identity and center. Our relationship to our core self proves to be inconsistent and flighty. By frequently removing ourselves from our sense of home within ourselves, we end up disconnecting from our values and personal truths, and we lose track of our direction. We end up feeling disinvested in our needs and desires, which can lead to a deflated sense of purpose, lack of confidence, unsupportive anxiety, and a general disinterest in life.

In my many recent conversations with friends on this subject, what most of them have shared is that their sense of groundedness comes from doing things that remind them of who they are at their core. Whether it be spending time with people who they love and who they truly feel seen by, settling back into their home that they’ve been removed from while traveling during the summer, or simply sitting down to meditate and breathe before jumping into their days - every action invites them to come home to themselves. 

In this sense the practices of grounding can be deeply inspiring, as they invite us to rediscover and connect to who we are. As we build a safe foundation of inner knowing and self trust, we become more connected to our sense of self and identity. We become excited to share who we are, and trust ourselves enough to be free to express that person. Not unlike the body of the tree, we root down into ourselves for nourishment, and from that nourishment we thrive in our authentic self-expression.

As a solidifying practice on this subject, I invite you to take a moment to list just a few of your own grounding practices. What are the activities and pass-times that bring you back to the unique sensation of being you? If you were to close your eyes, and feel completely safe right now despite anything and everything around you, what would have inspired you to arrive in your body in this moment? What brings you back home to you?

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