Practices From the Inside Out: When the Ground Shifts Under Us

Practices From the Inside Out: When the Ground Shifts Under Us July 6, 2019

When the Ground Shifts Under Us

I live in a place where we experience earthquakes, particularly in the last couple of days. It can be disconcerting when the ground shifts under our feet.

My wife was born and raised here and I was not. She is more familiar with the qualities of various kinds of earthquakes and remembers some famous ones. The last eighteen or nineteen years, while I have lived here, have been relatively quiet ones seismically.

It can take me a little while to realize what is happening when an earthquake happens. They are more difficult to feel when you are driving. Indoors things start to shake and, if it is close or strong enough, move across the floor. The light fixture over our dining room table sways, as it did Thursday and Friday.

A friend of ours from church, Dr. Lucy Jones, goes on television to explain what is happening.

People join the conversation on social media to make sure everyone is OK and watch people’s video.

Some people say it feels like riding a rollercoaster, only you are not on a rollercoaster. Other people worry about the potential for property damage and injuries. There are people who prepare with earthquake survival kits and plans.

Some of us try not to think about earthquakes at all, as if ignoring them will make them go away.

Earthquakes are unpredictable and remind us how much of our lives are beyond our control.

Many people who grew up where I did cannot understand why anyone would live where I live now. They prefer to live where the ground does not shake.

What do we do when the ground shifts under us? How do we respond when life makes it clear we cannot control it?

When did you last feel the ground shifting?

Spiritual Life When the Ground Shifts

Not all of us have experienced what happens when the ground shifts under us, but we know how it feels.

We often take solid ground for granted. It is something we assume we can depend on, like sunrise and sunset.

When the ground shifts it can call everything we know into question. If we cannot trust the ground, what can we trust?

Even if we have not felt the physical ground moving beneath us we know what it is like when the ground shifts.

Many of us have believed in something or someone completely and depended on them. There has come a time when we question our belief and our trust.

We do not know where to turn, who we can rely on for understanding and help. It can feel like our entire world has turned upside down.

There are times when we have been betrayed and are not certain we will ever be able to trust again. Our world has been shaken and we do not know how to rebuild.

Some of us try to push our way forward, to continue on as if nothing is happening to us. We are more afraid of not being able to go on than we are of what has happened. Others of us feel like continuing is pointless. We lie down and hug the ground.

Each of us, no matter what our initial reaction might be, needs to stop and take a few deep breaths. Rather than rush into reacting, we need an opportunity for contemplation.

We sit and allow ourselves to be open to spiritual life within us.

Our reflection helps us recognize spiritual life is still alive in us. We have not been destroyed and our experience has lessons for us.

How We Respond When the Ground Shifts

There are times when spiritual life appears to be about shaking us up and moving things around. We can feel like sacred truths are being called into question and we are not sure what we can trust.

Our spiritual earthquakes, like the seismic ones, are not isolated events. We can experience spiritual earthquake sequences with foreshocks and aftershocks which unfold over time.

When the spiritual ground shifts beneath us there are two aspects to how we respond.

First, we need to protect ourselves while we experience the shifting happening. It is important for us to have sturdy spiritual objects which will help us avoid being hit by falling debris. We need to remember where the table or the desk is and allow them to protect us in the moment.

What are the spiritual truths which protect us when the ground shifts underneath us?

Second, we need to decide what we will do to continue living. We will need to survey what is damaged and assess how we can repair what is left. Will we need to rebuild some of our spiritual structures?

What beliefs will we need to replace when the spiritual ground shifts under us?

Are We Stronger Before or After the Ground Shifts?

It is not a good feeling when the ground shifts underneath us.

Some of us feel lost or confused, not sure what is happening to us. We may panic or lose confidence in the life within us and around us. Others of us feel angry, almost as if the ground we trusted has betrayed us.

As frightening or frustrating as it can be when our ground shifts, the shaking can help us become stronger.

I believe we need to be realistic about spiritual life. We draw strength from what is most real about spiritual life, not from our fantasies of what it is like.

Spiritual life grows stronger in us as we live our everyday lives. We need a little shaking every so often to remind us spiritual life is not something we can organize and control.

When the ground shifts under us it reminds us spiritual life is not something we have earned or achieved.

Sometimes spiritual life is about riding the rollercoaster and experiencing the shaking.

Where will we be when the ground shifts under us today?

How will we respond when the ground shifts underneath us this week?

[Image by photosteve101]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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