The Other Side of the Hedge: Reaching the Spirit

Ground. Center. Live.

We don’t master grounding and centering by knowing some secret. We get there like we climb a mountain. One step at a time, one day at a time, we push on. Even if in the beginning, maybe, we just wanted bragging rights, by the time we reach the summit we’ve become the kind of person we always longed to be.

The Way of the Warrior

When I was a kid, I wanted to learn how to fight. I lifted weights to “Eye of the Tiger”, fought endlessly with my brother and my friends, and generally made an awkward ass out of myself. Being a tiny twelve-year-old boy is tough, and being one with an older brother is worse. Being the son of a teacher at the same school is a special level of hell.

"Taekwondo Monk" by Polly Peterson.  Used with permission.
“Taekwondo Monk” by Polly Peterson. Used with permission.

Maybe none too surprisingly, I was into martial arts in a way that only a tween in the 1980s could be. I watched terrible kung fu movies, pored over anything that had the word ninja in it, and bought (and read every page of) just about every martial-arts themed magazine I could find.

The thought that there might be some magic power that would make the world seem less terrifying, less huge, and less vicious became an obsession on a level normally only seen with six-year-olds and dinosaurs.

I wanted more. I begged my parents to sign me up for training, any training. They made me wait until I was thirteen. I was heartbroken, but I waited.

My parents had waited in the hopes that puberty would make me at least tough enough that I wouldn’t get broken in half. Maybe they thought I was going to boxing training, only with kicks. I was the scrawniest kid in six counties, so I suppose I understand their position.

Eventually I started training for real. Life kept me switching cities and schools, but I stayed with it. And sure, I know some cool punches and kicks, but the best lessons I learned were the ones that didn’t just teach fighting, but taught something deeper.

Reps, Reps, Reps

Of all the things I read in those magazines, from the spurious history of ninjas to the actual stories of famous martial artists, there was one thing that has stuck with me even after thirty-five years. It was an article titled “Reps, Reps, Reps.” To tell the truth, I think I skipped over it in my rush to get to the ads for ninja stars. But I did eventually read it.

The article’s point was simple, direct, and probably a major influence on this blog all this time later. The only way to get good at something isn’t to understand it, but to practice it. Over and over, on good days and bad; when you’re healthy and when you’re sick; when you’re motivated and when you just couldn’t care less.

Practice. Train. Drive on as if one day your life will depend on it. It took decades, but the lessons finally sank in. And finally paid off.

“Pallisades” ©2015 – Polly Peterson.  Used with permission.
“Pallisades” ©2015 – Polly Peterson. Used with permission.

The Ultimate Technique

There’s a myth in the martial arts. It’s an ultimate technique called dim mak, the death touch. Imagine being able to kill with a touch! Oh, how people have drooled over such a possibility. Imagine the bragging rights!

For all that we dream that our hard-won power over life and death is for attack and showing off, its best use is for self-defense. And not the false self-defense of “having to kick some butt” but of understanding, avoiding, and preventing real, brutal, crappy, everyday violence.

While young martial artists talk about such “ultimate” techniques, every magus and witch studies one of them as part of their basic training. We might roll our eyes at “grounding and centering” but it’s that mythical technique that is both the beginning and the end.

Grounding and centering is something that’s so basic that most of us got “good enough” with it and moved on long ago. But it’s the most applicable, and arguably most important, magical and spiritual technique you’ll ever learn. Every day spent practicing it past “good enough” is worth at least a handful of days of training in almost anything else.

If having a good “stance” and good “balance” had a spiritual equivalent, it would be grounding and centering. With training and practice, we can be as ready as possible for whatever life throws at us. And without it, everything we do is weakened. It is the foundation of every piece of magic we learn, every martial arts technique we study, every relationship we have, and every career we pursue.

Even more, grounding and centering is the only defense we have against the new world. It’s something that we need to make so routine, so automatic and perfect, that we can use it not just when we want to, but when we need to. When the whole world is coming apart around us, this is our first, and sometimes last, line of defense.

Getting Started

To begin to learn grounding and centering, the first step is to sit calmly and with as few external distractions as possible.

Allow your body to relax, and take a breath. As you inhale, follow the breath into the body, allowing you attention to move through each part.

With each breath, move your attention to a different part of your body, taking note of how it feels. If an area is tense, you may choose to relax it. Don’t push too hard or go too fast with the relaxation. This can lead to difficulties, possibly including panic or lightheadedness. Go gently.

Once you have touched your awareness to every part of your body, expand it outwards in each of the six directions. Stretch it out in front of you about as far as you can reach. Now behind you. To the right. To the left. Now over your head. And now below your feet.

And now bring your awareness back to your center, to the point between each of these three pairs. Hold your awareness there for a few solid breaths. Good work!

If you find that you cannot move your awareness outside of your body (some people can, and some can’t), just visualize it. And if you can’t do that easily, just imagine it. It’s nothing to be frustrated about – we all have to start where we are.

We think of grounding and centering as something simple, but it’s as complicated as we are. Mastering it takes time and comes in steps. By training the body, we find our physical center, somewhere just below the navel. By training the spirit, we find its fulcrum, maybe a couple of inches below the top of the breastbone. And by delving into both, we can find our way to the depths of who and what we are.

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