October 11, 2020
By Maria Mandarino, LAc, Dip Ac (NCCAOM), LMT, CSD, MSEd
Grounding is perhaps the most important spiritual practice you can dedicate yourself to. It is simple, but profound. It will change you. It will change your orientation to stress. It will deepen the quality of your relationships. It will change your experience of life on this earth.
My first real education in grounding came in massage therapy school where we were taught T’ai Chi and Qi Gong. We would sometimes stand in Wu Chi, a simple standing posture, for ten minutes, until our leg muscles quivered with fatigue, focusing on the breath and dropping our energy into the ground. It was so simple. It was incredibly hard.
Over months the practice of standing in Wu Chi became easier. My legs stopped quivering. My breathing deepened. I noticed I felt calmer. My thoughts were clearer. I didn’t stress as much before exams.
It wasn’t until I reached student clinic, however, that I really understood why grounding was so highly stressed in the program. Grounding was about much more than body mechanics when giving a massage.
In working with clients, there is an energy transfer. People come to us with pain, both physical and emotional, and we must be able to hold space for them, not take on their energy, and keep our composure so they can heal. We are to be nothing more than the vessel during this time. And so our grounding is a gift to the client as much as it is a gift to ourselves. We witness and honor another’s pain without absorbing what is not ours to absorb. And in return, we feel the gift of awe as that person begins to heal.
Grounding allows us to be the calm in the center of the storm. It served me well as a massage therapist for twenty years, and later as an acupuncturist. The truth is grounding helps me just as much as a spiritual director. And beyond my work life, grounding simply informs my whole life.
How to assess your groundedness
A simple question to ask yourself in chaotic moments is, “How grounded do I feel right now?” Draw your attention to your feet. How often do you walk in bare feet? Do you feel the ground beneath those feet? How relaxed are your toes? Are your feet cold or warm? Really check in. Know that Mother Earth offers her support to us every time our feet touch the ground. She is a constant in a world that often doesn’t seem too reliable. We always stand on holy ground. Are you aware of this with each foot that strikes the ground? Why or why not?
An easy grounding exercise to try
Periodically I teach Qi Gong classes in my community. Here’s a simple beginner exercise I share with my students.
Close your eyes and visualize a tree. See its solid trunk. Note the tree’s soft branches, its supple green leaves. Consider the depth and complexity of the root system beneath the ground. Be with this image. Allow yourself to feel it. Then draw the image deep into yourself.
As you feel the Divine essence of the tree within yourself, become aware of the wisdom that was encoded into the tiny seed that grew into the tree, the wisdom which would allow the tree to endure the fiercest of storms. Know that the same wisdom was encoded into you.
In Taoism, we look toward nature for our examples and trees are just wonderful teachers. The trees which survive the most powerful storms are deep in their roots, strong in their trunk, and soft and supple in their branches. Invisible roots deep beneath the ground both anchor and nourish the tree, the trunk gives the tree its core strength, but the branches must yield to the force of the wind in order to not break.
During stressful times, we can bring this wisdom into our hearts, into our minds, and into our bodies. When we do this often enough, it begins to innately happen and we start to live our lives in a new way. We understand that we can choose our response when the inevitable storm arrives. Our feet firm on the ground, toes spread wide, we feel our connection to Mother Earth. We stand strong in our center – our physical center, and within the center of our convictions. We allow our arms to be soft and for our minds to yield as challenges arise. It is in the softness where we find the ability to deflect and not brace. So long as we are grounded, so long as we are centered in who we are, but not unyielding, we will withstand any storm. Breathe, ground, and yield. It is only the rigid tree that will break.
Taoist philosophy reminds us that the teacher is also always a student. And so even the most accomplished meditation teacher meets struggle in their practice. No matter how innate the process becomes, there are times when we will all be thrown off and we will have to refocus our energy. Practice of any kind involves awareness and constant correction.
Many students and patients who I work with struggle when learning how to meditate in the beginning. They are not used to quiet and they say stillness makes them feel more anxious. Some tell me they are tempted to almost “leave their body” and instead of reaching the heightened state of awareness that is meditation, they enter a hypnotic trance. Others tell me they simply struggle to find time to meditate as their lives are complicated.
There are many styles of meditation. Using the breath and redirecting the mind are common to all of them. And no matter how busy your life is, or how uncomfortable you are with silence, standing and walking are things we all do. And we can always bring more mindfulness into those things. Just in standing and walking, you can find a small way to start a new meditation practice.
Grounding is not separate from meditation practice – it actually is a meditative practice that uses visualization, stillness, and the breath to deepen spiritual connection. Grounding is the foundation where all other practices begin. It is something we can do anywhere and even for brief moments. We don’t need special equipment or outfits. We can do it anywhere: at work, at home, online at the grocery store, before giving a presentation, after hearing a news headline that makes you anxious. Anywhere. Anytime.
These are unprecedented times and the next few weeks — and likely months — will bring us more unexpected turns and challenges. No matter which candidate wins on Election Day, the real truth is we’ve got work to do — as a society, and as individuals. The road ahead is long and circuitous. We have a journey yet.
Use this time now to ground and breathe. Draw a circle around you. Know you stand on holy ground. Always.
This weekend I am resting in the comfort of ancient wisdom traditions that saw the Divine in everything, even in darkness. To quote theologian, Phyllis Tickle, “God is both the shit and the fan.” The Divine hand is in all of it. The glory and the mess.
So especially in the coming weeks, I hope you will find the time to take off your shoes, to let your feet touch the ground, to breathe, to be strong in your trunk and soft in your branches. I hope you find holy ground wherever you are standing. And may you know you are being met in this moment now, and that you will always be met.
Practice every day.
Blessings and peace on your journey,