This year, 2020, has been a year characterized by experiences of groundlessness or crises for many people : a year of losses upon losses, hunger crises, job loss, political turmoil and COVID-19 surges upon surges that “test the mind, body and soul”. I am going to revisit the concepts from an earlier post on grounding and groundlessness in moments of grief, crises and add what the resiliency literature states about recovery. Groundless refers to experiences where a person feels like the world that they knew no longer exists due to a traumatic event, like losses. I describe groundlessness experiences as so destabilizing and decentering that people struggle with basic activities, such as eating, praying and reaching out to others for support . Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray and Love”, one of my favorite books, fundamentally describes basics of living. Therefore, I describe groundlessness as moments when you are struggling “to eat, pray or love”. Grounding techniques are strategies to maintain habitual patterns of living to carry on when facing significant losses. My assumption is that grounding techniques play a role in resiliency or overcoming adversity. This post is a discussion of grounding techniques from Dr. Lucy Hone’s TED TALK (Three secrets of resilient people). Dr. Hone has also published books on “resilient grieving” based on her personal experiences of loss of her 12 year old daughter and research in resiliency literature. In her TED TALK, Dr. Hone discusses three powerful strategies that she used to deal with the painful and devastating loss of her 12 year old daughter and two friends. She stated that these techniques helped her live (grounding) as she has two other children and husband and grieve (groundlessness) the painful feelings of her devastating loss. Please note that this is just one person’s perspective in dealing with loss. Please read if the strategies are useful. If not, please ignore the strategies. I will also discuss points about resilience from Bhakti Sharma’s TED TALK (What open water swimming taught me about resilience).
Dr. LUCY HONE’S TED TALK : Three secrets of resilient people
Dr. Lucy Hone is a resiliency researcher, scholar in positive psychology and studied this area of resiliency extensively, but , later in life she experienced the most devastating and unthinkable loss ever, loss of her 12 year old daughter. When she faced this horrendous experience, she reviewed her knowledge of resiliency literature and discovered three strategies, which she described in a TED TALK. I will discuss Dr. Hone’s Strategies (in red). I have also added some of my own thoughts.
1.Resilient people believe and accept that shit or bad things happen in life. This can be dated to Buddha’s noble truth that life involves suffering. Bishop T.D. Jakes recently spoke very powerfully in his sermon “Stay in the Fight” about the notion that have people become too comfortable in our era that they forget part of life is suffering and moving onward. He spoke elegantly about the human condition involving struggle and that God allows struggles in this world.. Although, I love Bishop T.D. Jakes sermons, I found myself irritated by this sermon as I had a tough long day. I kept thinking, “How much more suffering will God allow?”.
2. Resilient people focus on what one can change versus what one cannot change. They focus on what they can change. This is very similar to the serenity prayer. I also agree with Lucy’s point that when in distress, people have difficulty separating what is in our control and what is not. As stated in the serenity prayer, we need wisdom to discern what is in our control versus out of our control. I have known people spending endless time, energy, thought, emotions and suffering trying to control people in their lives that they have no control over.
In terms of things under our control, we need to ensure taking care of basic needs in grounding ourselves. I am going to mention some ideas: maintain safety and shelter, contact medical and mental health or other health professionals as needed, be honest and ask for help, eat healthy, maintain hydration, maintain sleep, normalize the act of receiving, access your support system for emotional support, strategies to maintain emotional hygiene (e.g. exercise, movement) and take one day at a time.
Prayer (if you are a person with a faith based practice).Another thought about prayer in crises is that trying to pray is enough because the Universal Divine Consciousness knows. I love this concept. I heard someone say that when she prays before sleep and drifts off to sleep without completing her prayer, her angels finish the prayer for her and God has heard her prayer. This is just beautiful. Additionally, remembering the statement “Do not be afraid in trusting an unknown future to a Known God” helps me a lot. This includes the importance of reviewing all the struggles in your life that God has led you through already.
Dr. Hone discusses, attention is something we have control over and she suggests cultivating focusing attention on what is positive and good in your world. Dr. Lucy Hone discusses that for evolutionary purposes, our ancestors, when noticing a tiger or beautiful rainbow, noted and dealt with the threat of the tiger as this means life or death. So per evolutionary psychology, we are wired to track negative events. So we need to intentionally cultivate a practice of noticing the positive. Dr. Lucy Hone discussed that despite her immense grief, her practice of focusing on loving and taking care of her two sons kept her moving forward. She also discussed giving herself and her family permission that despite her and her family’s suffering, it is OK to look at the good things in her life.
3.When in times of distress, resilient people ask themselves in that very moment the critical question: “Is what I am doing helping me or not helping me at this moment?”. What is the most loving, kind, wholesome and helpful compassionate thing I can do at this moment? Does this mean take deep breaths, listen to music, pray, read scripture, take a walk? Lucy Hone’s strategy is very powerful because the intention of self -compassion, and loving kindness to self is likely to generate behaviors which moves one through the distressing moments.
BHAKTI SHARMA’s TED TALK: What open water swimming taught me about resilience.
This talk is about how are you handling your thoughts, self -love and cultivating mental strength. Ms. Sharma discussed that when swimming over long distances, she is faced with her own thoughts and mind as there are no mental distractions, or escapes from herself. She talks with great insight that her long distance swimming endurance activities have taught her about revisiting one’s relationship with one’s mind and self. In other words, in our self talk (inner voice)are we being kind, comforting, loving, compassionate and nurturing to ourselves or being punitive and self-critical? Developing coping, loving and encouraging kind self talk (“This too shall pass”) is more helpful than tearing oneself apart. Ms. Sharma also discusses that when faced with herself in long distance swimming exercises, she discovered things in her she did not like. Perhaps, this pandemic has forced many people to face themselves as external distractions are minimal due to lockdown. People may be finding aspects of themselves that are wonderful, such as strength, resiliency and endurance, and these aspects deserve celebration. However, perhaps some people may find aspects of themselves they do not like at all. Again, self-compassion, loving kindness and gentleness with self-discovery is important. Carl Jung, one of my favorite psychologists wrote that every human being has positive aspects and negative aspects (shadow). According to Jung, the goal of therapy and self discovery is to shed light on the shadow parts and eventually integrate the positive and negative aspects of self into wholesomeness, not perfection. The journey to self-love, self-compassion, self acceptance and wholesomeness (discussion of wholesomeness in a later post) takes time. The best definition of wholesome is something which has a nourishing quality and promotes healthy growth. Most people I know, including myself, are traveling in this journey to self love and wholesomeness. I know very few people who have arrived at total self acceptance, self -love and wholesomeness.
In summary, in navigating through crises, we have to remember Buddha’s quote, “A jug fills one drip at a time“. This is a powerful reminder that taking one step at a time is critical and one needs patience in overcoming struggles, especially experiences of groundlessness. We need to remind ourselves, “Rome was not built in a day”. Likewise, healing and recovery takes time.