Among many other handy nuggets of wisdom, I brought away the answer to a question that had been niggling in the back of my mind. A question that I could not quite articulate, let alone answer, until the missing piece of the puzzle popped up, courtesy of Jamie and Emma.
I had a big insight about GROUNDING. To be specific, how it relates to engagement and connection with everything in our experience that is not us. Also, I saw how engagement in the process of carrying, birthing, and raising children is connected to our grounding at a particular moment. As soon as that fell into place, I had a series of realisations which I hope will be useful to you too.
I have written a two part series of posts all about grounding. Part One is all about what grounding is, how it shows up in our lives, and some working examples of grounding in practice. Part Two: How Grounding Works From Birth To Adulthood, is about different degrees of grounding we experience in different areas of life, and how nature and nurture are involved in the process.
So read on to hear all about it!
Mysterious Pools of Consciousness
Several years ago, I read Alison Gopnik’s Philosophical Baby (you may have heard me mention it a few times now), in which she describes the difference between how adults and young children experience their Consciousness, or rather, their ability to be aware of their thoughts. Gopnik used the term ‘a stream of consciousness’ to describe adult awareness and ‘pools of consciousness’ to describe that of children. The main idea is that adults have a more or less continuous internal commentary going on, while small kids have not yet acquired these inner voices. So, adults talk to themselves in their mind, while little ones simply do not think in that way yet.
You hear pre-schoolers chattering away in their games, and this is what eventually becomes our inner voice, along with other internalised chunks of language, like those helpful instructions your parents use a lot (i.e. Slow down. It’s not a race. Use a plate.). Before this process occurs, children are aware of going into one activity to the next, with no interim chatter. They just get into something and drop farther and deeper into it, until something occurs that draws them out again. I found this idea quite arresting, but could not put my finger on why this phrase should reverberate in my head as it did. A. Pool. Of. Consciousness.
In my mind, I had a vivid memory of watching our children playing at the beach, completely engrossed in their sand and buckets, as if nothing existed except the grains running through their fingers or heaped onto their spades. That is what it is like to be in a pool of consciousness. It feels pretty damn good too. It is a state of complete peace and total engagement with the world.
My question was ‘what draws people into a Pool of Consciousness?’
What Lies Beneath Deep Engagement In Life
We have all been children, and all known this ‘pool of consciousness’ type engagement with the world. It is as if whatever we are in contact with becomes an extension of ourselves. For a moment, we lose our separateness, and we become the object or person or motion that we are engaged with. The writer and their laptop, the surfer and the waves, the driver and the car, the child and the handfuls of sand, are all bound together by this glorious, liberated feeling, where we are one with our surroundings, with what we are doing. We are not ourselves, and we are more than ourselves, and we are without the worries and fears that otherwise might trip us up.
All in all, it is pretty awesome.
Grounding is the path on which we usher in this experience of engagement (and flow and vitality, oh yes and love and happiness).
There is a quiet, yet probing feeling. It is more than being in the present. It is a deep grounding in the actual real world ‘out there’, as opposed to being deluded by the narrative of our inner voice. Grown ups get wrapped up in the voice’s projections of how reality is, was, or should be, while little ones do not. This is because the chief purpose of childhood is to learn and grow, while adults are responsible for sorting out the practicalities which allow them to do this. It makes sense for grown ups to know things, categorise stuff, and build up complex mental maps of reality. Our inner voice is really handy for this.
What we often forget to do in the demanding modern world, is to keep the lightest hold on what we ‘know’. The voice ceases to be a tool and becomes our master. This is dangerous, because the voice only has a limited grasp of what is actually real and what appears real. In looking only towards what we already think we know, we lose connection with ‘out there’ because it is always changing.
When we allow ourselves space for engagement, we allow ourselves to explore what is ‘out there’ in a more playful manner. We can feedback new information to ourselves, and incorporate this learning into our perceptions. It is like an automatic update system for the mind. For this system to function well, we must be able to look in another direction than into our existing personal thinking about life, the universe, and everything. This means that we can look away from any anxieties and preoccupations which are scuppering our connection to objective reality, and see the objects of our attention anew.
Grounding is the extent to which you are able to see that world ‘out there’ for what it actually is, rather than as a projection of what is going on ‘in here’.
This is true clarity. It is feeling alive in the most powerful way. So, it is worth taking time to understand it.
I love this quote from Don Deacy, a former client of Jamie Smart’s:
“Grounding is balance. An ease of movement and interaction with the world. From grounding comes our ability to flow, to extend our senses, to ride the waves, to take the knocks and keep our equilibrium.”
Putting Grounding To Use
Deep ‘Pool of Consciousness’ type grounding is felt in those magic instances where your learning and insight come together in such a way that you feel guided, at ease, and confident, and know just what the next step you need to take will be. You feel at one with whatever you are engaging with. The right study at the right time enhances this raw material, and the potential for outstanding results. For the person diving down, the doing of the thing itself offers immense pleasure, regardless of outcome, and is borne forward by a sense of wonder and rightness. An example of this is the way Mozart’s natural talent and flair for composition allowed him to take all he learned about music and apply it to dazzling effect.
When I watch my children, wading in their pools of consciousness, there is such deep concentration available in those quieter minds of theirs, so much less self-obsession and insecurity. Though they are conscious, they are unselfconscious. Though they already know much about themselves and the world, they can let that go on a whim, and embrace a whole new understanding of who they are. The same goes for the way they view what is going on around them with non-judgement, and get involved in it with abandon.
Sure, it’s not as if children never have tantrums or get annoyed when grand expectations are derailed, just as grown ups do. However, they also mess around a lot more with who they are and what is real, and experiment with their realities to see what feels good. They are not obeying some pre-decided Order of All Things, which cannot be changed, or electing to create an ongoing thought-storm around a particular area of their existence.
So, for example, my daughter, aged six, digs around for ‘treasure’ and finds shiny pebbles, bits of foil, and bottle tops. She is engaged in her thought, but she is also in touch with reality, completely engaged with what is. It sounds paradoxical, but for her, she IS finding treasure. No one is going to tell her that treasure is actually only gold coins and diamonds, so her paper treasures do not count.
My girl knows that her finds are not precious jewels, but all the same, she allows her bits and bobs to be treasure, and does not judge or compare them to objects of greater monetary value. There is no lie in the game she is creating. The game is not about values. It is not even about her, but is an experimentation with story, with earth, with tangible objects, with exactly what is to hand in that moment. The pleasure is in the finding, not a question of what is found and how it can be audited.
The real difference between children and adults is not that adults are not so imaginative or playful, but that we don’t realise, or do not remember, how much we make up. Kids understand they are the players. Adults forget this, because they get concerned about what the game should be about, or who is winning or losing, or how to play a better game. Before you know it, you think you are at the mercy of the game you invented, all because you forgot that it was you who created it.
Grounding and The Childbearing Journey
Now, time to bring all this around to the topic of having babies and parenting:
To show how grounding can make a real difference in experiences of Childbearing, I want to explore how we make use of various labels for labour contractions and parenting ‘types’.
There are various ways to view the phenomena of contractions and a number of labels we might apply, like ‘rushes’, or ‘sensations’, or ‘tightenings’, or the more traditional word: ‘pains’. The contractions themselves are simply the tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscles. The meaning and label given to this process by the labouring woman has a huge influence on how they are experienced.
If you are pregnant, heading into labour, and you know contractions as ‘pains’ AND you are quite certain that pain is unpleasant or scary, you will get an experience of pain which is unpleasant or scary. There is no room for play or negotiation. If you have the slightest glimpse that contractions could be sensations or rushes or tightenings, you can see even a tiny possibility that they might not be so scary, then the door is open for the experience to be something other than painful and scary. You suddenly have more options to experience these contractions in other ways.
Contractions can be the strumming of a bass, the intro to the song of your baby’s arrival. They can be exhilarating, and you can welcome and ride contractions, or tightening sensations, or rushes. This is not something you do with your intellect. You have to know that contractions are a rhythm of sensation, in the same way that my little girl knows her playthings are treasure. They are bass beats. They are good, pulsing, waves of feeling that you do not need to be afraid of. Babies being born have their grounding to help them, and you have yours to help you. I promise you that this is so.
To take another example, consider the many labels that can get thrown at parents:
There is the Helicopter parent, in constant vigilance; the Neglectful parent who is too into her phone to pay attention; the Gentle parent who is baby-wearing and co-sleeping; the Incompetent Parent, who cannot be trusted; the Slacker parent, who can’t be arsed to get dressed; the Tiger parent, who locks her kid on a balcony for refusing to do their piano practice; the Perfect parent, who is always kind, clean, with nutritious snacks and educational activities to hand. None of these stereotypes are actually real, they are caricatures that we use to connect kinds of parenting behaviour with individuals we encounter, including ourselves.
When faced with human behaviour, our grounding points us towards what is real, and away from these stereotypical constructions which can be so demoralising, damaging. If we are grounded, we are aware that labels and people are not the same thing. This means that uncharitable assignations cannot derail us in our efforts to build relationships with others, and to treat ourselves with care.
When we are coming from a place of deep grounding, then we are able to see that we are NOT a label, we are a person who is worthy of love, respect, and belonging, and the same goes for everyone else. In order to express love and kindness for those we care for, we have to extend this compassion to ourselves and other parents. Going deeper in our grounding is the most efficient way to develop a fulfilling engagement with everything and everyone in our lives, to enjoy ourselves, and to enjoy our SELF. It affords us a look at the sunny day of reality instead of gazing into a cloud of inner chatter.
Grounding reminds us, that we too are treasures, to be cherished and enjoyed.
Grounding Is Your Silent Supporter
When it comes to becoming a parent, for the first or a multiple of times, then grounding is something you can rely on through pregnancy, birth, and beyond. After all, even though it may not always appear to be the case, creating, birthing, and nurturing our young is a natural process. Even if you feel like giving up and running off to some kind of island for beleaguered souls, the more you know that you can breathe and be kind to yourself when the window is foggy, the less you will worry about difficult emotions. Look at the fantastic capabilities of your body and mind, with which you make brand new life. Take a look around you and really see that you AND your children have deep grounding from which to grow.
It is human and normal to have clouded judgement regarding what is real from time to time, perhaps even often. It is also the case that your grounding can support you, even as you learn to dive deeper, more loving, and more daring than ever. Perhaps through this process you may also revisit the simple absorption and pleasure of a pool of consciousness, in the midst of that ordinary, everyday stream. Grounding is the key to deep engagement with the world ‘out there’ and with all our experiences have to offer us.
So hurray for grounding! Plus, I am so pleased to have worked out what was niggling me about pools of consciousness. Thank you Jamie and Emma for unsticking me!
Do come back and check out Part Two: How Grounding Works From Birth To Adulthood
You can connect with Emma, and join a vibrant community of coaches, at The Coaching Exchange
What is your experience of grounding?
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It is always awesome to connect with you all ‘out there’. Sending you good wishes!
Lots of love,