Feeling off-kilter? This simple and powerful practice can bring you out of your swirling thoughts and ground you firmly in the present moment.
Halloween must be approaching. My mind will not release this candy-inspired jingle from my childhood: “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy’s got nuts! Mounds don’t.”
Paradoxically, I never liked either Almond Joy or Mounds candy bars, portioning them off from my Halloween loot for mom. But the ads stuck. Each portrayed the “nut” person doing something unexpected: a jockey riding a horse backward or a gymnast launching off the floor to walk on the ceiling.
Those nuts were my people! From a young age, I knew I was odd. Different. Or as we’d more carefully say now, not neurotypical. My highs were too high, my lows too low. Yet, I lacked the words to describe what was going on. Over the years, doctors would suggest their own for various fragments: mononucleosis, depression, Lyme disease, substance abuse disorder, generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, and my favorite: MTFHR mutation. (To which I added vowels to more accurately describe how I felt about the classification.)
Eventually I realized I wasn’t alone. It’s natural for people to feel ups and downs. Regardless of the various clinical labels we use to describe our particular brand of discomfort in the world, many of us share similar symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental health challenge. That’s more than 46 million of us.
Around 18 percent of people in the U.S. will experience an anxiety disorder at a clinical level. And even the most neurotypical people are no strangers to the fight, flight, or freeze signals coming from their amygdalas. Reeling from the complications of pandemic life, pervasive racial injustice, and troubling environmental news, it can be hard for us to find balance or feel safe. So hypervigilance sets in.
Although many of us have developed valuable meditation skills, support networks, and coping activities, sometimes, in moments of pressure, we are unable to get those helpful tools onboard. We are too overwhelmed to settle into our practice. Instead, we opt for overindulgence (“More tiny candy bars please!”) or avoidance (“Just leave me alone with my Netflix horror fest!”).
The Mid-Autumn Shift
The time many of us call Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Samhain falls halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, bringing us an opportunity to shift our energy.
In the Wiccan tradition, this season is a time to celebrate the harvest, transition inwards, and celebrate the lives of those lost. (Hail the Notorious RBG!) It is a time to sink into the natural cycle of the earth as it stops producing and turns toward rest. In China, the Moon Festival encourages people to celebrate their harvest from the earth under the light of the moon. The Jewish harvest festival that evolved into Sukkot reminds people to focus on the important things in life and center in being.
Although diverse in rituals and practices, for ages these festivals have encouraged people to transition from the busy season into a season of rest and restoration.
A Practice for Being
Psychologist and well-loved spirituality writer Leonard Felder, Ph.D., proposes an easy practice for helping us restore balance when we feel off-kilter. Blending mindfulness techniques with a single Hebrew word (followed by its translation), the practice provides a way to ground ourselves exactly where we are at any moment.
Here’s how it works:
1. Think of something in your life that is stressful.
2. Close your eyes and visualize the situation until you start to feel the symptoms of stress (a quickened heartbeat, shorter breaths, racing thoughts, etc.).
3. Ask yourself this question: “Where am I?”
4. Wait for an honest answer from within yourself.
- It might be a description of where you are spatially.
- You might notice that you don’t feel “here,” but instead feel a nonspecific sense of anxiety, agitation, or lack of focus.
- Your inner naysayer might respond: “What’s it to you?” or “This is stupid” or “Who cares?”
5. Feel the answer. Connect with where you are physically, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically.
6. Take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale slowly.
7. Declare Hineini: Here I am (pronounced he-neh-nee).
8. Notice how this statement feels in your body. Press your feet into the floor.
9. Repeat, Hineini: Here I am.
10. Now familiar with the practices, use it whenever you feel unsettled during the day.
In a world where we are so often coming, going, or trying to be in five Zoom rooms simultaneously, it can be powerful to take a moment to stop and make this bold statement: Here I am. By catching ourselves before a frenzy starts, a low gets too low, a high gets too high, or anxiety floods us, we create an opportunity to balance—no sugar-laden candy bar needed.
For more in-the-moment practices, read “How to Find Calm Amid Chaos.”