Sometimes when I’m overcome and my head is so full of noise I can barely stand it, I go outside and lie down on the ground. This simple act accomplishes nothing, really, except that it changes my life. I first learned this years ago when my children were very small and life with them was at once “incredibly close and extremely loud.”I relearned it recently when I completed a book project on “earthing”—or the science of how the earth’s electrical charge helps to restore health to the human body. The trick is making direct skin-to-earth contact, or as close thereto as possible.
Measurable effects of "earthing" are especially impressive in regard to inflammation and blood viscosity, among other important health markers. It was fun to research and write about this concept from a health and science perspective after having believed in it intuitively for so long. And after having experienced it so profoundly myself, even if I didn't know what "it" was when I first fell to the ground on a hunch.
I MARRIED AT TWENTY-ONE and within five years had three beautiful children who sometimes, in those most vivid and intense years, wrung me out like a kitchen rag. They wrung me out this way despite my oceanic love for them and my immense gratitude for being able to be home with them.
I loved my kids like mad, and wanted nothing more than to be a “good" mom. Nothing! And yet so often I entirely missed the mark--my mark, that is. To be fair, my firstborn, Sophie, who has since grown into an extremely lovely and loving young woman and a fine writer, to boot, was what we '90s parents called spirited. In plain English, this meant she had the temperament of a tornado. On top of this she behaved like an angry two-year-old when her brother Max was born. She was in fact an angry two-year-old. Sophie’s second birthday came twelve days after Max arrived. There’s much I could say about this period, but the memory that sums it up best is the time Sophie’s father and I had to pull the car over because Sophie, in the back seat with Max, would not let go of his hair. Her chubby little fingers were clamped hard around the few fine wisps of blond hair that little Max had finally sprouted. When I peeled Sophie's fingers back—as gently as I could in the midst of a highly problematic situation—a few strands of golden hair lay in her sweaty palm. “Well,” she said flatly as we both took in this unfortunate evidence, “his hair was very poorly rooted.”
Soon after all this learning to parent two children, Lillie came along. And that really was the turning point, the stage at which I learned (but repeatedly forgot, of course) what really matters. The ground, the trees, the sky, and long stretches of time. I tried to master rhythm and schedules, and sometimes I succeeded while other times I flailed (cereal for dinner at nine and then a sleepy-time car ride, anyone?). But eventually I did master the art of putting on our shoes and coats and walking out the front door so that everything could change. We had a few favorite spots, magical places.
Como Park was one of our most special escapes back then, in the days before the all the big fancy improvements and remodels--and the burgeoning crowds that followed. Years ago, when my kids and I used to visit on week days, we often had the whole park to ourselves. We’d zip through the zoo, spending time with the animals we loved best—especially the primates!—and then we’d spend hours on the grass under those enormous old oaks. Doing more or less nothing. I’m sure the kids did something but I couldn’t really tell you what because those hours just elongated and disappeared into a shimmer of contentment until dinnertime. Then we’d go have pizza at a little Italian place down the street. It might still be there for all I know, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been by that way. I miss those afternoons beneath the oaks.
Another of our favorites was Interstate Park on the Wisconsin side. We loved Lake of the Dalles and the trail around it, and that mystery-filled patch of woods alongside the path near the beach. The rocks, the thick smell of leaves in the fall, the little fires we’d build to make “toasted cheese” just like in Heidi.
There was a park closer to home, too, where we’d sometimes spend the day. I recall it for the one striking time we went to play—or more accurately, recover—after a particularly shrill morning in the house. I remember the feeling of the hill, the gravity beneath our bodies and the wide sky above us as we all four lay there, on my command, to soak up the healing energy of the earth.
EARLIER TODAY, when all of my deadlines, projects, plans, and decisions were creating a cacophonous din inside my head, I stepped away from my computer, slipped on my shoes, and walked up the hill to our neighborhood park. Not a single other person was there.
I spread my blue sweater out on the ground and lay down on it. The sun scorched and blinded me, even with my eyes closed. So I flipped over onto my stomach and rested my cheek on my crossed arms. I pressed my palms into the earth. I breathed in and breathed out. I waited. My thoughts clattered noisily on. The sun warmed my bare legs. The grass scratched against my forearms. Tiny bugs flew and hovered in the eye-level airspace above the grass. The ground was surprisingly toasty.
My thoughts quieted down. I began to notice things.
- Old brown winter grass is full of intriguing stuff that's not grass.
- Tree bark is mesmerizing.
- Traffic drones constantly.
- Birds make a lot of nice racket.
- Bird sounds vary greatly: they chirp, trill, quack (for lack of a better term, being a non-birder), whistle, bark, coo, and sometimes truly, truly sing.
- A dog's bark stirs primal emotion.
- Sticks are everywhere, stick, sticks, sticks, sticks, sticks.
- Winter trees look dead.
- Have you thought much of the sky?
- Robins stand stock still on the grass for longer than you'd think.
- Robin beaks are a shock of yellow.
- Every cloud suggests a story.
- Our lives are small.
- There’s a whole fascinating world taking place down in the grass--like Whoville.
- Tree roots are awe inspiring.
- Dirt and sunshine smell good. Like children.
- So little of what I worry about matters as much as I think it does.
For a few fleeting moments, I flicker in and out of sleep. Lying on the grass makes me feel close to everything. I remember my small children, their soft cheeks and little fingernails. I think of them now, grown and purposeful, their lives full of demands and desires. I feel them on my heart.
After about half an hour, I get up and walk slowly down the hill. I see and hear and smell and feel so much more this time. I listen to the soft sound of my own footsteps heading home.
Come lie on the ground with like-minded writers at this June's Summer Solstice Retreat on Stout's Island!