Archives: Sharon Salzberg

A Tip for Staying Grounded (From Sharon Salzberg)

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I recently had the pleasure of attending a half-day retreat with renown meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. Sharon is one of the foremothers of mindfulness meditation in the west (and I encourage you to explore her many books and offerings on mindfulness if positively moved to do so).

Anyway!… During the retreat, Sharon took questions from the practitioners in the audience. One woman stood up and talked about how living in the city was so challenging for her—that every time she goes out, she feels bombarded by the constant stream of energy and activity. It inevitably knocks her off-center, and she wanted to know if Sharon had any advice.

Sharon mentioned the importance of grounding ourselves in situations when we’re feeling off balance (especially important for those of us who are highly sensitive). And then she said something that I didn’t quite understand at the time, but it felt significant, so I wrote it down…

“When you’re feeling off balance, see if you can feel your feet from your feet.”

I’m a highly sensitive person and can find myself easily effected by external factors like crowded streets, bustling stores, etc… I’ve written here before about my challenges with getting out of my head and more into my body, so I found the phrase, “feel your feet from your feet” sticking with me throughout the rest of the day. I had a feeling the practice would be good for me—but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant… In search of some clarity, I approached Sharon after her closing words.

“I have a tendency to live so much in my head, and you said something earlier that caught my attention. ‘Feel your feet from your feet.’ It feels like this could be a helpful exercise for me… Can you expand on that instruction a bit?…”

Sharon went on to tell me how, when she was living in India and studying with Sayadaw U Pandita, she was, similarly, finding it challenging to stay connected with her body. She asked Sayadaw for help with this, and he simply asked her, “what did it feel like to drink your tea this morning?” Sharon tried to connect with her experience, but she couldn’t remember what it felt like.

“Okay,” Sayadaw said.  “Then go home and feel what it feels like to drink your tea.”

So the next morning, when Sharon was drinking her tea, she paid careful attention to her experience—the feeling of the warm, smooth mug in her hand, watching the steam evaporating from the surface of the liquid, the sweet smell of jasmine.

Then she went back to visit Sayadaw to report her experience.

Sayadew welcomed her, but when Sharon started to report what she’d felt when she drank her tea that morning, Sayadew interrupted her.

“Never mind that… What did washing your face feel like this morning?…”

Sharon smiled at me as she concluded her story. “I couldn’t answer because I hadn’t paid attention to the experience of washing my face. I was only focussing on the tea.”

And that’s when it clicked—I had the proverbial “aha” moment—but I wanted to make sure I was understanding her correctly…

“…Because Sayadaw was always asking you about a different experience than what you thought he was going to ask you, at some point you just started continuously checking in with your body throughout your day and started to become more aware of how ALL your experiences felt—not just what you thought about them… “

She nodded. So, I continued…

“And, what you’re saying is that if we do this regularly over time, this somatic form of gathering information through our senses starts connecting us more intimately with our experiences because we’re not filtering everything solely through our minds. And when we’re more connected to the actual experiences, as opposed to what our minds THINK about the experiences—when we’re feeling our feet FROM our feet—then we can more easily stay grounded in the experience of the moment and not get knocked off balance by what our minds might be THINKING about the experience.”

“Exactly…” She shook my hand with a smile as I thanked her and stepped aside. Feeling the pressure of the ground beneath my feet as I slowly walked back to my car in the crowded Santa Monica streets that day.

I’ve been working with this practice ever since. And, wow, has it made an impact.

Join me?…

Can you feel your feet from your feet? Do you have a tip or trick that’s helpful for connecting with your body to help you stay grounded? Share your experiences in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you!

Finding One Another

Mysteries

I have something to admit.

All those feelings Sharon Salzberg mentions in that quote featured above—I’ve been feeling them. Big. Time. I’ve been seeing (and experiencing) lessons in impermanence left and right. And it’s got my metaphorical panties in a wad. Sure, from a philosophical standpoint, I “get” that it’s the nature of things. Change is the only constant. Yada, yada…

But I’m still struggling with accepting this fact. I constantly find myself trying to dig my heels into some semblance of firmer ground, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that it’s all just sand slipping through the hour glass. And I’ve been avoiding sharing any of this with you because there’s this little voice inside me that keeps saying,

“You’re a mindfulness facilitator. You should have a handle on managing your angst by now. The people who read your blog don’t want to hear about all the uneasiness you’re facing. Chill out, buck up—and get your act together!”…

But then there’s this other voice that eventually kicks in… This kinder, gentler one that recognizes the aforementioned voice as an old pattern of being—my “Shit” bubbling up and running its old familiar script from decades of living with little to no self compassion. This kinder, gentler, other voice is the personification of my mindfulness practice kicking into high gear. Helping me let go of the stream of self judgments. Gently guiding my attention away from all the “shoulding” I do on myself.

And reminding me that I’m a mindfulness facilitator—not a saint.

So, I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself right now. For me, this entails meditating daily, spending a good deal of time in nature, exercising my body, eating healthy foods, and exposing my mind to things I find spiritually soothing (like reading one of the myriad books on mindfulness at the public library). Of course, doing any of these things when I’m feeling off-center is usually the last thing I want to be doing…. But I do them anyway because they, inevitably, prove helpful in shifting whatever negative pattern might be messing with my mojo.

Case in point—the other day my Shit was particularly loud when I woke up. Confusion? Check!…Fear? Check!…Self-doubt? Double-check!… And getting out of the house to go for a jog seemed like an insurmountable chore.

But I did it anyway.

While I was jogging, I decided to stream a random episode of one of my favorite spiritually-minded podcasts, “On Being.” As I was cooling down (and still feeling somewhat angsty), I hear Sharon Salzberg say the quote up at the top of this post. And it literally stopped me in my tracks.

In that moment, I saw how tightly I’d been holding onto my struggles in an effort to protect myself from being judged for having them. But, in my effort to protect myself, I inadvertently cut myself off from what could potentially help me feel less alone in the process: other people.

And I was also reminded that the truly compassionate thing to do when I’m having a hard time is to be open and truthful about it… Because allowing myself to be vulnerable not only helps me manage my struggles—it just might help someone else feel less alone in theirs….