How to Find Your Footing When the Bottom Drops Out
When we are ready to find our way to solid ground, these two steps can help us in our journey
The arrival of a new year is often filled with anticipation, a chance for a fresh start, an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and set in motion new projects and habits. If any part of your life has fallen apart over the holidays, you may be simply trying to get yourself right side up again.
The holiday season can be difficult. If you’ve experienced a loss during past holidays, those memories tend to surface, bringing with them fresh waves of pain. If the loss is new, the rawness of it can leave you feeling lost in a sea of celebration. In my circle of friends alone this season, I witnessed the loss of a spouse, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a mother, and the loss of health that led to hospitalization.
My son showed the incredible value of riding the wave of emotion as he grieved for the loss of our dog, who he had grown up with. He was enveloped by a sobbing, all-consuming grief, and that experience came in waves as we buried our dog and sent him off with prayers and memories. There is still a gaping hole that he has left, in our hearts and in the rhythm of our days. We remember him, and cry for him when the loss feels like too much. Loss leaves a hole, an empty place that was once filled with breath and life and love.
It does not matter the size of our grief. Maybe we can understand it better when we realize that a good life was had before the loss. I know from losing my own father too soon that loss compounded with a sense of unfairness becomes nearly unbearable. But in the moment of grief, when we struggle with the swell of emotions and how to ride them, there is no scale that we can use—we are hurting, and when we surrender to feeling that pain, we can begin to heal.
When we are ready to find our way to solid ground, these two steps can help us in our journey:
Shaking. I first became familiar with body shaking from my mentor, Malik Cotter, a Doctor of Chinese Medicine. He described studying in hospitals in China, where body shaking was part of a daily prescription for patients. Start by standing, and begin to shake your body, keeping your joints loose and bouncing on your heels. You’ll begin to warm up, and you can intentionally shake loose anything you are holding onto, physically, emotionally, or mentally.
Grounding. Once you feel yourself enlivened and your energy is moving, it’s important to find your roots. Grief can unmoor us, leaving us feeling disconnected and lost. Begin in a standing or seated position and feel where you are touching the earth. Become aware of that connection, and as my teacher Deborah Kremins would say, “see, sense, hear, or feel” that intimate way that you connect with the earth. I’ve always had a sense of roots that grow from the base of my spine into the center of the earth. When I pay attention to it, I can allow it expand and strengthen, and it gives me a feeling of solidarity. As an expansion of this, you can allow the energy of the earth to run up through your feet, up your legs and into your hips, followed by a release of that energy down through your grounding at the base of your spine. This process is most easily accessed while standing or sitting still, but I’ve found that I can connect with it now while walking, and it leaves me with a true sense of feeling held by the earth, grounded in a way that feels important.
We can never know what our lives will hold, what losses we will endure. We can only make our way, placing one foot in front of the other, hopefully remembering to reconnect with our own source of power and strength when we have lost our way. What I have found through my sorrows is that they have given me a deeper well of compassion to draw from, an understanding of dwelling in a place of pain that allows me to be with others as they navigate their own paths through grief and despair. As poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”