I spend a lot of time thinking about groundlessness.
Of what aspects of our lives are essential for a sense of stability. What others can pick apart. How it is all just an illusion because none of us really know what the future holds. How easily it can all come crumbling down.
I think of the Pema Chödrön quote:
“Suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we think things last—that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we ever really know what’s going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land.”
And I reflect on the ways in which groundlessness has permeated my existence since my life imploded two summers ago. I am teleported to that moment in the Vet’s office with my beloved dog, Mia. I can still feel the hardness of the upright blue chair I was sitting on and the weight of the stone-grey walls that seemed to mirror the heaviness of my heart. The vet’s diagnosis of grade six mitral heart disease hit me like a ton of bricks. It was as if someone had swung a wrecking ball at one of the pillars of my life and I watched it crumble before my eyes.
Days later, I found myself in another such moment. Golden beams of sunlight were streaming in through the bedroom skylight, but the conversation my then-husband and I were having was anything but light. We had come to the mutual decision that our marriage was over, and the weight of that realization was palpable. Ten minutes was all it took to calmly hatch a plan on how we would disband our 12-year relationship.
We were hosting my family that day and they were due to arrive any minute, so we worked quickly to establish the rules for how to get through the day: lots of smiles, deflect questions about self, and strictly no tears. Fortunately, the well building inside me had a “just” outlet upon hearing my sister say “I’m pregnant.” Gently cradling her stomach and looking broodingly to her husband and daughter “and we’re moving to Canada in September”…boom. Another swing. Another pillar down. It was something I had known was coming, but so soon? With one sister already living there, I was struggling to grapple with the reality of an ocean separating myself from both sisters.
Then just a few days later, breakup still a secret, I’m perched on a bar stool in my parents’ kitchen over tea and carrot cake, discussing my sister’s upcoming move. My mother ever-so-delicately slicing the cake, like a premonition of the wound that was about to slice my heart, “Your father and I want to emigrate to join your two sisters in Canada.” Boom. Final pillar down.
So there it was. One by one, all the pillars—the very foundations of my life had crumbled beneath me in a mere matter of days and lay in a heap of debris on the floor. Dog, husband, sister and brother-in-law, a niece, and a soon-to-be-niece I had not yet met. My parents. Living grief in its rawest form. None of these things had exited my life permanently, they were still very much alive, but equally nothing would ever be the same again. I would have to rebuild my life and community—my foundation, piece by piece, pillar by pillar.
Almost two years on and although I can’t say that the structure has fully reformed, the floor plan is drafted, the concrete is in the mixer, and the foundations are starting to be laid.
I’ve confronted wave after wave of grief as it has bubbled and boiled, over spilled, and left the floors awash. I’ve been brought to my knees more times than I care to admit. Yes, there have been many a sleepless night, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t also moments of solace.
A lot of chocolate and endless cups of tea. I’ve holidayed with friends kind enough to swim with me and hold me when I needed to cry. A deluge of tears absorbed into the ocean beneath us, standing strong by my side, unwavering in their support as the sea swirled around us.
As a life coach I work with tools. I also like to practice what I preach.
Here I am sharing the three tools that I’ve found most helpful in trying to re-ground when the earth has felt shaky beneath my feet:
1. Active your right brain
First, a quick low down on right brain versus left brain. Our left brain is the home of analytics, logic, and language. It is both past and future oriented and thinks in terms of “I am,” or in other words, separateness. Whilst it’s true that to act as functional humans we absolutely need the left hemisphere, it is also true that modern life forces us to overutilize this function.
By contrast, the right hemisphere lives in the present moment, it appreciates beauty, imagination, and is home to the senses. It is responsible for intuition, and it sees self in terms of “oneness.”
Just from this brief description you can see how hanging out too much in the left brain can cause suffering and thus engaging the right brain might be the antidote we all need, particularly when experiencing groundlessness.
Martha Beck describes a simple technique for activating whole brain synchronization and helping us take advantage of the right brain. She asks us to simply imagine the space between our eyes. And as you rest your attention here, imagining the space between your eyes, can you imagine all the spaciousness that exists within you? In your fingers and your toes, in between your brain and your heart? Can you imagine the space in and around you, between you and the seat you sit on? Between you and your computer screen? Between you and the walls of your house? She asks us to imagine spaciousness and then to sit there and rest in it.
The mantra for us here is: May we relax into spaciousness.
2. Let yourself be held
When we have no ground, it is natural to try to find some philosophical stability. But how about if we actually took a literal interpretation of what it means to ground and be grounded? What if we could just relax and let ourselves be held, by a person, by an object, by the ground?
This could be an extended hug from a loved one you trust. And I don’t just mean a cursory greeting; I mean a deeply embodied embrace that last several minutes. The kind of squeeze that massages your organs and almost knocks you off your feet.
Or as you sit in your chair, really feeling the weight of what it feels like to be supported as the gravitational force moves upwards to support your body. This object isn’t making a conscious effort to hold us; it is just doing its job. Can we just let it do its job, to hold us and support us?
Or can we walk barefoot on the earth and let mother nature just hold us? I think back to a time I spent several hours one summer laying upon a weeping willow that was sunken into a lake in Vondelpark. I asked her for guidance, and she whispered to me, “Mother nature is always here for you; all you have to do is touch down and earth. Let her support you.”
Mother nature is always here. The earth is always here; the ground beneath your feet is solid. Remind yourself of that fact.
The mantra for us here is: May we be held.
3. Imagine you have a Magic Carpet
This one occurred to me in the depths of despair, in the days that surrounded the crumbling. Things were moving and falling around me so quick I just couldn’t stand upright.
Because the earth was so shaky and I was grasping for anything to steady myself, I decided to reimagine the ground under my feet as a magic carpet. One that moved continuously, but one on which if I could just develop enough core strength, I could nonetheless find some stability.
And with this imagination came the seed of something really potent: the idea that strength—real core strength—and stability come from within. It’s not something that can be externally granted to us. And therefore it’s in our control. Isn’t this powerful?
The mantra for us here is: May we fly freely on our magic carpets supported by the core strength of our inner beings.
And as I ponder what it really means to be groundless and what might be the remedy, I return again to Pema Chödrön:
“To stay with the shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening.”
So herein lies my prayer, my mantra for us as we embrace groundlessness:
“May we relax into spaciousness, may we be held and may we fly freely on our magic carpets supported by the core strength of our inner beings.”