“Too often, people think that solving the world’s problems is based on conquering the earth, rather than touching the earth, touching ground.”
- Chogyam Trungpa*
Long ago, while walking home from grade school, among the dairy farms of Los Angeles County, I invented a game with myself. While walking on the sidewalk, I started paying attention to the dark lines between the slabs of concrete. Keeping attention, on these lines one after another. Soon, I noticed my attention flying away toward daydreams or solving problems at school or home. Over and over in my mind, I'd return to the dark lines between the concrete slabs. How long could I stay concentrated on those lines? That was my first concentration practice.
Almost 60-plus years later I still play that same game, but using the feeling of my feet on the ground instead. I contemplate, how long can I stay feeling my feet touch ground?
Students, professionals, and business people now spend the majority of their working hours looking at luminous screens, while ignoring the numinous quality of "nowness". Computers and handheld devices are becoming the "place" of work and play. Always connected, we are increasingly at work or play through electronic screens. We do not "touch ground" – instead, we are imagining ground though our screens.
While a graduate student in Philosophy, I wondered where to find wisdom… for I did not find it in academic philosophy. It dawned upon me that Buddha found, lived, and expressed wisdom. Fortunately, a special visitor from Tibet paid a visit.
Chogyam Trungpa showed up to speak in Jacob Needlman's philosophy of religion class. This was the early 1970's. Trungpa was newly arrived in San Francisco - fresh from the publication of his first book, Born in Tibet. Dressed in a blazer, turtle neck shirt, and a can of Coca Cola in hand. Not my image of an Eastern guru! An unforgettable moment.
Years later, I met with four cousins - sons of my father's step brother - at my father's funeral reception. They had all emigrated from the Azores Islands as teenagers. One told me about working the farmlands bare foot. They felt the earth all day long. Apparently, the pre-colonial native people of the San Francisco Bay area, the Ohlone, walked barefoot all day long with feet naturally callused.
The "horse stance" is basic training in Qi Gong. Stand with legs somewhat apart and let the body drop down toward the earth. Eyes looking into the horizon. Hands slightly in font. Feeling feet on the ground. Just standing. The horse stance may look easy, but the inner attention is extremely difficult to stabilize. Over and over one forgets to stay with feet feeling the ground - as attention flies into dreams and thoughts. With much practice, we start standing firm and still on our feet in full presence.
Getting up in the morning is a most honest time. We are not trying to please anyone yet. Just waking up. Stumbling around a bit. A moment of presencing. A great time to practice and get stronger in presence.
The present is an infinitesimal slice of time's vast ocean of past and future. Our ground begins and ends right here and now. This is where we assemble and clean up our life. For as Trungpa suggests, "Nowness, or the magic of the present moment, is what joins the wisdom of the past with the present."
By being grounded on this earth we become more present to one another by expressing love, care, and compassion. The "other" is also part of "the ground". It is "all one". They are "us" and we are "them". But how do we stay touching the ground? Practice, practice, practice. The "hard" part is to let it be easy. Over time there's a growing sense of joy at being grounded. We naturally want that - and that allows the fullness of life to unfold.
A good society, an enlightened society, naturally spends time touching the earth, touching ground. No need go anywhere, except the journey to here and now. Start today: spend an hour each day touching ground. If we all did this, a good society would emerge like daisies in a green field of spring grass. The earth itself would be our healer.
So right now, right here, as I write and as you read - let's feel ourselves touching ground.
* Taken from from the last paragraph, Chapter Eleven of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.