Find Your Ground

Find Your Ground

What can you do when you’re shaken?

The Practice:
Find your ground.

Why?

I’ve been to New Zealand, and really respect and like it. There’s a Maori term – turangawaewae, “a place to stand” – that I’ve come back to many times.

I’m sure I don’t know the full meaning of the word in its cultural context. But at a basic level, it’s clear that we all need a place to stand. A physical place to be sure – hearth and home, land and sea, a bed to curl up in – but also psychological or spiritual places, such as feeling loved, a calm clear center inside, knowledge of the facts, compassion and ethics, and realistic plans.

This is our ground, the place we rest in and move out from . . . even under the best of circumstances. And when you’re shaken by events at any scale – from changes in your health to changes in your country or world (here’s a recent post you may find relevant: Take Heart) – then it’s especially important to find and hold your ground.

How?

Start with the body, and the feeling of being here. The sensations of breathing . . . heart beating . . . going on living . . . feet on the floor, back against a chair. Whatever is true now can never be taken from you.

Then, silly as it may seem, it can help to reassure yourself about the immediate survival and welfare of yourself and those you care about. Check in with your kids, your friends. Separate thoughts and fears about the future from the reality of the present. Remind yourself that at least in this moment you and they are still basically OK (of course, only if this is genuinely true).

Know that you stand in a web of relationships even if it’s tattered in some ways. Others do care about you. There is camaraderie with people who are also shaken.

Establish as best you can the relevant facts. What is currently true? What caused it – particularly the causes that will continue? What is likely to happen in the future? But watch out for obsessing, blaming, or catastrophizing. When things are shaky, it’s easy to get revved up in thoughts and analyses, let alone imagined arguments with people on Facebook or TV (speaking from personal experience).

Sort out the impacts of events on you, and on others. Be concrete and realistic about consequences for yourself; don’t under- or over-estimate them. Also recognize any sense of injustice, moral outrage, compassion, or concern about how others will or could be harmed. This is often the most upsetting aspect of a situation, and naming it to yourself is clarifying and grounding, and sets you up to do something about it.

Not an easy thing, but in a way the art is opening your heart to the likely suffering of others while closing your head to those who are trying to get into it to rattle, frighten, infuriate, or confuse you.

Start figuring out what you are going to do in three areas:

  • Personal practice – Stand in what feeds you. Like petting your cat, making soup, meditating, loving others, or giving thanks. Guard your attention; disengage from news, websites, or interactions that add little value and mainly just upset you.
  • Protecting your own interests – Focus on what’s in your control. If these apply: take a fresh look at your health, insurance, finances, loose ends, and plans for an emergency. Make a list and work through it. Personally, I find that action eases anxiety.
  • For the sake of others – Without falling into righteousness, I think it’s important to be confident about what you know is true and about your values. Why is it that the people who are most ignorant of the facts and most casual about how they’re harming others are often the ones who look most assured, whether it’s across a dining table or on TV? Claim and stand your ground with moral confidence. Not wasting time in dead-end arguments or “feeding the trolls,” but identifying actions that will make a difference – at whatever scale is accessible to you – and then doing them.

Last, know you are not alone. Whatever you are dealing with, from a personal health problem to a worry about a child to a deep concern about global events, other people right now are also dealing with it or something similar. We stand together on common ground.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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