Last week we looked at a classic portable mindfulness practice, S.T.O.P. This week, let's take it back to the cushion.
With so much happening, plus life beginning to open up, things can feel confusing, even conflicted. How can we explore the experience of confusion and conflict on the cushion, in solitary practice, and then turn that exploration into something we can rely on as we venture out into the world?
This episode examines the practice of G.R.O.U.N.D.ing in the here & now. Hopefully it will support you right now.
Last week we did a variation on the S.T.O.P. practice – S-stop; T-take a breath; a deeper dive into the O, observe (get curious about what’s happening internally and externally, observe what your choices are in the moment, and observe what your intentions are); and then, P, proceed.
S.T.O.P. is a portable practice: it’s a practice to use in everyday life, in the moment. When you’re about to say or do something, you simply stop, take a breath, observe, then proceed. I listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn and the scientist Amishi Jha yesterday on a Mind & Life webinar yesterday, and Jon was saying, really that’s our practice, all day, every day: stopping and paying attention to what’s happening right in front of us, and proceeding based on what our heart is telling us.
G.R.O.U.N.D. is both a solitary practice, meaning a practice to do as a meditation, and a portable practice that you can do in everyday life. It’s not completely dissimilar from S.T.O.P. although it’s a little more investigatory, partly because it has two additional steps but mostly because while S.T.O.P. is intended to take a breath or two or three, G.R.O.U.N.D. is a practice you can work with for your whole sitting period, whether that’s five minutes or 30 minutes or 60 minutes, plus “off the cushion.”
I’m offering G.R.O.U.N.D. because personally I’ve been needing a lot of grounding these days, and wanted something that could help me to both look in, and look up. Looking in, there’s this big, overarching theme of moving back (or forward) into some kind of normal life, which brings up questions like how to be out in the world, how to navigate, talk, even dress (there was a NYT article about dusting off your old clothes recently, which I haven’t quite done yet), what conversation to make, and also how to relate to feelings of not wanting to do any of that, if those feelings arise: of wanting to stay secluded, essentially on retreat, which is where we’ve kind of been for over a year.
Looking up, there’s the imperative to understand what being of service in the law means now. Many of us have been as busy as ever, or busier, but not all. And even if you’ve been crazy-busy this last year, there’s an opportunity to pay attention on a more granular level to impact, which is driven by intention, which is part of G.R.O.U.N.D.
And in the middle of looking in and looking up, the question for me, is, how to maintain, or sometimes just locate, equanimity.
I’ve been practicing with G.R.O.U.N.D. for several weeks, and it’s been supporting me. I’ll unpack it first, and then guide you through it.
The G in G.R.O.U.N.D. stands for ground. The invitation is to ground in three ways:
First, get grounded on the earth. Get your feet or your body onto the earth itself, or imagine your connection if you’re a few stories up. Take a few moments there.
Second, ground in community. Open into something larger than yourself. That might be your firm or organization, your family, your group of friends. It could be your town or city or state. It could be your country. Or it could be the world – humanity, or all living beings, might be your community. Take a few moments there.
And last, ground in your personal experience in the moment. The sensations of sitting, standing, lying down, or walking. Whether you’re warm or cold, hungry or thirsty or sated, hopeful or pessimistic, settled or agitated, glad or depressed, clear or confused.
R: remember that this moment is all there is. The past is gone, the future is a dream, and we can only be in the here & now. Be present as an embodied experience, not as a theoretical one. Remember to be physically present in your own body, in your own circumstances, in each moment.
O: open to what’s here in each moment. You’ve grounded in your personal experience, you’re remembering that the experience of each moment is all there is, and now, open as fully as you can to whatever that experience is. Whether it’s gladness or sorrow, peacefulness or impatience, courage or fear, a desire to be out in the world or a desire to stay secluded, or confusion about any of that or all of that, whatever arises in each moment, open to it. As you do that, you’ll see right away how it changes. So also, open to observing the changing nature of experience.
U: go underneath. What’s underneath the sorrow, impatience, and fear, and even the momentary gladness or courage? Can you tap into the peaceful abiding, or awareness, that resides inside each of us, and all around us? That really deep quality of equanimity that enables us to be here for whatever is arising? That undisturbed, undisturbable sense of belonging to the earth, to everyone, to yourself – and in that belonging, the peace, and also a readiness and ability to spring into action?
N: notice. From there, can you notice peaceful abiding in others, including really difficult people? Can you see through the obfuscations: the greed, the ill will, the delusion, to their true nature, which is just like yours – peaceful and connected – even if they can’t see it themselves? Not as an article of faith, but as an embodied knowing that peaceful abiding resides at the core of every human being and is available to explore and to move from, if we pay attention.
And D, be determined to see that core in everyone, to remember we’re connected, that everything we say and do matters, and to be kind to everyone. Or, since we work in the law, determine to help out whenever possible, to use our power and influence only for the good, to be forceful but never a bully, to be brilliant but never snarky, to be a passionate advocate but always care about and be compassionate towards everyone.
G.R.O.U.N.D. is really supporting equanimity for me in this moment, of what I’m experiencing as multiple, conflicting, sometimes confusing, questions: the question of how to move out into the world and of when it’s ok to retreat; the questions I have about the safety of Black and Asian Americans (and all humans) and what I can do; questions about how voter suppression laws are happening and how to defeat them; questions about what kind of justice is even possible in the U.S. right now.
And maybe in the end, the questions are the practice. The poet and philosopher Rilke, whom I mentioned a few Wake Up Calls ago, said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.” I hope G.R.O.U.N.D. is helpful as you find the patience for your own questions. Maybe that patience is even one way, right now, of understanding equanimity.