Getting grounded

How looking down can calm the stress of urban overwhelm.

We’re often told to look up, to engage with the world above our heads. It’s easy to understand the sentiment, because when the moment is right, raising your gaze can give you both perspective and peace. You may be filled with joy at the sight of a plane taking flight, or connected with the details of buildings both modern and those with detailed stories to tell.

And yet in everyday life, you may travel a hectic commute, or be immersed in the frenetic energy of a major city. Look up? When you do, you may see traffic lights, queued cars, info screens, smartphones, and myriad faces. That overload of stimuli is hard for any brain to harvest and leaves no space for either perspective or peace.

So yes, looking up is all very well when the benefits of an expanse of sky or wide-open ocean are available. But if there’s no natural vista to ease your mind, you may prefer the alternative: looking down.

How to look down

  • The next time you find yourself stuck waiting in a hectic place, put your phone away and make a point of looking down.
  • Start with your shoes. How are you standing? What is the contrast between your feet and the ground beneath?
  • Shift focus to the ground itself. What is it made of? Do you notice patterns or lines? What’s the smallest detail you can see?
  • Remain with your eyes upon that particular spot, but also try to take in the area of ground just beyond your immediate focus. Does it have the same texture and material or has it changed? How does it appear to your blurred vision?
  • Still looking down, what’s at the furthest reach of your vision? Is it moving or still? What colours can you make out? Is there symmetry in the scene? Is what you can see artificial or natural?
  • Stay focused for at least a minute. Repeat the exercise when you can – it will calm the stress of the urban overwhelm.

So the next time you read an exhortation to ‘look up’, give yourself a break, and remember that it’s not always possible. Try instead looking down, with full focus on what’s below your feet. As long as it’s mindfully done, you may discover a new way to feel connected to the world, even if there’s no sky to be seen.

Words: Stephanie Lam

This is an edited article that was originally published under the title The joy of looking down in Issue 14 – Embrace the Positive

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