Overwhelm seems to be a part of our conditioning. Particularly in the work of social change–where there is an urgency in both the task at hand and a challenge in arriving at the outcome–I regularly talk with colleagues confronting perennial overwhelm and overload.
When this occurs, stepping back and staying grounded is a crucial practice. Rather than working through the problem, or working more, it’s important to find time to step away for some perspective…whether that’s a break, an opportunity to get outside, or just stopping to take a breath and feel the ground beneath us.
This is a simple yet elusive practice, so we need reminders and support. A post-it note or quote on our computer monitors or an hourly alarm which help create space for a break, leaving “buffers” on our calendars between meetings, an agreement with a colleague to take a daily walk.
Such small adjustments and breaks in our schedule can make a big difference alone-and can be complements to deeper opportunities to stay grounded.
Because of our orientation to communication via technology, it’s easier to forget and acknowledge where we are. Our places matter-and can help keep us grounded. Whether we are the middle of a city or live in a small town, look out our window into the woods or over a street, connecting with the places we find ourselves is a powerful way to settle ourselves. It may provide a perspective on our place in our community, the world, or the cosmos…or literally offer the feeling of being “grounded” somewhere amidst seemingly endless e-mails, posts, and other intangible information we are asked to navigate.
When I worked in downtown San Francisco, I would take regular breaks to stay grounded by stepping outside and looking up-staring up into the slice of sky between huge buildings was calming amidst the motion of the city and the overwhelm of work. This can also come from focusing on something very small or specific…a leaf, a bird, the pattern of light on a building.
Beyond individual practices and connection with our place, there are also ways of working collectively that support staying grounded. Much of the work of paying attention to process is about creating opportunities for groups to connect more authentically through their experience. In a recent post on Designing for Uncertainty, Brooking Gatewood observes that:
“it takes patience to slow down to develop shared understanding, especially in high stakes situations; it takes vulnerability and humility to admit uncertainty and listen for a wisdom deeper than our problem-solving minds; and it takes tremendous courage and trust to act collectively toward shared interests”
The process of slowing down in our work–individually and/or collectively–provides an opportunity to stay grounded. While this has the potential for increasing the impact of our efforts, it has the even more important benefits of honoring our own health, transforming our relationships with others, and strengthening our connection with community and place.