Grounded to Soar
Groundedness is unwavering internal strength and self-confidence that sustains you through ups and downs. It is a deep reservoir of integrity and fortitude, of wholeness, out of which lasting performance, well-being, and fulfillment emerge.
Yet here’s the common trap: when you become too focused on productivity, optimization, growth, and the latest bright and shiny objects, you neglect your ground. Eventually, you end up suffering. Conversely, and this is something that this book will unpack in great detail, when you prioritize groundedness, you do not neglect passion, performance, or productivity. Nor does groundedness eliminate all forms of ambition. Rather, it situates and stabilizes these qualities, so that your striving and ambition become less frenetic and more focused, sustainable, and fulfilling; less about achieving something out in front of you and more about living in alignment with your innermost values, pursuing your interests, and expressing your authentic self in the here and now, and in a manner you can be proud of.
The Principles Of Groundedness
#1 Accept Where You Are to Get You Where You Want to Go
Acceptance is about being with your reality, whatever it may be. By doing so, you lessen the distress caused by wanting things to be different and judging yourself when they are not. You rid yourself of the gap between your expectations and your experience, and you eliminate the second, third, and fourth arrows. Only once you’ve accepted your reality will you find peace, strength, and stability, or at least an understanding of the actions you might take to attain these states.
Acceptance is not about doing nothing. Rather, it is about reckoning with what is in front of you so you can encounter it in a skillful manner. Acceptance is necessary to experience contentment and happiness in the here and now, and it is the first step toward making progress in the future. It can be applied to every level of life. Whatever it is you are working toward—big or small, micro or macro—acceptance is an essential and ongoing practice. If you accept your reality you’ll feel more firmly grounded in it. You’ll be where you are, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting where you want to go.
#2 Be Present So You Can Own Your Attention and Energy
Being present isn’t just about being grounded in the here and now—that is, not being pushed and pulled around by endless distractions—but also about laying a foundation for the future. Presence allows you to actively direct your own personal evolution instead of going wherever the current takes you. It ensures that you are engaged in meaningful productive activity instead of thoughtless and inertia-driven productivity.
when you are in flow—or long ago what the Buddha called Nirvana and the Taoists called the Way—time seems to evaporate altogether. This makes sense. When you are fully present you aren’t thinking back or ahead. You are not worried about falling behind or everything else that you have to do. You are simply existing in the here and now. As a consequence, when you practice presence you tend to become less rushed and more patient. That is the principle of groundedness we’ll turn to next.
#3 Be Patient and You’ll Get There Faster
Moving at warp speed neither gets us where we want to go nor provides us with strength or stability. There is nothing heroic about quick fixes, hacks, or silver bullets, especially given they rarely, if ever, work. Most breakthroughs rest upon a long-standing foundation of steady and consistent effort. For so many of the meaningful endeavors in our lives, the best way to move fast is to go about it slowly, to proceed with a gentle yet firm persistence.
Modern science, ancient wisdom, and the practice of highly fulfilled peak performers shows us this is true. When we proceed with patience, our output becomes more sustainable over the long haul. We also tend to have a better experience along the way. We become less contracted and more open, less hurried and more present. And while transitioning from speed to patience may require us to confront our fears, this is not problematic.
when we confront our fears we develop deeper trust and confidence within ourselves, and we also forge connections with others. By opening up to and exploring our cracks we become more solid. Vulnerability—the root of which, vulnus, literally means “wound”—requires strength. And strength requires vulnerability.
#4 Embrace Vulnerability to Develop Genuine Strength and Confidence
Vulnerability means leaning into our soft spots, perceived weaknesses, and the things that we fear most. Vulnerability is hard work, which explains why we put up walls around our hearts and harden our souls. Though we may think this makes us stronger, we are mistaken. It actually makes us weaker; it makes us fragile. When we do not fully know ourselves we cannot fully trust ourselves. And when we cannot fully trust ourselves, we cannot be strong, confident, and grounded, at least not in a genuine manner.
Life is too short to go around pretending. The more real you can get with both yourself and others, even if you do so gradually, the better. On the other side of these insecurities and fears lie not only trust, strength, and confidence but also love and connection.
Vulnerability is a conduit to community, and community holds vulnerability. Community also sustains acceptance, presence, and patience. It is the supportive space in which a grounded life unfolds, through ups and downs. It is the principle of groundedness we’ll turn to next.
#5 Build Deep Community
The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that we are each like a wave in water. While it is easy to get caught up in the experience of being a wave—how we rise, crest, fall, and move with the tide—it is important to remember where a wave comes from and goes back to, and what a wave actually is: water.
When we get too caught up in our own rising and falling—too hell-bent on optimization, productivity, and efficiency—we neglect the water from which we come, and the result is a quick path to loneliness and suffering. When there is no water, a wave literally loses itself. Our social connections and our sense of belonging—our deep community—influence everything from our physical and mental health to our performance to our life satisfaction and fulfillment. We evolved to be in community. It is what holds us as we rise and fall. When we neglect it, we do so at great cost.
Like all the other principles of groundedness, deep community is an ongoing practice. It takes time and effort to build and sustain. Acceptance, presence, patience, and especially vulnerability help to create and sustain deep community. In turn, deep community becomes the supportive space for all the other principles to flourish.
#6 Move Your Body to Ground Your Mind
Movement has been an essential part of our species’ history. Only recently have sedentary lifestyles in the name of so-called efficiency taken hold, the rise of which parallels the rise of chronic disease, mental illness, and burnout. By no means is movement a panacea for all that ails us, but it can certainly help.
In addition to supporting physical health, mental health, and well-being, movement reinforces all the other principles of groundedness. It teaches us to accept discomfort, to be present in our bodies, to be patient and consistent on the slow path to progress, and to be vulnerable when we are challenging ourselves and risking failure. It is also a powerful way to build deep community and forge connections. When you regularly move your body, you come to more fully inhabit it, wherever you are. For all of these reasons, to be grounded is to move.
Focus on the Process, Let the Outcomes Take Care of Themselves
Focusing on groundedness will, at least at times, be challenging. Regularly practicing the principles in this book requires overcoming both personal and cultural inertia. The fact that neglecting one’s foundational ground is so common in today’s world says a lot more about today’s world than it does about the principles in this book.
Groundedness is most effective and rewarding when it is embarked upon as an ongoing practice. As with any other practice, there will be highs and lows, good days and bad days. You’ll have periods of strong motivation when everything is clicking. And you’ll have periods when you relapse into old ways of being and doing. All of this is normal. “The way practice works,” an anonymous Japanese Zen teacher once remarked, “is that we build up our practice, then it falls apart. And then we build it up again, and then it falls apart again. This is the way it goes.”
Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be ready to fully embark on the path of living a more grounded life.