In these times of layered and intersecting personal and collective traumas – from Covid-19 to climate disruption to systemic racism – many of us are spending much of our time in a place of fear and anxiety, grief and overwhelm. In an understandable effort to push away or deny these uncomfortable feelings, we may find ourselves feeling numb, dissociated, or shut down. Yet as we close our hearts to protect ourselves from pain, we simultaneously close to our innate compassion, to our capacity for joy and connection, to our fullness of experience and vitality, and to our bodhichitta, the intention to act for the sake of all beings.
Trauma research tells us that the parts of the brain responsible for transmitting painful emotions are in fact the same ones that convey the full range of sensations forming our sense of who and where we are. As we numb unpleasant emotions, then, we can see that in the process we become severed from our sense of self and place, without which we lack purpose, direction, and the ability to act.
Disembodied and ungrounded, how can we possibly connect to each other and to the earth? And without this connection, how can we grasp the truth of our interrelatedness, our interbeing, that this moment requires? As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, ‘The earth is not just the environment. The earth is us. Everything depends on whether we have this insight or not.’
As we cultivate a fortifying practice to help hold us steady in these times, we might begin by returning home to our bodies and grounding ourselves in place, allowing a relational consciousness and a radical sense of purpose to take root. And, crucially, grounding ourselves in place requires acknowledgment of the stolen and largely unceded land upon which we all sit. With this in mind, I offer this short (ten-minute) meditation.
You are invited to find a comfortable seat, perhaps on the ground with some support or in a chair, maybe lying down. On an inhale, grow some length in the spine, exhale and keep that length as you soften your shoulder blades down your back.
You might close your eyes or find a soft gaze anywhere that’s comfortable. Your hands can rest on your body or anywhere they naturally fall.
As you arrive take some natural breaths in and out as you settle into your space, into your body, into this moment, inviting all parts of your self and of your experience to join you here in this present moment, beginning to let go of what’s come before and what’s coming next. And you might continue to breathe in this way, or perhaps you invite in a slightly deeper breath, inhaling and exhaling fully through the nose, all the way to the top and bottom of the breath.
Noticing your body here in space, bring your awareness to the places where your body is making contact with whatever is supporting you, a chair or your yoga mat, a blanket or the ground beneath you, simply noticing how you are held and supported in space.
Soften your jaw and the muscles of your face, soften your shoulders, soften the space of your heart and abdomen, allow your arms to be heavy, your fingers to be soft, your legs to be heavy, your toes to be soft.
As you continue to breathe, begin to expand your awareness now beyond your body, into the room where you are, noticing any sounds, sights, temperatures, textures, or aromas that may be present, inviting it all in without trying to change anything or push any part away.
And then expand your awareness even farther out, into the fullness of the house or building or structure that you are in, out into the yard or the surrounding outdoor space, just feeling into the other beings that are present here with you in this space-time; other human and more-than-human animals; trees and plants; insects and flowers; soil, fungi, and microbes, all interdependent and co-creating this vibrant, beautiful life.
Begin to invite in some gratitude for this space that holds you, this place where you are, aware of its wonder and uniqueness, and acknowledging the people who call this place ancestral homeland, honoring the people and living beings who have been here since time immemorial, all those who have been displaced and those who remain here today.
Perhaps you speak their name aloud.
And as you breathe in, welcome everything in, as you exhale, send that gratitude back out into the world.
As you’re ready, begin to draw your awareness back closer in, into your yard or the surrounding outdoor space, into your house or building, whatever structure is holding and supporting you. Back into the room, and then back into your body, but keeping this expanded and relational sense of self and place.
You can bring your hands to rest on your abdomen and invite your breath in and out of this space, softening in this space.
And then bring our palms stacked one on top of the other to rest on the space of your heart, perhaps in stillness or maybe circle the hands gently against your body, moving in both directions.
Take a few more breaths here, taking in and sending out.
As you’re ready please bow your head toward your heart, honoring yourself for your presence and your practice.
Lifting your head, I thank you so much for your presence and your practice.