. getting back to ground zero .

Spirit and Ground
"I have thrown the word spirituality out of my vocabulary because it seems to imply abandoning the earthly dimension. I have little patience with people who say they are on the spiritual path, because almost invariably they are trying to advance the vertical (lofty, unearthly) part of their lives at the expense of the horizontal (earthy, human) dimensions of their being." (Robert Johnson from Balancing Heaven and Earth)

Until just recently the past 100 years or so - time always moved much slower. The hurly-burly lifestyle of today "makes our heads spin" and our "feet lose touch" with the earth.

As Robert Johnson writes in Balancing Heaven and Earth: "Until the industrial revolution most people lived close to the earth, submerged in the earthy side of life. People lived off the land, they walked to wherever they were going if they traveled at all, they pulled water up out of the earth in buckets. Since people were bound to the earth, the holy movement needed to make them whole was upward movement of thought and abstraction. This upward movement was built into our language and customs. The place up away from the earth became equated with good; cities competed to see who could have the tallest skyscraper, nations competed to see who could go the farthest into space. For decades now, people have looked for artificial ways to "get high" and escape the earthy bounds of their lives. But what if we have escaped so much from the earth that our psychic need is now reversed? We hardly ever set foot on soil these days. People must discipline themselves to run just for exercise. It is conceivable that what is required to round out a modern person, to help make us whole, is to incorporate the downward, earthy movement of things. This will require an entirely new ethos and mythology. New symbols may bestirring in the collective unconscious to reverse the movement that has been predominant for thousands of years."

Just the other day, in yoga class, our teacher had us concentrate on our feet. We did foot exercises where we stretched our feet, our toes, asanas that brought greater flexibility and strength to our feet. Towards the end, she told the class to get up and walk around. I've never felt so grounded, so sure-footed. As Michael Gach points out in Acu-Yoga, the best way to cure nervous disorders is through our feet.

Vata, the Element of Air
Every philosophy speaks of various elements. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian philosophy and holistic health science dating back over 2000 years. Ayurveda teaches that there are three elements: Pitta, Kapha, and Vata. Essentially, Pitta is the element of fire, Kapha of water/earth and Vata of air.

There is a predominance of Vata in our society today. Ayurveda classifies skyscrapers, high-speed/highway driving, light and airy foods (such as rice cakes), excessive talking, phones, computers, excessive thinking, travel by airplane, as imbalanced Vata. When one becomes imbalanced in any element, it affects the balance of the other elements. When one becomes imbalanced from excessive Vata-type activities, one becomes more deficient in their earth element, Kapha.

In Deepak Chopra's many books (which are based of Ayurvedic principles), he speaks of how most of our contemporary ailments are due to an excess of Vata. Many in Western society suffer from insomnia, irritable bowels, constipation, anxiety - an entire host of unclassifiable problems that Western medicine has given catchall names to such as "irritable bowel syndrome", "social anxiety disorder", etc. These "disorders" are all from a similar root, when one looks at it from a more holistic viewpoint. Chopra gives some tips in his book that deals with insomnia: don't read before going to bed. Reading is a Vata activity. For better elimination, don't read magazines in the bathroom. Elimination is a downward process. Reading is upward.

I am particularly prone to being imbalanced in my Vata element. I easily get sappily. I have often experienced this when walking into a large grocery store or mega-discount store. There is such an overabundance of stimulation - choices, colors, brands, people, energy. I lose myself. My boyfriend, Mark, has tuned into this. He notices a glazed look come over my eyes. Suddenly, I am unable to make decisions. I feel like a zombie: I can be led anywhere and feel nothing as to where I am going, what I am doing. Mark feels concern over me at these times and usually leads me outside or to the car, or cuts the shopping trip much shorter than planned. He and I have discussed this phenomena/challenge and both instinctively know that the only remedy for me at that point is to get back to the earth.

Turtle Energy
Early on in our relationship, I sojourned to Alaska to explore the wilderness, the state, and the homeland of my boyfriend. I flew out in the beginning of summer - I crossed 5 time zones and landed at 9pm Alaskan time, which was 2am my time. I was mesmerized when we landed - the sun was up as if it were 2 in the afternoon! I wasn't entirely prepared for the midnight sun that Alaskans and other extreme-northerners (and southerners) experience. I had a lot of trouble sleeping that summer. Mark had to spread aluminum foil onto the window in his cabin, so no sunlight would come in. Whenever I left the cabin in the middle of the night to relieve myself, my sleep was always broken up, because it was 2am but the sun was as bright as day.

A few times this experience culminated into intense anxiety for me, as anything will explode if left untreated for too long. One night, I kept feeling my body and my mind fly up. I could not ground myself. I could not sleep. I was miserable. I started crying in complete frustration. I spoke to Mark about it. Mark's instincts were very intact - he straddled over my body and pushed it down into the bed. It was very healing - I settled down a lot. He told me, "I don't know why, but it just felt like you needed to be pushed back to the earth." Mark has a very different nature from my own - we joke about his "turtle energy," which is very grounding.

My cat, Kena, is my best daily reminder of the earth. She decided to jump onto my lap as I wrote this - her stance and paws became a barrier, preventing my fingers from tapping at the keyboard. She insists on me petting her, touching her. So instead of touching a cold, unfeeling machine, I touch something soft, giving, humming with vitality. Kena is a heavy cat. She loves food unashamedly, without the guilt and neuroses humans have in Western society. She's also very maternal. Somehow, in her I see an earth goddess who attempts to mother me with frequent cuddles, purring & grooming.

Kena interrupts me when I most need it - for lately I have been ignoring my earth element. I spend hours writing, designing Web sites, editing, thinking, researching on the Web, answering emails. When I am in the middle of writing an essay such as this one, I will spread all of my source material and books out onto my bed. There is paper and scraps of paper and pens and pencils and highlighters everywhere - and Kena will decide that this is the time to remind me of the earthy element. She'll jump up in the middle of the torrent and splay out on top of my books and papers, so I can't produce anything.

How We Can Bring the Earth into Our Lives
Everyday we need to do something grounding: playing with clay, working on a garden or some potted houseplants, playing with our kids, pets, each other, hugging trees, dancing, taking a walk on the soil with our bare feet, inhaling a leaf or a flower, practicing yoga, tai chi, laying on the grass, relaxing in a bath, carving wood, even cooking or doing the dishes. No wonder writer/artist Sark's books are so popular! Her books encourage people to give time to their shadow sides, to honor what the modern world dishonors. Playing, dancing, breathing, touching. Someone once pointed out that the modern conveniences we have today are the equivalent of having 21 servants in the past - they take care of so much of our "drudgeries" & allow us the free time of what once belonged to only princes & Brahmins. But some of this freedom has cost us a heavy price. We need to intentionally return the earth to our daily lives, or we will forever feel disconnected, disembodied, and be searching in the wrong direction for the answers (up there instead of down here).

published in Lunazine, Issue 2, October, 2000

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