The Ground Beneath Me.

Via Jeannine Ouellette
on Apr 30, 2013
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Sometimes when I’m overcome and my head is so full of noise I can barely stand it, I go outside and lie down on the ground.

This simple act accomplishes nothing, really, except that it changes my life. I first learned this years ago when my children were very small and life with them was at once “incredibly close and extremely loud.”

I relearned it recently when I completed a book project on “earthing”—or the science of how the earth’s electrical charge helps to restore health to the human body.

Measurable effects of “earthing” are especially impressive in regard to its potential to prevent and reduce inflammation in the body. The connection between inflammation, aging, disease, and death has been documented in hundreds of breakthrough articles in publications ranging from peer-reviewed medical journals to TIME Magazine.

The earth’s ability to quell inflammation in our bodies is quite frankly an astonishing contribution to modern medicine. Earthing has also been shown to produce a positive effect on blood viscosity and a number of other important health markers. For these reasons, some health experts say earthing (also called ground therapy) may be the most important health discovery of our time. The trick is making direct skin-to-earth contact, or as close thereto as possible.

It was fun to research and write about this concept from a health and science perspective after having believed in it intuitively for so long. And after having experienced it so profoundly myself, even if I didn’t know what “it” was when I first fell to the ground on a hunch.

I married at 21 and within five years had three beautiful children who sometimes, in those most vivid and intense years, wrung me out like a kitchen rag. They wrung me out this way despite my oceanic love for them and my immense gratitude for being able to be home with them.

I loved my kids like mad, and wanted nothing more than to be a “good” mom. Nothing! And yet so often I entirely missed the mark—my mark, that is.

To be fair, my firstborn, Sophie, who has since grown into an extremely lovely and loving young woman and a fine writer, to boot, was what we ’90s parents called spirited. In plain English, this meant she had the temperament of a tornado. On top of this, she behaved like an angry two-year-old when her brother Max was born.

She was in fact an angry two-year-old.

Sophie’s second birthday came 12 days after Max arrived. There’s much I could say about this period, but the memory that sums it up best is the time Sophie’s father and I had to pull the car over because Sophie, in the back seat with Max, would not let go of his hair. Her chubby little fingers were clamped hard around the few fine wisps of blond hair that little Max had finally sprouted. When I peeled Sophie’s fingers back—as gently as I could in the midst of a highly problematic situation—a few strands of golden hair lay in her sweaty palm. “Well,” she said flatly as we both took in this unfortunate evidence, “his hair was very poorly rooted.”

Soon after all this learning to parent two children, Lillie came along. And that really was the turning point, the stage at which I learned (but repeatedly forgot, of course) what really matters. The ground, the trees, the sky and long stretches of time. I tried to master rhythm and schedules, and sometimes I succeeded while other times I flailed (cereal for dinner at nine and then a sleepy-time car ride, anyone?).

But eventually I did master the art of putting on our shoes and coats and walking out the front door so that everything could change. We had a few favorite spots, magical places.

Como Park was one of our most special escapes back then, in the days before the all the big fancy improvements and remodels—and the burgeoning crowds that followed. Years ago, when my kids and I used to visit on week days, we often had the whole park to ourselves.

We’d zip through the zoo, spending time with the animals we loved best—especially the primates!—and then we’d spend hours on the grass under those enormous old oaks. Doing more or less nothing. I’m sure the kids did something but I couldn’t really tell you what because those hours just elongated and disappeared into a shimmer of contentment until dinnertime. Then we’d go have pizza at a little Italian place down the street. It might still be there for all I know, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been by that way.

I miss those afternoons beneath the oaks.

Another of our favorites was Interstate Park on the Wisconsin side. We loved Lake of the Dalles and the trail around it, and that mystery-filled patch of woods alongside the path near the beach. The rocks, the thick smell of leaves in the fall, the little fires we’d build to make “toasted cheese” just like in Heidi.

There was a park closer to home, too, where we’d sometimes spend the day. I recall it for the one striking time we went to play—or more accurately, recover—after a particularly shrill morning in the house. I remember the feeling of the hill, the gravity beneath our bodies and the wide sky above us as we all four lay there, on my command, to soak up the healing energy of the earth.

Earlier today, when all of my deadlines, projects, plans, and decisions were creating a cacophonous din inside my head, I stepped away from my computer, slipped on my shoes, and walked up the hill to our neighborhood park. Not a single other person was there.

I spread my blue sweater out on the ground and lay down on it. The sun scorched and blinded me, even with my eyes closed. So I flipped over onto my stomach and rested my cheek on my crossed arms. I pressed my palms into the earth. I breathed in and breathed out. I waited. My thoughts clattered noisily on. The sun warmed my bare legs. The grass scratched against my forearms. Tiny bugs flew and hovered in the eye-level airspace above the grass. The ground was surprisingly toasty.

My thoughts quieted down. I began to notice things.

Old brown winter grass is full of intriguing stuff that’s not grass.
Tree bark is mesmerizing.
Traffic drones constantly.
Birds make a lot of nice racket.
Bird sounds vary greatly: they chirp, trill, quack (for lack of a better term, being a non-birder), whistle, bark, coo, and sometimes truly, truly sing.
A dog’s bark stirs primal emotion.
Sticks are everywhere: stick, sticks, sticks, sticks, sticks.
Winter trees look dead.
Have you thought much of the sky?
Robins stand stock still on the grass for longer than you’d think.
Robin beaks are a shock of yellow.
Every cloud suggests a story.
Our lives are small.
There’s a whole fascinating world taking place down in the grass—like Whoville.
Tree roots are awe inspiring.
Dirt and sunshine smell good. Like children.
So little of what I worry about matters as much as I think it does.

For a few fleeting moments, I flicker in and out of sleep. Lying on the grass makes me feel close to everything.

I remember my small children, their soft cheeks and little fingernails. I think of them now, grown and purposeful, their lives full of demands and desires.

I feel them on my heart.

After about half an hour, I get up and walk slowly down the hill; I see and hear and smell and feel so much more this time.

I listen to the soft sound of my own footsteps heading home.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

Source: via Alexandra on Pinterest



About Jeannine Ouellette

Jeannine Ouellette is a writer, teacher and facilitator of Elephant Rock Retreats for Writing & Yoga. She loves coffee, autumn, Lake Superior and all of you (not necessarily in that order). She's also a senior editor and writing teacher at the University of Minnesota. Read her blog, on her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter for more musings on this “one wild and precious life.” (Oh, and she loves poet Mary Oliver.)


11 Responses to “The Ground Beneath Me.”

  1. Carolyn Riker says:

    Love your writing and how you integrate real life into your words. Thanks you. It's always a pleasure to read beautiful, well written words.

  2. Thank you so much, Carolyn. Grateful for your lovely feedback!

  3. Jim says:

    This beautiful essay reminds me of raising our four children – hairing pulling and all. I guess that is a universal sign of sibling love. We also had "elephant rock" in the huge field at the end of road. It was shaped like a giant elephant head and all of us climbed all over it – even the dog. The field was a heavenly playground for the kids and they still talk about how much fun it was to explore, pretend, watch the deer, fox, coyotes and birds or stargazing at night lying in the long August grass. Thank you.

  4. Jim, what a wonderful time that must have been with your kids at Elephant Rock! I grew up in Duluth, and we had an elephant rock at our neighborhood park, Lincoln Park. I loved loved loved it there, that is why I chose elephant rock as the name of my website–the story of my elephant rock is here:

    Thank you for sharing your memories of the long August grass. Let us all have a bit more time for more of the same, yes?

  5. Sophie says:

    In my defense, Max's hair really is poorly rooted. But seriously, always inspired by how my talented mother weaves together comedy and poetry.

  6. Jeanne says:

    Loved this so much it brought tears to my eyes! Absolutely Love your writing Jeannine! It is all we ever want when we have children is to be a "good" mom. I resonate with that so much. Yet, we miss the mark. Love that! I have always thought that too! Even though I just have my one son, I have loved him to the point it didn't do him favors sometimes, but we try our best! Then when they are grown we realize, We did do a great job, and they are Beautiful and part of you always no matter how old they get. Always look forward to reading more of your work. Much love & Blessings to you always.

  7. Jeanne,

    Thank you so very, very much! I am glad it resonated.

  8. Christine says:

    My youngest (of 3boys) threw tantrums. When they were fierce, I would bundle him into the carseat and head to Redwood Park in Arcata, where we lived. I 'd get him into the backpack and head into the woods. Withing 20 feet the sounds of water dripping, birds tweeting…the smell of the damp forest would overwhelm him and he would settle down…because it worked for him, I knew it would for me…and it did. Countless Saturday mornings I would go and nestle up against a tree and just melt in. It did wonders for me and gave me the respite I needed to continue raising 3 sons on my own. They, too, are all grown now and all 3 find peace in the woods…it was the very best gift I could give them and myself. Reading this made me smile, an aha moment, for sure!

  9. Lj Ratliff says:

    Thank you for reminding me to lie down on the earth more often. I resonated with what you wrote and how the earth can heal us is we just take the time to connect.

  10. I can so relate to this, Christine. I hope my kids feel the same as adults. I think they do. Those days outdoors saved us from so much fierceness …

  11. Lj, yes, it really is so simple, and yet we can let it feel so complicated to take the time. Good luck to you (and to me) in making the connection!