An Alternative to Meditation

How to find moments of joy to balance your mind.

Posted Jul 07, 2018

Source: borjomi88/Depositphotos

I hate to meditate, at least where I must sit with eyes closed and listen to myself breathe. My mind either wanders to annoying thoughts or I fall asleep. I have found an alternative that not only brings me peace of mind, but the wonderful side effect of joy.

I have been using acupuncturists for years to help balance my body and recover from jet lag after I travel overseas. Three of them have told me that I need to ground myself more, which means putting my bare feet on the ground to connect with the earth’s energy. The problem is that I live in Phoenix, with rock lawns, hot pavement, and rocky trails within my vicinity.

I finally found a wonderful spot just outside of my gym that has grass under a big shade tree. I have taken to sitting under the tree with my feet in the grass after my workouts for at least 10 minutes. At first, I read my email. Then one day a large bird singing made me look up.

What I noticed was different intensities of light filtering through the leaves. There were variations of green depending on the layer of leaves, and different birds stopped by to land on the branches. While noticing, I could feel the cool, fresh grass under my feet, the breeze brushing my shoulders, and the tree trunk supporting my back. I couldn’t help but smile with joy.

Just 10 minutes of joyful grounding helps me face my day with graceful strength and peace of mind.

In his new book1, environmentalist Michael McCarthy writes:

“The natural world can offer us more than the means to survive…. There can be occasions when we suddenly and involuntarily find ourselves loving the natural world with a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me to be appropriate for this feeling is joy.”

I believe that having moments of joy is essential to our mental health. Designer and founder of the blog, The Aesthetics of Joy, Ingrid Fetell Lee says the physical world is integral to creating happier, healthier lives. In her 2018 TED talk, she differentiates joy from happiness in this way:

“…when psychologists use the word joy, what they mean is an intense, momentary experience of positive emotion—one that makes us smile and laugh and feel like we want to jump up and down… It's different than happiness, which measures how good we feel over time. Joy is about feeling good in the moment, right now… as a culture, we are obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, and yet in the process, we kind of overlook joy.”

When talking to people across lines of age, gender, and ethnicity, Lee found things that kindled joy universally, like “… cherry blossoms and bubbles ... swimming pools and tree houses ... hot air balloons and googly eyes.”

Lee lamented that what triggers joy is all around us but hidden in plain sight.2 We all love moments of joy, yet we are so busy and easily distracted, we miss these moments. Lee suggests that instead of chasing what we think will make us feel happy, we should be finding ways to notice what brings us joy.

I found this gift sitting under my tree. Not only do I walk away feeling more peaceful and connected, I am energized to step into life even when clients demand more than I can give in a day and watching the news breaks my heart. Michael McCarthy also says:

“The natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us… Yet the union can be found, the union of ourselves and nature, in the joy which nature can spark and fire in us.”

Here are three steps to take to using grounding as an alternative to meditation:

  1. Ground yourself. Find a big shade tree with grass or soft dirt to place your feet so the soles completely connect with the ground. When I was on safari in Kenya, we toured the savanna early morning and evening. The days were left with little to do. Feeling bored, I asked one of the groundskeepers what was there to do on-site. He pointed to a big tree and said, “If you sit under the branches, you give purpose to the tree. And you’ll stop the cicadas from declaring their loneliness.” Once under the tree, I could see so much life around me. The cicadas quieted down and the tree kept me shaded. I felt in sync.
  2. Let yourself be awed by what you see. When we stay open and curious, there are many small things that can take your breath away.3
  3. Choose a keyword to recall your feeling of joy throughout the day. Before you leave your grounding spot, choose one word that you can easily recall no matter how hectic your day unfolds. Repeating this word helps you center yourself emotionally. You can then better respond to your challenges.


1 Michael McCarthy, The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy.  New York Review Books Classics, March 6, 2018

2 Ingrid Fetell Lee. Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Little, Brown Spark, September 4, 2018

3 Marcia Reynolds, How to Use the Science of Awe and Wonder to Succeed. Outsmart Your Brain blog, September 13, 2017.