This moment, with its seemingly endless dangers and sorrows, calls for practices that can support equanimity like the G.R.O.U.N.D. practice we've been unpacking. Today's episode looks at the "N" of G.R.O.U.N.D. "N" is an invitation to "notice" that when you're G - grounded, R-, at rest, O-open, and U-unclenched, there's an innate peace of mind that's available, even in the midst of so much. Enjoy.
Hi everyone! This is Judi Cohen, and this is Wake Up Call #301. I hope you’re all doing as well as possible in our uncertain world.
I’ve been sharing the practice of G.R.O.U.N.D., which is an equanimity practice. I’ve been working with the practice because I feel the need to have a practice that’s a sequence, like a yoga asana sequence or Qi Gong sequence or piece of musical: one element flowing into the next.
The idea for a sequence arose because I wanted something that could remind me to down-shift, like a manual transmission, as I was heading out into the world. I’ve gone through G, R, O, and U, but I’ll reprise those first and then share a little about N.
G stands for ground – sensing into the earth, its solidity, how it absorbs the pain of the world, maybe how much it has already absorbed: our sorrows, our fears, our tears, the tears of our ancestors, the tears of all beings. Taking refuge on the earth, the ground, in solitary practice. Already I can tap into a little peace of mind, just at the start, at G.
G is also sensing into that we are on this earth together, in community with each other and with all beings. We aren’t alone even if we’ve felt very alone over the last year and continue to feel that way. With G, there’s also the possibility of sensing into the ground, or earth, as common ground, the place where we connect, where we can find the refuge of community, remembering that in classical mindfulness, the community is the said to be not just part of the practice but the whole practice. It’s possible to remember this in solitary practice and it’s also something to do in portable practice, out in the world however tentatively we might be going out right now. And one thing to notice in terms of G, ground, in portable practice, is the positive influence it’s possible to have on others, on our communities, when we keep in mind that we’re connected, or inter-connected.
Next there’s R, for rest: resting in the here and now, in this moment. Inviting an actual physical rest, maybe for a few minutes, maybe for just one breath, maybe for just one out-breath, in solitary practice. What an honorable thing to rest, just as honorable as being busy all the time, maybe more so. And how nourishing, to rest, to take a moment to relax. In portable practice rest is also honorable, in the sense of resting in the midst of everything: taking a few minutes and closing the office door or close all the screens or just closing the eyes taking a rest from the stimulus of the world: from reading, typing, and scanning the world.
Then O, opening to what’s present, and bearing witness. Bearing witness in solitary practice to the difficult emotions and unwholesome thoughts that arise and also pass away: how painful that can be and yet how necessary, to see the truth of what’s happening, not judge it one way or the other, and learn to be with it.
O is also opening and bearing witness to the pain of the world, like Avaloketishvara, the great cosmic being who sits with eyes lowered looking inward in solitary practice, but still open to witness the sorrow of the world. She or he, depending on the iconography, is the Boddhisatva who pledges not to fully awaken until all beings are free from suffering. In some ways this is the pledge we make as lawyers: to help in every possible way, not to rest (which we don’t do enough), or rest on our laurels, but to do everything possible to solve problems, create solutions, alleviate suffering. Even in the hallowed and monied halls of corporate law; even in fields that seem too technical to be about relieving suffering; and certainly in the trenches of public defenders offices and immigration offices and family law offices and so many other fields; and also in the way we raise up our young lawyers in classrooms and clinics; that is our pledge, even our aspiration: to relieve the pain and suffering of those who don’t know how to navigate the very complex systems that only we really understand. And in this way, which is not small, to help heal the world.
U is about unclenching, and last week I told the story of Milarepa and the demons, and how, ultimately, he realized that for his own demons to disappear, he would need to lay his head in the mouth of his worst demon and say, go ahead, eat me up; and that when he did that, the demon bowed to Milarepa, and disappeared. This is the invitation, in solitary practice, to let go, and in portable practice, to let go of illusion and to see things just as they are. Yesterday I heard a piece on NPR about how South Carolina has reinstituted the firing squad as an “option” for death row inmates, in addition to the electric chair, because the state was unable to ensure sufficient secrecy to drug-makers from whom they buy lethal injection chemicals and so couldn’t acquire the chemicals. There are so many things wrong with this, I barely know where to start: state-sanctioned killing, the fact that the death penalty population is disproportionately Black men; the idea of a firing squad!; the trauma inflicted on everyone involved; that the drug-makers will make the chemicals but won’t sell them except in secrecy. As I was listening to the piece, I had to remember U over and over, literally unclenching my jaw and also my mind, which wanted to say this wasn’t a real article, and see that, yes, in fact this is really how it is, in America, in 2021, even though most Western democracies have abolished the death penalty including the whole of the European Union. I had to do that, and in general we have to unclench, to see the truth of things, so that we can work to change them.
N is where we are today. N is about noticing. In solitary practice, notice how it feels when you ground, rest, open, and unclench. Maybe there’s relaxation and relief. Maybe there’s clarity. Maybe there’s peace.
Maybe think about it this way. Our eyes bring in visual stimulation, our mouths, taste, our ears, sound, our noses, smells. We can close all of those and eliminate that input but as long as they’re open, they’re sending messages to our brain. And interoception, sensing the internal sensations of the body, is always happening unless we’re sedated. So generally unless closed, these “sense doors,” in classical mindfulness parlance, bring information to the brain – but really to the whole body, since when you see, for example, someone suffering, your heart might break – so really, the sense doors are bringing information to the heart and mind, or the whole body/mind. The sense doors also bring up emotions and thoughts – if you smell chocolate chip cookies, you’re bound to have an emotion: joy, if you like chocolate chip cookies, or maybe dismay, if you’re on a diet. Whenever we hear about the next act of hatred or racism in America, because we will, we’re bound to have an emotion: rage? sorrow? fear? frustration?
But without input or really, without getting caught on the input from these sense doors, the mind itself is completely clear, and empty, and at peace. This is its innate state. So when we sit in solitary practice and ground, rest, open, and unclench, letting go of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, thoughts, and emotions as they come and go, we can notice this clarity and peace. We can even reside in clarity and peace, because this is the innate state of our mind and heart. And as we practice in our solitary practice and get the hang of it over time, we can start to import our innate clarity, our innate peace, into our portable practice, into the world.
But first, we have to notice it. So let’s sit together now, and take a look.