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Nine Ways to Ground & Center   Leave a comment

Cycles and circles invite us to return to the beginning, to the starting point, to our foundations, to the spring and font and source of what we know and do and perceive.

Grounding and centering may receive attention in your individual practice or in a group, or a ritual or ceremony may touch on it only briefly, if at all. Nevertheless, the practice remains a core tool in our spiritual toolkit, never replaced, because in so many ways it represents the heart of everything we do. We wish to connect, to re-link, to “return to our factory settings”, to recharge, to balance and harmonize and attune. The science is increasingly clear — such practices have wide-ranging value.

clearing a path to the light, to the road, to a way

Our languages often contain faint echoes of such things: “Pull yourself together. Get a grip. I really lost it” — but generally don’t offer clues on how to do the pulling, the gripping, the re-finding of what I lost.

Below are nine ways to begin to do this, to open the doors, invite the presence of spirit, and dedicate ourselves to expressing its wisdom and insight in our lives, for everyone’s benefit. Nine’s a happy number — there are many more.

Some of our greatest service to others arises when we take care of ourselves.

ONE — with sound

Many traditions have holy names, sacred words, bells, chimes, gongs, etc., that envelop the practitioner in sound. Because of the definite effects of these practices, stories and legends have often grown up around them attributing magical properties to them. Direct experimentation is usually the best guide — go with what works for you, while being open to avenues for change as needed.

Asking for a word or sound can also help. Your willingness to make the request can itself open doors that help you notice what comes to you. You may find your attention focused on a word or sound or name in your reading or your conversation during the day, or you receive a nudge to find (or make) a bell, chime, rattle, etc. The act of making can itself induce positive effects — you’re following guidance you received inwardly, which clears the path for more.

TWO — with a ritual gesture

Many people find ritual gestures help them ground and center. The act of lighting a candle or incense, casting runes, opening a holy text to a random page for its guidance, standing before an altar, crossing yourself, bowing, or performing a more elaborate series of gestures — ceremonials favored among magical groups like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram — all rely on the power of conscious, intentional action to bring about focus and clarity.

THREE — with attention on a focus point

Devotional attention placed on a sacred image or holy photograph is a long-favored technique. A personal contemplative practice may involve icons, statues, tarot cards, or other divination images or systems. Bringing the attention to a focus-point concentrates its energy. Many people report the sensation of being watched or stared at — we’re often sensitive to such things. Focused attention by another person generates enough energy that we feel it.

Through such practices we may also begin to discover how unfocused we often are. Such techniques increase our capacity to focus and ignore distractions. With so many faces and names on social media and in the news and in advertisements striving to grab and hold our attention to their advantage (and not necessarily ours), it can be a profound practice by itself to reclaim our attention and put it to uses that we choose, not someone else. Achieving and sustaining personal sovereignty can be a lifelong practice.

FOUR — with a prayer, chant, verbal formula, etc.

The advantage of a chant or prayer, especially one that we know by heart, is that it can help quickly generate the atmosphere and energies and focus we desire. (One downside of long practice, of course, can be eventual over-familiarity, which we can always work around with our creativity. Another practice!)

Group practices like communal prayer or chant can bring many people together quite rapidly. Similar effects come with prayers in other traditions. If you were raised in a different tradition from the one you now practice, you probably still recall some of its most common recitations, creeds, prayers, etc.

Many are interested in composing their own chants, prayers and recitations. The act of doing this can itself be a form of devotion, a practice of prayer and listening, and of grounding and centering. (If you’re beginning to realize that much if not everything we do is an opportunity for grounding and centering …)

FIVE — with a visualization

Many people believe that if they can’t see inwardly with as much clarity as their physical sight provides that they’re somehow “bad at visualization”. We forget that visualization is larger than the eyes. It’s the engagement of the whole imagination — and all of us imagine. For some it may arrive as a feeling, a tickle along the spine, something sensed with hearing, or inward presence, or sensed in a wide range of other ways. When we daydream, often we’re aware of being in a different space and place. The experience draws us in, and eventually we “come back”. From where?! Daydreaming can be one way to play with visualization, relaxing all our senses, so that we don’t censor them before they can take us to “lands away”.

SIX — with an associated physical sensation

By my bed I keep a Druid stone, one that I found on a local walk, that has featured in rituals, and that has consequently come to be a symbolic and ceremonial object for me. I can easily pick it up, feel its rough edges, sense the coolness of the granite, recall its presence at previous events, and add to its value and significance. Its flat bottom, as if it broke off from a quarry where stone-cutters worked, its density and weight and color all add to its sensory impact. Contact with it evokes previous contact. For me it is a touchstone, a measure of my days.

It’s among our more interesting human habits to collect such keepsakes and objects that call to us, and physical contact with them can help us ground and center.

SEVEN — with a direct prompt

Sometimes a direct prompt to “ground and center” can remind me to do just that. A simple printout with those three words “ground and center” posted in a prominent place, a screen saver on my computer, an automated, regular email I send to myself, a timer on my phone that helps me collect myself perhaps 3 or 4 times a day — all these can help me ground and center. If an object works and can do this, the prompt can simply be the presence of the object someplace I will notice it.

A friend of mine chooses a certain day to be an activation day. She’s on the road a lot for work, and every time she sees a road sign, she practices grounding and centering. It’s a kind of mental fasting from things we don’t need, things that can distract us. And the road signs themselves often try to do this, to rouse us from “road dreaming”, from the hypnotic state we can often enter behind the wheel: “Caution” — “Children at Play” — “Slow — “Work Zone” — “School” — “Pedestrian Crossing” — all of these are calls for our attention meant to benefit everyone. Using them as reminders to ground and center takes advantage of daily props as prompts to spiritual practice.

EIGHT — with the help of others

We can engage the companions of our days as aids in helping us. Partners, pets, guides, signs and omens, etc. can all serve as reminders. If I go to work, my return and the greeting of partner, pet, etc. can become a practice. Ground and center at the moment of our re-connection. Cats and dogs help us make it physical. Touching warm fur, feeling a nose or a tail against our skin, hearing a purr or a happy bark can all become reminders of how grounded and centered our pets are, and how they invite us to become as earthed as they are.

NINE — with food and drink

Many people have discovered the effect of food and drink on our attention and energies. A good meal can center us, make us grateful, and earth any random energies after ritual or practice. Yes, we wisely attend to the advice to avoid eating before and after ritual for this very reason. But again, our discretion and individual circumstances and experience can be our guides. Food helps close the psychic centers, especially when they’ve become over-active, or if we’re out of balance. The traditional heavy meat-centered meals of the holidays famously leave us sleepy afterwards — all the more if we normally go light on animal proteins most days, or avoid them altogether. After we receive an emotional shock or blow, food and drink can help calm us and aid us in dealing with the situation.

Ritual food, taken after a rite or ceremony or prayer, can have the same effect. Often a ceremonial or traditional meal accompanies rituals and religious practices in many traditions. Even if we’ve left behind such family traditions, almost everyone celebrates a birthday with food. We have many such openings in our daily lives to develop and extend a practice.

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The Ground of Our Center, the Heart of Our Earth

Holding (and returning to) the highest moment I know as a flavor for the day. Hearing the awen in the songs of birds, the rush of wind in the branches, the rumble of trucks passing down the road. Opening the door to Spirit in this moment, to welcome the transformations I long for, and have worked to manifest.

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I don’t know about you, but I need to keep grounding and centering all day long. It’s a way to show myself love, when love can seem in short supply.

calendula

The practice of “ground and center” often finds its way into ritual, as part of the “set-up” for the group, to help bring everyone together, to welcome everyone into the ritual space. It also features as part of many group exercises and workshops. A good group facilitator or group leader will include it up front, and often again at the close, to bring everyone fully back into the moment.

Often it takes the simplest form, a short reminder in words. “Let’s take a moment to ground and center”. The act of recalling the need for it becomes the practice of it — think it and you’re starting to do it.

Maybe there’s a little elaboration to guide you: “Feel your roots going into the earth, your branches rising into the air and sun.” But often we assume everyone knows what “ground and center” means, why we do it, what it’s for. Like all fundamentals and basics, it’s good to take it out and look at it from time to time. Probably our understanding of it has deepened and changed over the months and years.

BAM camp

At BAM Gathering preparation campout, Oct. 2018.

Do it enough, and grounding and centering (“G & C”) begins to broaden and take on new forms. A word, a brief prayer, a gesture made with intention can all help (re-)establish attention on the heart. If a ritual or exercise has taken us out of physical awareness, coming fully back to the body is grounding and centering. Stamping the foot (lightly, if you’re in a group) can help. If you practice a ritual of gesture, the opposite gesture for opening ritual space may serve to close it, and “bring you back”. Recording an experience in your journal, eating and drinking, standing up and walking around the ritual space or the room you’re in, can all serve to ground and center.

Christian worship builds in such moments of “G & C” with prayers and affirmations, songs and recitations that “tell you where you are” in the movement through the ritual of worship. The Latin Mass ends with ite, missa est “Go — (the Congregation) is dismissed”. The Wikipedia entry for mosque, citing the Encyclopedia of Islam, notes that “Any act of worship that follows the Islamic rules of prayer can be said to create a mosque, whether or not it takes place in a special building”. The act of grounding and centering can establish our center if we’ve lost it. It returns us to our “native land”, our spiritual home.

The practice of grounding and centering can open up still more. Out of a daily spiritual practice, new doors open to ways of grounding and centering. The guidance can be so subtle I don’t perceive it as anything separate from myself. It becomes what’s now being called “self-care”. Recognizing I need a break from social media, taking a nap, getting outdoors to encounter the elements, walking in the rain, connecting with a friend — these nourish the heart and guide us to do what’s right for us to do. They’re essential ways to ground and center — in that particular moment. From these elements of practice, more hunches, nudges and intuitions may come. Go here, not there. Try this book, resource, doctor, treatment. Reconnect with this person, spend a little more time with that one. Greet the clerk at the store checkout with my full attention, without rush. Ask how to serve quietly (or noisily!) in this moment, then the next. Listening for such answers is itself grounding and centering.

In a kind of paradox that starts to become familiar to us along any spiritual path, grounding and centering can help us discover when we need to ground and center, when we’ve lost balance, thrown ourselves out of whack. They ease us back “in whack”.

With all the talk of out-of-body experiences, sometimes I need in-body contact with the elements. Touching the cool earth with the palms of my hands, taking three deep breaths and releasing carbon dioxide and tension both, drinking a few sips of water, lighting a candle or passing my hand smoothly through flame, can all ground me. With my physical body composed of the elements, each element assists in the centering I need. As above, so below — yes! But also as below, so above. Full-circuit spirituality.

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In some ways, grounding and centering is the only practice there is. Out of groundedness, out of centeredness, we think and feel, speak and act with integrity, with wholeness. Rather than lamenting what I did badly a moment ago, I can ground and center right now.

In this moment, how can I serve?

“It takes night to see fire best”

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Like so many truths, the title for this post is both a truism and a guide.

Want to perceive something? Set it in high contrast to something — often, anything — else. Human consciousness, biologists tell us, is built to detect patterns and contrasts. Among other things, consciousness is a sophisticated survival mechanism. What stands out from the background may be friend, food or foe. That’s one good reason why we won’t be color-blind any time soon, any more than we typically ignore hair or eye color, gender or height or clothing. These are all vital signals that convey information too useful to ignore.

Fire, full moon, night, autumn — as my wife said, after we’d sat for an hour talking and fire-gazing, “It’s very grounding.”

Why not “ground and center” with fire? Oh, I know the reasons: earth helps neutralize imbalances, reconnects us to our physicality when we may be lost in thought or feeling, and so on. Earth’s a great insulator. It helps deaden psychic forces, just like eating meat does after intense ritual or magic or a nightmare. Ground and center, that basic of Pagan practice, one that renews itself as we walk our paths.

But sometimes if I’m too grounded, neutralized and banked and bermed, I need fire. The centering’s still crucial — focus is part of our struggle in this age of so many distractions. In this case, it’s “spark and center”. (With water or air, then, it can be “bathe and center”, or “breathe and center”.)

Kindle me to action, don’t drug me to inertia. In our age of rampant anti-depressants and opioids, you might say we need new prescriptions if we’re to flourish and thrive as the gods invite us to do.

And by “kindle” I don’t mean “prod me to outrage”. That’s a “flash in the pan”. I’m going for a slow burn, the kind that makes good stews and soups, that’s perfect for barbecue so tender the meat falls off the bone, and the ashes keep warm for hours after the flames have died down.

That’s also the kind of kindling that keeps me warm through winter. In this counterspell to our times, I turn us counterclockwise, from West in the last post to South and Fire. As we edge toward Winter in the northern hemisphere, I evoke Summer in us. After all, my preparations of food preservation and stacking firewood and insulating and covering and closing all aim to shelter the sacred fire within.

It takes sacred fire to understand sacred fire, so I lit one last night. Like any dedicated practice, and like all good ritual, action and prayer embody each other.

In these times, the sacred shines all the more brightly by contrast.

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