I was living an out-of-body experience for years without realising it. I think I’m not the only one, and I don’t think empaths are exempt from this misconception. In fact, because of the sometimes painful emotional intensity that we experience in our bodies, we may be even more prone to abandoning them than other people.
Wonder what I’m talking about?
I’m talking about the state when you are theoretically incarnate, but perhaps that fact is not just unpleasant, but positively horrifying to you. About when you live in your ideas, in your thoughts, and – empaths have this extra option – in other peoples’ energy bodies (a.k.a. in their emotions and thoughts).
I’m talking about when you don’t feel solid – you don’t just feel “skinless” (a familiar feel for many empaths and sensitives), but you also feel diffuse, perhaps you feel like you are a mist floating around the room. Or you are even spread out across various geographical locations. Pieces of you live in different people, in different houses and meadows and mountains in different countries (as I was feeling for years). Pieces of you live in the future; and perhaps the huge ice-berg bottom portion of you lives in the past.
You are here; but you aren’t here.
There is always a slight fog, blur, numbness, or even a wall of glass (in my case it was ice) between you and reality – if it gets bad, you don’t feel quite real.
While I’m sure there are numerous names in the mental health professions for what I’m describing, I’d like to describe it here as one person’s experience of being extremely ungrounded.
Other forms it can take, or “symptoms”, include being absent-minded, “forgetful”, perhaps (excessively) disorganised, and emotionally reactive (since there is neither physical settledness nor presence of mind to calm out the waves).
Ungrounded empaths on trips
While this is not a good state to be in for anyone, for ungrounded empaths there is often the added fun of being extremely vulnerable to being “taken on rides” by strong (or even weak) energies, whether from people or from the ethers, without having a sense of compass, or an anchor, on how to bring themselves “back to base”.
For years I was so ungrounded that my life consisted essentially of an end-to-end series of “rides” and “trips” (calling it that since some of those intense emotions and energies can come close to the psychedelic), with only rare and intermittent (if any at all) visits on a stable island of self or peace in between; and I just thought that’s what life is.
I needed a number of friends to repeatedly point out to me what I’m doing – that I seem to be taking a new energy and emotional “ride” virtually every few hours. I didn’t understand that this was unusual or the reason for me often feeling wrecked and losing myself slowly (not to mention the issues in daily functioning).
While not everyone gets as far out into space as I did, I would say that grounding is perhaps the most important practice for empaths. There are many grounding techniques, and I will not elaborate on them in depth here, as you can easily find many excellent resources and ideas online by using a search engine.
Some of the popular ways are:
- resting your attention on your breath (whether that’s in your nose, chest, or abdomen, or in your whole body), or specific breathing techniques (having a technique may make it easier to keep your focus). I personally hate these, but they help many people.
- visualising that you are growing roots into the Earth, either from the soles of your feet or from your root chakra (bottom of the pelvis), through which you discard stale energy and pull up vibrancy. Once I moved from purely visualising to actually sensing it, this has actually helped me a lot. Now I can just evoke the sensation at will without visualising anything.
- sensing your feet on the ground, walking barefoot, laying on the grass – anything that puts you in direct, tangible contact with the Earth and actually sense that. Rolling on the floor, resting on the ground, giving your weight to the ground and relaxing, feeling how it carries you even when you do nothing.
Other “techniques” that I have found particularly helpful:
- self-care through appropriate nutrition, sleep, and exercise (not overtraining)
- specifically, a satisfying, healthy meal consumed mindfully (slowly, with full attention to the taste) in a peaceful setting and loving company (perhaps combined with hugs) can do wonders for me
- any form of loving touch (hugging, massage, self-massage) and self-healing practice (e.g. self-reiki). The ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda in fact asserts that sensitives (who are typically Ayurvedic Vata types) need daily touch or self-massage to stay healthy.
- meditation in movement – whether that’s formal meditation, or a walk or a bike ride in nature. The point is that you focus on the physical movement itself more than on traveling away with your thoughts.
- any practice that promotes internal body awareness, whether that’s yoga or qi gong, martial arts or improvisational dance – just do it while actually being fully in your body, sensing what you are doing. Doing it mechanically / mindlessly may make you even more ungrounded.
- mindfulness practices – practices that help you anchor your attention in what you experience in the moment through your senses and body
- e.g. nature and art appreciation (helps you do the above)
- any slow physical activity engaged in with a slow, meditative mind. Examples are drawing and painting, pottery, making music, cooking, gardening, any kind of handicraft, and even cleaning if done with this mindset.
Where is home base?
What do all these disparate techniques have in common? Or, as my philosopher’s mind has to ask, what is the essence of “grounding”? Because once you know this, you can easily be creative and come up with your own grounding techniques that are fun and fit you and your circumstances.
If there is a definite answer to this, then I don’t have it. But in my experience, you are going after a felt, bodily experience of settledness, a certain gravity, fullness, and presence. Specifically, you are looking to feel present inside your body – not from the outside (or above) looking in, but feeling and acting from a deeply felt core within you – literally within the body – to the outside.
In my understanding, the body is the ground. Making felt, inward contact with our own bodies is the primary way in which we connect to Nature and to the Earth, because our bodies are part of Nature – not just in an abstract sense, but, once you really settle in your body, you will realise that this is quite literal, as you may easily be able to sense an inner connection and resonance with all living things and the Earth itself, just through being in deep touch with your (physical) self.
This for me is quite thrilling. While initially it was very hard for me to be present in my body, and it was not always pleasant (as I had accumulated a lot of emotional pain in there), and I would have preferred to see myself as spirit or mind and in a way stay out of my incarnate experience, over time – practicing grounding deeper and deeper – I have realised that in a way getting closer and closer to the material has actually brought me to feeling the spiritual that pervades it; and going more and more inwards has surprisingly brought me to the outside – to be more capable of focussing on external things while having a deep anchor within that stabilised me as I face them.
So I would say that home base is feeling that I inhabit my body – this is the shortest route to “ground”. But actually inhabiting it, living from within it, I actually find it pervaded with spirit and connecting me to the universal spirit of Nature.
Obstacles to grounding
If you have been living ungrounded for a long time, coming “home” to your body will not feel like coming home at all. Especially if you hold a lot of old pain in your body (which your body records even as your spirit is not “at home”), for a while it may feel like going through hell. If you have left your body in the first place, the reason might have been that it was hurting too much.
So the way back has to be slow and gentle.
It’s like coming home to a house that you have left abandoned for decades. There is junk, dust, rats, maybe there’s even someone else squatting it by now. If you want to inhabit the house, you won’t get around cleaning up. And initially, while you are still in the process, it will not be a nice place to live in.
However, inhabiting this house is not only the only way to feel stable and whole (despite the pain) while on this earthly plain, it will also greatly reward you as the house gradually comes to life. Not only do you find many magical doorways, you also feel so much calmer now when traveling out into the world.