I recently had the pleasure of attending a half-day retreat in my hometown of Los Angeles 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 often find myself faced with the challenge of 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.
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!
A version of this blog post was originally published on TheMindfulnessDiaries.com.