Sometimes the inner critics stop being inner and actually speak aloud. Yuck.

On more than a few occasions, JJ has sat down with me and asked gently, “I hear you talking to yourself so harshly. You would never talk to anyone else that way. Why would you treat yourself like that?”

Remember the last time someone told you, “You’re so grounded”?

Was that positive or negative?

I was musing with a friend about how we feel when all our assumptions about the norms, truths, beliefs, and standard operating procedures change at once: we feel unmoored, unsafe, scared, out of balance.

When a lot of things change at once — as they’ve done in pandemic — and we’re surrounded by conflicting guidance, news, information, and opinions about where the new boundaries and guidelines are, of course we feel stressed. 

(Our conversation nudged vaguely toward the political when we agreed that it’s not surprising that people can become upset and alienated when other people tell them that every belief they hold dear, everything that frames their understanding of what holds the world together is wrong, and that, by extension, so are they. Big topic we decided not to tackle in the moment.)

In a routine telemedicine visit recently, my doctor asked me whether I’d been experiencing “pandemia”, and I while I kind of thought I knew what she was talking about, I just went to look it up and realized there wasn’t any definition of it that I could find. My sense of the word was an overall feeling of being mentally stressed out.

We’re coming up on a whole series of anniversaries. I feel lucky that mine are all of the last time I did things that I look forward to doing again: The last time I taught a climbing class. The last time I went out for dinner. The last time I gathered friends together for a dinner party. The last time I was in a gym. The last time I traveled outside the Virgina-DC-Maryland area. Long past, the last time I was with my Canadian family. 

I’m fortunate that my pandemic anniversaries don’t include the last time a friend or loved one drew breath.

My life choices for the past almost-year have been more conservative than others. I’m in a bubble with some high-risk loved ones. I feel weary, and find myself these days even easier prey for my inner critics, as you’ve noticed from these blog posts.

There are plenty of bright spots, too. I’m going to share those a few at a time over the weeks ahead, rather than try to do an all-encompassing “Gifts of the Pandemic.” Meh, I’ll probably keep trying to write that one, too, actually; it’s writing itself in my head at the moment.

For starters, light at the end of the tunnel: I’m encouraged by the growing number of my friends reporting that they’ve had their first, or even second, shot of vaccine. I’m further back on the list, but I’m on the list; I know my turn will come. I suspect I will feel a tremendous feeling of release and relief when it does. And it’s good to see the infections and hospitalizations going down.

The effort required to manage my mental space, what many call “mindset,” is… well, it depends on how I want to talk about it. Words have power. The things and situations I imagine, and the way I talk about them has a big effect on not just my own world, but on the energy and thinking I bring to other people who talk with me or read my stuff.

So, as I take a quick step back from the Vortex of Yuck, back from the cliff edge onto firmer ground, I offer a couple of thoughts about what it means to be grounded.

There was rarely anything good about being told “You’re grounded” as a kid, was there? That means limitations, restrictions, removal of privileges and freedoms, usually as result of breaking agreements about “the rules.” (Maybe you were one of the fortunate few who, when growing up and told “go to your room,” were delighted because that’s where all the books were…)

The intention of grounding, besides punishment, was also to keep a vulnerable young person who’s still learning how to make good decisions closer to home within tighter limits.

In terms of mindset, to be grounded is positive! It’s a feeling of being psychologically and emotionally centered and balanced, no matter what’s going on around us. Mind, body, spirit: they’re all connected, and all work together to create that balance.l

There are many techniques to notice that one is out of sorts, and then dozens more to bring things back together. I feel lucky to have run across so many.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter nearly so much what I do, so long as I cultivate a regular practice of doing something to invite, cultivate, a feeling of being grounded. I’ve also discovered that I need a supporting practice of mindfulness: that is, to notice when I’m no longer grounded, pause for even a few seconds, and re-ground.

Easy to say, a lifetime to do.

I’ve noticed that the good habits in my life take a great deal of effort to cultivate and discipline to maintain. I’ve also noticed that the benefits of good practices do have a tendency to draw me back even when I’ve strayed. 

I came to a turning point when I was writing this post, and I have my friend Bridget to thank for that inspiration.

Earlier this afternoon, I had the joy of reconnecting with her on a phone call that had taken weeks to set up. We have been friends and mutual admirers for well over a dozen years, through many ups and downs in life and turns in careers. We had stayed in touch more through social media than actually conversation of late. When we spoke, she mentioned how my posts always made her feel uplifted, and that gave me pause. I managed to find the grace to say, “thank you,” and just accept her gratitude (something I find hard to do) rather than squirm my way out of it.

I carried with me the feeling, that reminder, of the impact of my energetic choices as I chose my words writing about the effort to be grounded.

Ask anyone who meditates: our minds wander. Again and again and again. The practice of meditation is also a practice of endless self-forgiveness. If you’ve listened to any guided meditation, you’ve heard the phrase, “If thoughts come up, let them go.”

I often don’t get to choose what happens. I do get to choose how I respond. I do get to choose how I write and speak and think about what happens in my life, and the energy of that expression spills over to others. 

Do grounding and mindfulness take time and effort? Yeah, they do. Pretty much everything worthwhile takes effort. And sometimes in addition to the progress I make to those goals, I discover other positive things on the way there.

I remembered, as I was about to draft something on the effort of grounding and mindfulness, the key thing, the binding element, of getting, and staying, grounded: self-compassion. 

We all have fearful feelings and emotions. I had a wave of them come up very early this morning; some about me, some about people I love. I gave voice to the fears and then let them go. In a way, I was glad to be able to feel the fears, because we can’t numb selectively. Because I’m able to feel fear, I’m also able to feel joy, and my day included many joys.

I had loving conversations today with my mom and two more distant friends. I exchanged email with my nephew Simon about our respective blogs. I tried making pecan raisin bread for the first time today and have been smelling the smells of fresh bread all afternoon. 

When the timer beeped, and the bread was ready, the top of the loaf had caved in a bit.

It was perfectly wonderful.

I felt grounded in another way, by this fruit of the earth.

Delicious, warm, and centered. Mmmm.

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