Going to Hell & Finding the Ground

A note from Erin:

In the Buddhist lineage I’ve been a part of for the past 20+years, it’s traditional to begin every session of every teaching with this invitation: “Please generate bodhichitta and in that spirit, listen to the teachings.” (Bodhichitta is the awakened heart-mind that is dedicated to the welfare of all beings.) I’d like to invite you to make that intention as you read. May all beings benefit.

 

 

 

 

Going to Hell and Finding the Ground

A month or so ago I attended a workshop taught by my friend and colleague, Don St.John, (who wrote an incredible book I highly recommend) along with his wife Diane St.John. It was a great pleasure to sit in a circle convened by a couple who, like me and Carl, teach somatics, consciousness, and awakening practices – and they’re as skillful and radiant as can be in their 70s. We’re fortunate to have them in our community.

Something Don said really struck me. He said for some people who’ve had significant trauma, if you ask them to get into their body, you’re asking them to go to hell. 

I thought it was rather dramatic and yet… it’s so often true.

How many of us have felt this election as akin to a trauma?


It can be hard to want to stay in our bodies. Obviously. Because that’s where we feel our feelings. All that is here to be felt. And if you’re like most people I’ve interacted with in the past week? There’s a lot. 

 

 I think even those of us who’ve suffered trauma deserve to have our bodies back as home base.

When we are embodied, we have greater access to our whole intelligence – the wisdom of our heart and guts and bones.

When we are embodied, we are HERE and so can be a legitimate force for good in the world. The world needs us. Embodied love warriors.

Don’s comment reminded me of an occasion many years ago when a friend who had experienced significant abuse and trauma in her childhood went to a retreat center in Northern California and while there to meditate, her trauma began to resurface. The facilitators weren’t equipped to adequately help her in her process, so she saw a professional trained in Somatic Experiencing work. It helped, though the sessions, like most things in Northern California, were very expensive. I’ll save you $250 and tell you what she did with my friend. :)

The recommendation from the therapist when her trauma-energy would arise in her body?
“Feel your feet.”

200 times a day.

“Feel your feet.”

Getting scared or freaked out or panicky?

Feel your feet. 

 

Our relationship with the ground is profound.

The ground you’re sitting or standing on right this minute, even if felt through a chair or a floor.

We live in a culture that trains us to be mostly ignorant of that relationship.

Even to pull up out of it as we “hold ourselves up.”

Luckily, the ground is here, even if we’ve ignored our relationship for years.

The ground offers you a neutral, reliable infrastructure for your experience.

Even if your emotions are swirling wildly, if you can sense the stability of your ground, you can feel the profound truth in this statement: 

“I am right here.” It gives you profound support and stability. Literally.

 

 

As my friend and mentor, Russell Delman likes to say, “It is so helpful to feel “I’m here” before going into “How am I?” 

With “I’m here,” you have a solid ground to stand on. If you’re willing to courageously welcome intense body sensations, emotions, and inner states? That stability helps immensely. 

Right now, I invite you to try it. If you’re standing, feel your feet. If you’re sitting, feel your butt. Let yourself have the bodily experience of being supported by this steady ground.

You are right here.

The more you can grow your aware relationship with the ground, the more you’ll have a felt sense of a foundation to support you in welcoming even tricky sensations and inner states.
Having supportive others around to help us grow this quality can be important, especially when processing significant trauma. But how nice to know, 100 times a day if needed, you can “find your feet” or simply feel the support of the ground, through whichever part of you is touching it. We sometimes like to joke that you can be “saved by your butt.” Feeling your base of support and your presence, right on this spot is a wise action.

In the Tibetan culture where they have a systematic understanding of elements, Earth and Space are considered to be the stable elements. (Fire, Water and Wind are the mobile elements.) This understanding offers a perspective on why growing a relationship with the stability of the earth is so nourishing.

It’s also interesting to note that between Earth and Space, Space is considered the most stable. (We don’t have space-quakes.) The Space in which all life is happening is alive, stable, reliable. And there’s a way we can learn also to “ground” ourselves in that openness. Feel the ground under you? Feel the openness of the space and the living moment all around you? Isn’t that nice?

I’m right here.
I’m right here.
I’m right here.

With this reliable foundation, with the support of this great living body of the earth, we can welcome our feelings and experiences and become fully present so we might see more clearly what skillful action could be. Our skillful action has maybe never been more needed.

If you click here, you can listen to a short guided practice I created just now for you, guiding you in a practice like this. You can also download and listen later.

And now, I’m remembering a friend who came to our gathering in the park over the weekend to share hugs and process current events. She’s been a lifelong activist and professional working to support many causes that are in grave danger under our new administration. At the end of the meeting, I asked each person how we could support them. Her answer made me laugh so hard. “Can I have permission to veg out and get stoned and watch The Crown for a week?” We each gave her our wholehearted blessing. There’s a time for everything, and some of us are in the immobilizing stage of grief. I know she won’t stay there. She’ll be on the front lines fighting the good fight soon. So if you’re at the stage in your own process where you need to veg or cry for a few more days? Please be gentle with yourself. No force. But remember, when you’re ready, we do need you.

Free yourself, Free Others, Serve Everyday Nelson Mandela

I’m wishing you well.
With fierce love and hope,
Erin

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Erin

By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.