Ground Luminosity

It’s been a bruising year. When we’re bruised, it’s sometimes hard to see, feel, and live beyond that condition. Especially when there’s an endless stream of events that keep reinforcing the injuries, that keep piling on the offenses, that keep re-bruising the bruises.

Gradually, our world closes around the bruise until we can see little else, until we become little else. It’s not unlike when we spend hours in front of a computer screen or focused on some other detailed work without looking up. We develop a kind of myopia that only lifts when we go outside and change our line of sight to a distant horizon.

So, how do we break the bruising cycle and change our line of sight? How do we step outside the pattern? And how do we see what’s going on in front of us without losing sight of the spaciousness at the heart of all of us?

I got a glimpse of this possibility while on a recent Zoom call with a small group of friends. We were going to do a meditation in advance of the presidential inauguration. As I got ready to log on, I realized how ambivalent I felt. I was looking forward to being with my friends, but I was also feeling overwhelmed and battered by everything that had been happening in the news.

I was bruised.

As we began the meditation, the two members of our group who were leading the session asked us to open to the Ground Luminosity. On one level, this sounds like opening to the light, the soul, the goodness in everything. That can be a comforting and enlightening experience. It can also be an invitation to gloss over a lot of darkness, pain, and injury; a self-deluding exercise in looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. But Ground Luminosity is different from simple “looking on the bright side,” or “seeing the light in everyone you meet.”

The difference is the word “ground.” Ground Luminosity is a principle in Tibetan Buddhism that refers to the radiant essence underlying all of life. It is the virgin substance from which all creation is made. My friends’ invitation to “open to the Ground Luminosity” was not a call to look past the surface bruising in order to imagine a brighter, heavenly state somewhere else. It was a reminder to look through the bruising into the radiant essence that’s right here and everywhere, right now and always. I accepted that invitation.

The first response was a release of deep tension, and then a powerful sense of connection—with everyone and everything. I could still see all the conflicts, the adversarial arguments, angers and bruises, but under it all I could see and feel a deep and unwavering connection.

I could see hope.

Despite the vitriol in the public discourse, despite the abandonment of truth and facts by both leaders and followers and the growing animus flowing from that, I could see and feel the Ground Luminosity pulsing up through all of us. That restored my faith in our ability to weather this storm, to heal these bruises, and to live into a brighter day.

The difference was the recognition that at the most elemental level, we are connected not separate. We are not called to a battle of adversaries. We’re called to remember our shared essence, and our essence is a deeply interwoven fabric.

This reminds me of the focus in taijiquan on the acupuncture point yong chuan (“Bubbling Spring”) at the back edge of the ball of the foot. It’s a master qi gate that with every mindful step can open us to the regenerating power of Gaia, Mother Earth. It can also connect us to all living things who at the same moment are also touching the face of the Earth. Where our feet touch the ground becomes a place of communion, of sharing Presence.

This place of transformative, transcendent connection is spoken of in The Zen Teachings of Huang Po:

“And where is this Place of Precious Things?
All we can say is that it is very near.”

After my experience of opening to Ground Luminosity in our Zoom meditation, I played with it in other contexts. First, I turned my focus to my personal relationships, opening to the Ground Luminosity in my friends and family, in me, and in the structures of our relationships. I felt the same release of tension and sense of deep connection that I had in the meditation.

Next, I focused on the physical structures of our home. We’ve just gone through several months of renovation. Anyone who has lived through a remodel or renovation knows that while the end result is wonderful, the process of getting there is messy. There’s a lot of upheaval and a lot of stress even when it’s a project long-sought and well-planned. When I opened to the Ground Luminosity of our new/old home, I also opened to the Ground Luminosity in my wife, in me, and in our contractor.

I saw our living spaces, my life partner, myself, and our contractor as if for the first time. I could still see our individual idiosyncrasies, our flaws and foibles. But I could also see the beauty shining out from every idiosyncratic corner. It made me appreciate even more being at my place in this particular circle.

When bruised, it’s easy to retreat into isolation in an attempt to diminish our vulnerability. Ultimately, that isolation is itself deeply wounding. Ground Luminosity, the Bubbling Spring, and the Place of Precious Things, are reminders that however isolated our pain may leave us feeling, we are fundamentally connected to each other and to the radiant substance from which we are made, and which has the transformative power to heal.

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