“We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.”
– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
This week I was in the midst of moving, dismantling and packing my whole place to shift into a new one, and I came across this quotation on a little piece of paper. It was a gleaming little message from some past version of me meant to be found at this exact moment. I smiled, and placed it on a now-empty shelf as a little beacon above my jungle of boxes and bubble wrap.
Transitions can often be the most stressful times in life. Whether we are moving to a new place, taking a new job, graduating, starting or ending a relationship, having a body-altering medical procedure or embarking on a change journey of any kind, the sudden flux and upheaval can cause a distressing feeling of ungroundedness or chaos. Routines are disrupted. Familiarity disappears. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when the usual places of comfort, security, and reprieve are lost.
There will certainly be times in life when the level of change is more significant. And yet in actuality, we are always in transition. Change is the only constant. We are always moving through something. We transition from morning to evening, from home to work and back, from alone time to social time, from spring to summer to fall to winter. The covid-19 pandemic has forced society collectively to confront the experience of both quick and continual change (and we all can see the stress and upheaval that causes!).
One of the greatest benefits I’ve gained from mindfulness meditation practice is developing a deeper connection to the concept of impermanence and constant change. We are not only frequently experiencing change on a macro-level, but on a mirco-level as well. Moment to moment, our experience shifts. Inhale to exhale. We exist in a constant flow of changing sensation. Sounds, smells, body sensations, thoughts, emotions, energy levels, moods, and so much more are flowing through us in a swirl of constant transition. And as Trungpa Rinpoche said, “if you can relax with that, you’ll have no problem.”
And if you’re thinking, “But hey, constant change sounds even more stressful than a few big changes!” Here is my favorite way to stay grounded no matter what the situation.
Grounding Through Somatic Anchors
A Somatic Anchor is a place in our body that we can turn to for a sense of internal groundedness, calm, and presence. It is a way to support ourselves by using something we ALWAYS have with us: our body. In times of great flux, we may not have that familiar place, that trusted person, or that favorite lucky scarf. But we still have our physical body and this can be a great resource.
Often, the things we notice most in our bodies are painful or uncomfortable. However, we also have the power to direct our attention to places of support and groundedness that might usually fly under the radar. Energy follows attention, so by bringing awareness to our internal sources of grounding we are cultivating that experience for ourselves regardless of the external circumstances.
- First, take a moment to find a comfortable position wherever you are. Take a few breaths, noticing how you are holding your body, and what body parts are contacting the ground or chair or anything else that is supporting you physically. Notice sounds and smells in your environment.
- Next, scan through your body from head to toe, checking in with all of your different body parts to see what sensations or feelings you notice. As mentioned above, you’ll probably first notice places of pain, tension, or discomfort. That is perfectly ok.
- Then, scan through your body again and specifically look for a place that does not feel uncomfortable. Find a body part that feels grounded, stable, comfortable, pleasurable, or neutral. If you are struggling with a lot of uncomfortable sensations and feelings, looking for a neutral place that lacks a lot of sensation might be your best bet. Some people feel a lot of strength and groundedness in the core of their body (pelvis, abs, heart, spine) but for others there is too much intensity in the core and it is much more calming to focus on a distal point (toes, finger tips, knee caps, elbows). There’s no right or wrong here. Try a few things and see what works for you.
- Once you have found a spot (your anchor), take a few moments to simply rest your attention there. As you breathe, imagine your breath flowing into that place. Get curious about what that anchor feels like. Can you describe the body sensations in that spot with a few adjectives? Notice what it is like for you to place your energy and attention there, in contrast to what it is like to focus on your experience of stress. How do you feel after spending a few minutes with your anchor?
A Few Things to Note:
- This is a skill – practice it! If this idea is challenging for you, that’s probably because it’s new! I encourage you to practice finding and giving attention to your anchor just like you would practice any new skill. The more you try it out, the easier and more accessible it will become, and the more you’ll be able to remember and call on this anchor in a variety of situations. Right now you may need to step aside to practice this, but with enough repetition you’ll be able to use your anchor even while engaging in other activities.
- This practice isn’t about avoiding or pushing away difficult experiences. It’s about finding a place of support internally that you can rely on and lean on through whatever happens. When you’re navigating a lot of intensity, you’ll probably find a helpful rhythm of switching back and forth between tending to what is painful or stressful and tending to what is supportive and grounding.
- It’s ok if your anchor changes! We just said that the only constant is change, right? So if today your anchor is in your feet and tomorrow it’s in your spine – great! It can be helpful to practice with one anchor to start, and it can be beneficial to develop a consistent anchor over time that you don’t have to think about so much. However, there are plenty of circumstances that change our body experience all the time, so changing your anchor will probably happen at some point. Use whatever is effective in the moment. And don’t worry! If you change your anchor, it does not erase all the practice you’re put in! This practice is about resting your attention on an internal place of support in the body, and that skill will continue to build over time even if you change the specific body part you’re focusing on.
If you would like support finding your ground during a time of big transition, somatic counseling can help! Please reach out for a free consultation.