Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Grounding and Centering and Meditation

This is the first in a series of posts regarding some of the basics of pagan practice. These are slightly tidied-up versions of the handouts I used to give my students during some of the classes I taught, once upon a time, in a prior geologic era. I hope you find them useful. Find all the posts in this series here.

-------------------------

Grounding and Centering and Meditation


Rule Number One: Always ground and center before you begin any meditation or ritual work. Why? First you have to know what it means to ground and center.

In spite of the usual idiom “ground and center,” you need to center first before you can effectively ground. In order to direct your energy flow anywhere, first you have to concentrate it. Have you ever felt ‘scattered’ at the end of a long day? Your energy is literally all over the place, away from your center. Centering brings your energy into focus within you so that you can use it effectively for whatever purpose you choose. Centering can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths and feeling the energy flow within your body or it can be as complicated as a complete set of T’ai Chi postures. Do whatever it takes to get back into your body and center your consciousness there. Then you are ready to ground.

Some people refer to grounding as “earthing.” That is exactly what grounding is: directing your energy flow into the Earth, the ground. Grounding can also be a simple act: stamping your bare feet on the ground, for example, or kneeling and leaning over to touch your forehead to the floor. Or it can involve a series of visualizations.

Real Energy

Before we get too far into the discussion of grounding and centering, let’s look at how the body’s energy flow works.

Your body is a complex electrochemical reaction which produces a strong electrical field every moment of your life, awake or asleep. The core of your energy rests in a series of vortices or chakras located along your spine, from the base of your tailbone to the crown of your head. The usual visualization for the chakras is variously colored spinning wheels or disks. The important part of the visualization is the movement: you are alive and so is your energy. So where is your energy moving to? Guess what: you get to choose where it moves. That’s why you need to ground and center. Center and ground.



You can’t throw a sheet of paper very easily. It flutters around and loses momentum and gets caught up in the slightest air current. But wad it up into a tight ball and you can bean someone pretty effectively. You can do the same thing with your energy. Focus it within yourself so you can more easily aim it where you want it to go. If you are new to working energy you may not be able to feel your body’s forces very strongly. So as you begin, concentrate on the mental images; make them as strong and clear as you can. Use your imagination. Eventually you will begin to feel the energy within you. Just remember: the part of you that is made of energy rather than matter is called the subtle body. The feelings are subtle, too. Tapping into your own energy doesn’t feel like sticking your finger into an electrical socket (thank the gods!). But what you do with your energy can produce some powerful effects.

This is why you need to ground. You need for that column of energy along your spine to be in contact with the earth, to flow into it, just as an electrical appliance needs to be grounded into something bigger than it, something that can handle a power surge. Just as ungrounded energy from a household gadget can cause injury, ungrounded energy from ritual or even just from a really cruddy mood can be bad news. A number of common activities are particularly grounding: a close hug with someone you trust; a good belly laugh; playing in the dirt (gardening, for you grown-ups out there); a good cry. Children instinctively know how to ground but adults often have to re-learn how.

The World Tree Visualization

What follows is a simple visualization for grounding and centering. Once you have practiced it a few times you should be able to ground and center quickly just by conjuring the main image in your mind. An effective method of practicing is to record your own voice as you read the visualization. Listen to the recording each time you want to ground and center. It is NOT necessary to sit directly on the ground, though it’s certainly acceptable to do so. You need to be upright for this, either sitting comfortably on the floor or seated in a chair. It is OK to lean back in the chair to relax, but please do not lie down to do this visualization. You don’t want to be a fallen tree, but an upright one. Here we go:

Close your eyes. Feel your body as you sit. Your spine is upright like the trunk of a tree. It is the core of your body. Feel the energy inside you flow up and down your spine. Feel it tingle and warm you. As you sit, feel the Earth beneath you, at the base of your spine, just like the Earth the tree stands in. Feel its solidity, its density. Feel your own weight on the Earth.

Now picture the energy flowing up and down your spine: see it moving within you, shifting and flowing. Now it begins to flow all in the same direction, down, toward the Earth. See it flow downward within you, down your spine, through your body and into the Earth, like the roots of a tree. Feel the energy flow into the Earth -- feel your roots reach out into the Earth beneath you. See your energy rooting into the ground, flowing through you and down into the Earth. The flow continues, smooth and constant, connecting you to the Earth beneath you.

You see the energy flow down your spine into the ground like the roots of a tree. Now your mental image develops a new aspect: your energy also flows up your spine, at the same time, smoothly and constantly flowing up as well as down. A two-way street. As the energy moves up your spine it reaches the top of your head and flows out like the branches of a great tree, arching upward and outward and back down to the ground, like the branches of a huge tree that reach out and bend to gently brush the Earth. Feel your energy flow up and out and then arch back down to the Earth.

Now picture this complete flow within and around you. The energy flows up and down your spine, reaching downward into the Earth like roots, reaching upward and outward like branches that bow back down to the Earth. Feel how connected you are to the Earth. As you return to your daily activities remember this feeling of connection, of grounding, and keep it with you as you go. The Earth is always beneath your feet no matter where you are.


Meditation

Guess what? You just did a meditation. The World Tree Visualization is a type of concentrative meditation, that is, a type of mental working which focuses on a central activity (creating an image). The yoga practice of focusing on your breathing is another type of concentrative meditation, as is the use of a mantra (focal word or sound). The point is to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all outside activities -- to concentrate. Obviously concentration is a useful tool in many of life’s activities, but it is absolutely crucial in ritual. Through this type of meditation you can train yourself to “turn off” extraneous thoughts and outside distractions. Then your inner self can do what it needs to without stopping to worry about your bad day at work or whether your favorite pants still fit.

Quite often the most difficult part of this type of meditation is stopping the constant train of miscellaneous thoughts that wander through your head. A preliminary visualization you might use to help control these stray thoughts is a candle-flame visualization. Picture a single flame surrounded by complete darkness. Concentrate on the flame. As stray thoughts wander through your mind, feed them to the flame. It grows brighter as it consumes them and then it dims again. Eventually the stray thoughts will stop. Then there will be nothing left to feed to the flame and it will go out, leaving you with darkness and a clear, calm mind. By the way, another example of this type of meditation is counting sheep to get to sleep. If you don’t like sheep, try tennis shoes.

Another type of meditation, though it is not often labeled as such, is called receptive meditation. Among the more common and enjoyable varieties are staring at clouds or stars, listening to the babble of a brook or the hum of insects. The point here is to purposely NOT THINK about anything and let the sensory input be your universe for a little while. Sometimes this is hard to do. But when it is hardest to do is probably when you need to do it most. So “vegging” on purpose on a regular basis can be good for your mental health. Just don’t do it while you’re driving.

The whole reason for doing meditation of any sort is to train your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on. We all have times when we just can’t seem to keep our minds on what we need to. The mind is a muscle (sort of) and needs to be exercised to stay in shape. Meditation can be a valuable tool for stress relief, for grounding, and for creative visualization.

Practical Applications

Practice meditation on a regular basis, preferably daily. Try a simple one: get comfortable, clear your mind, and focus on a positive mental image (“Think happy thoughts,” as Mom used to say). It doesn’t matter if this mental image is a butterfly, a pizza, or a bright sunny day. As you learn to focus on an image and exclude all the thoughts that intrude from other areas of your mind, you are strengthening your ability to concentrate, an essential tool for magic.

Thought forms are another kind of energy. As you learn to focus your thoughts tightly on one idea you can begin to work toward visualizing changes. Meditation can be a tool for healing, reflection, relaxation, and ritual. Explore some of the guided meditation recordings currently available. Make some of your own. Try different visualizations, different relaxation techniques until you find the ones that work best for you. Then do them often. It will be time well spent.