I am impatient, even by the standards of my eight-year-old son, who has an almost-allergic and occasionally volcanic reaction to the word, “wait.” To my credit, I have learned to meditate. I slam down the stop lever on the cartoon conveyer belt in my brain. I breathe and empty my mind. And then I flip the switch, and the belt revs back to life, sometimes accompanied by the theme song from Looney Tunes.
When I move, it is with purpose: To get stronger, to get leaner, to get somewhere, and to get there now. So to think I might try walking intentionally—as slow as humanly possible, barefoot, and without a destination in mind—is almost laughable. Yet I do it sometimes.
It’s called “grounding,” or “earthing,” and I first tried it in February during a day-long wellness retreat called Thrive, hosted at the Waldorf Astoria in Buckhead by local psychotherapist and meditation leader Lena Franklin and yoga instructor Christina Garrand.
The idea is that “electrically conductive contact of the human body with the surface of the Earth . . . produces intriguing effects on physiology and health,” according to a published study.
In a surprise to no one, Gwyneth Paltrow is into it, swearing that grounding helps with “everything from inflammation and arthritis to insomnia and depression,” according to an article on Goop.com. “The abundant supply of free electrons in the (subtly negatively charged) ground can help neutralize free radicals—if only we would take off our shoes and access them.”
I was certainly skeptical when Franklin and Garrand asked me and the five other retreat participants to shed our shoes and silently step onto the sidewalk, grass, and brick of a private courtyard at the hotel. We carried small sticks of burning incense and moved at what felt like a dead snail’s pace, focusing on the wave-like motion of our feet on the ground: heel, then mid-foot, then ball, then toes, then the other foot, then again. I had to remind myself to slow down, to not think about where I was going, and to not competitively pass anyone on the left.
The conveyor belt in my brain slowed to a stop, and I became keenly aware of the feeling of grass between my toes, of soft moss under the arch of my foot, of touching down on cold concrete and bumpy brick. I was struck by the genuine loveliness of this slow-moving meditation. All it takes is a few square feet of space and your bare feet. It is, in a word, peaceful. And in these days of uncertainty, when my internal conveyor belt churns out anxiety and other mental playthings at lightning speed, I’ll take all the peacefulness I can get.