When we embark on the lifelong journey of raising a family, we know there will be moments of anger, tension, and sadness. It’s inevitable – but it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. With the right coping mechanisms, negativity can be dealt with and, in time, transformed.
Jewish sages teach us that the letter beit (ב) sounds like bayit, the Hebrew word for house or home. It also looks like one, with its straight wall, roof, open door, and floor. A challenging family conflict can make everything feel unstable. It can make us feel unmoored and off-kilter. So, there is only one way to start healing: we need to find solid footing. We need to ground ourselves to find the sturdy floor of our beit – and our bayit.
What is Grounding?
When is the last time you felt ‘floored’ by family life’s inexorable challenges? So overcome that you simply felt like crumbling? That proverbial ‘tumble to the floor’ is not just an unfortunate reaction to life’s challenges…it can be its own healing response. When we feel floored by life, it is an indicator that we are in need of some medicinal ‘grounding’ and rooting into the very floor of our being. That floor is our body and our breath.
Our families are incredible ecosystems of interpersonal dynamics. Each person added to the system adds exponential joy and love – but also complexity, challenge, and inevitable moments of negativity.
The remedy to this exponential complexity is “grounding” – meditative exercises that allow us to temporarily let go of the complicated stressors we’re facing, and focus on the simplest of truths: the presence of our bodies and the breath in our lungs.
If it sounds deceptively simple, that’s because it is. Grounding is a simple and surprisingly effective intervention in situations where we feel out of control. Grounding has been proven many times over by psychologists who have reported its healing effects on a whole slew of issues – most notably trauma, anxiety, dissociation, and substance abuse. Embodied grounding and its ensuing emotional regulation is a first step when it comes to transforming complex family dynamics.
To ground ourselves more effectively, we turn to the Torah for guidance. Specifically, we look to the description of the moment of humanity’s creation. “God formed adam, man, from the dust of the adama, earth.” (Genesis 2:7)
It is no coincidence that the Hebrew word for human is adam, from the same root as the Hebrew word adama, earth. Similarly, in English, the word “human” is derived from the Latin root, humus, meaning earth or ground. When you ground yourself, seeking awareness and focus, you are tapping into your most ancient of origins: the earth. It serves us remarkably well to root into our essential identity as “earthlings” when we need recentering. When your family is in the midst of a bitter conflict, take a step away. Focus your awareness on your body. Ground yourself in its reality.
Here are two ways to do this.
Exercise One: Grounding The Body
Before responding to your child’s, your partner’s, or your own overwhelm, engage your physical senses and recenter yourself by practicing a technique known as The 5-4-3-2-1.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Find five things you can see.
Notice the material world around you. Identify five specific colors and items in the room you are in. Say them out loud, or write them down.
- Find four things you can touch.
Allow your sense of touch to root you in the present. Hold a cold or hot drink. Caress a soft blanket, tap your knuckles against the table, open a book.
- Find three things you can hear.
Become aware of the noises all around you. A clock ticking, a faucet running, a car going by, the cat purring. They too will ground you in the here and now.
- Find two things you can smell.
Connect to your sense of smell. Identify two scents you can smell right now. You may also want to imagine a smell that you associate with positivity or calm, and seek it out – like fresh coffee, clean laundry, or a spritz of perfume.
- Find one thing you can taste.
As the final step, take a bite of something tangible. Find a bite of food or a sip of water. Allow it to ground you in your body and to nourish you. All of these acts will assist you in the essential emotional regulation we all need to handle stressful moments.
Exercise Two: Grounding The Breath
The Biblical description of man’s creation doesn’t end with earth. The rest of that famous quote from Genesis goes like this: “God formed adam, man, from the dust of the adama, earth. And God blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”
Two unique elements come together to create the first human: earth and divine breath. Our own breath is at once a vital element of our physical self, and a connection to our very souls. It is our one-stop-shop for being both grounded in our bodies and rooted to our souls, our higher selves.
The second exercise uses cycles of five to regulate our being, re-synchronizing our bodies and souls.
Take five deep breaths using cycles of five.
Breathe in for five seconds.
Hold your breath for five seconds.
Breathe out for five seconds.
Hold for five seconds.
We all get ‘floored’ by the demands of family life. Those familiar crumbles into overwhelm are unavoidable. The next time it happens, remember to connect with the true ‘floor’ – the floor of your being. That floor is your body and your breathing and they offer the blessing of grounding. They are the essential foundation of yourself; and your bayit.
This article is the second in a series by Chaya Lester about building better families. Read the first here.
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