Root Living

She took an unmarked burrow when she fell to Root Living, and only brought her tears.

Her first foundational pier crumbled when Cathleen died.
Her everything slid sideways, not knowing how to stand without her.
The Above Grounders around her couldn’t see, they kept walking on their treadmills, and her Most Isolated Year began.

Her body had trouble breathing in the Above Ground, but she had never lived anywhere else.
There were new sensations and fragile bubbles and cheese-grater textures and the abundance of pit-bottom tears.
She hadn’t realized this could even be possible in human experience.

She called it Grief, the only Above Ground word she knew, and put one foot in front of the other on the path to slowly rebuild one foundational pier through Grieving. Or so she thought.

Two years later, in one swift blow, all but two remaining piers were knocked out while at Black Mountain.

And then she fell.

Down, down,
Deeper she slid,
Darkness all around.
Her body transformed overnight, no longer adept for Above Ground living.
What used to be neutral and mundane now cut and pierced and tore.
Air that once supported her life was now completely toxic to her lungs.
The sharpness of everything left her depleted by lunchtime.
What was this place?
Energies moved through her body without notice.
It took everything to get through this moment, and the next.
Tears of all flavors were abundant.
She felt things she’d never felt before, never even heard of before.
It was dark and damp and duffy.

Is this bottom, this cocoon?

She curled up at Black Mountain.
And though all the maps would place her there, that’s not where she was.
She was no longer Above Ground, you see, but she didn’t know it.

In the overwhelm of falling so deep, there was no space to understand what, where, why, how. This was clearly not Grief, but she didn’t have a new word. Confusion, isolation, pain, and loneliness brewed easily, with no way to communicate her fall into an unknown realm.

She found a tiny candle to light the way, and shakily held it up to peek around in this new world.
Em at Black Mountain and Sweet Story Mammals helped her begin this exploration.
Tiny steps, tiny steps.
They showed her the body’s Nervous Systems and welcomed her with gentle love.

She left the cocoon at Black Mountain for a Seasonal Job while still raw and tender, after living there for half a year.

That’s a significant chunk of time, isn’t it?

She should be able to rebuild her foundation now, shouldn’t she?

Besides, one can’t change the timing of these Seasonal Jobs, and she had no idea she still had false foundations with her.

A month after arriving in the desert at the Job, her final two piers were crushed in a single weekend.

She spent 2.5 years at the Job, uncovering more of her Root Living map, surrounded by Above Grounders in her physical space.

This is what she learned:

~ She is not to rebuild any foundational piers. Instead, she must grow deep, strong roots down in Root Living.

~ Her body has immediate adverse effects to anything not deeply rooted in Love.

The air up there Above Ground chokes her. Drains her. Sucks out her life force until her body experiences the nauseous Get Horizontal Now, and she does, and it gets worse until it knocks her out completely, maybe for 14 hours, and then requires a Recovery Day. Or two. She knows this, and she also knows the Above Ground Coworkers don’t know about her Recovery Days or Get Horizontal Now (or Composting Time or I’m Full or Too Loud Too Bright or Dreamworld or Following Flow or The Incident or Loving Energy, or, or, or…). These Above Grounders know Sick Leave and Doctors and Diagnosis and Medicine. Weekends and Families and Choir Concert and Grab Coffee. Above Ground is boxy and sharp.

When she expresses a Full Truth in words to someone who receives a meaning other than that exact Full Truth, her body erupts in a Piercing Pain Explosion! It doesn’t matter how mundane the topic.

(So she quickly learns to never explain Root Living to an Above Grounder, to avoid the Piercing Pain. This creates Deep Isolation, of course, but it’s slightly less painful for her raw, tender self than the explosions. In her mind, she calls this the Catch-22.)

~ The amount of content in an average Above Grounder’s average day is enough input/stimuli to last her a month, at her rate of digestion. Her calendar looks empty to Above Ground onlookers, but she is very full (and doesn’t keep a Calendar). Not to mention the content of such content:

~ Radio ads are sharp. Movies and TV shows slice. So violent. Boxy. Binary. Harsh. Judgmental. Not rooted in love. Her favorite podcast now drains her. She can’t entertain with anything Above Ground. But she would like to be able to relax with a TV show, without the cuts and wounds they now cause! Oh the simple pleasures.

~ Capacity cannot be predicted. It is not linear. She may stay home resting all day–no town trips, no other energies, and the next day have Zero Spoons plus fuzzy head Horizontal Day.

~ In Root Living, it’s lush with Genuine–because that’s all that can exist down in these soils. All that can live and surround her body.
It’s slow.
And slower still.

~ Anything less than genuine or boxy drains her life force so quickly. And with so little energy to begin with, she must protect it fiercely to save it for the truest interactions. (See #2: body has immediate adverse effects to anything less than deep love)

It’s such a different world from Above Ground.
Words can’t express how different it is from Above Ground!
Words are a tool from Above Ground, you see?
See how strongly Above Ground permeates?

This gap makes even wider canyons between her and Above Grounders.


She uncovers a new set of guidelines for her Root Living, things like:

  • Put in ear plugs if radio ads play from a coworker’s radio.
  • 9+ hours of sleep a night comes right after air, water, and food on the list of essentials, bedtime 7:30, though usually she’s horizontal by 5pm or earlier.
  • Ground with the tree out back at lunch instead of eating with coworkers in the shop.
  • Listen to body even if it doesn’t make mind-sense what you’re feeling.
  • Keep snacks in bedside table to avoid feeling roommate’s energy in the kitchen
  • If body feels [@], there isn’t capacity to drive to the grocery store.
  • If body feels [#], there isn’t capacity for interaction with another human.
  • If body feels [**], there isn’t capacity to reply to that message.

Overriding any of these rules will result in pain, energy drain, Horizontal Days.
None of these guidelines are solid. Change is constant. Capacity is not predictable.
Too many to list here, but she knows them well after all these years of slow exploration among the roots.

She still knows deeply all the rules from Above Ground, too; she hasn’t forgotten those three decades. (This is perhaps what creates the most suffering, remembering what it was like to be an Above Grounder, and knowing what Above Grounders expect.)

So she befriends the words “capacity” and “deep-sensing” to exchange communications with Above Grounders if they ever ask why she’s not doing what Above Grounders do.

“I don’t have capacity,” she says again and again.

It’s ten months into her desert life when she discovers the deep meaning of the word “empath,” which leads her to the term “Highly Sensitive Person,” as well.

She has been – and remains – wary of labeling any human with words (See zine: This Zine Isn’t Me), so she doesn’t step into them–she remains in her fluid Identity, but they make her feel slightly less alone.

She still doesn’t see her exact experience in the books and podcasts, these sharp sudden sensations, the instant draining, the need for such gentleness and love, the nauseous head throb that turns her horizontal.

After a year in the desert, an Above Ground man with Heart Roots joins her Job and they begin to share love with one another. She no longer builds false foundations, so they intentionally grow roots together.

She soaks in the warmth of hugging another human being. The strength of not being alone in this. The sturdiness of a Heart Roots human who wants to know how she is and who she is and what she feels and love her and call the auto parts store for her when she has no spoons.

Does everyone with an intimate in-person friend feel this much sturdier?, she wonders.

The Man with Heart Roots isn’t enjoying his Job in the desert, though. And since his body is much more fit for Above Ground living, after a year together he takes a new job in Montana.

He can do those things, you see, things like Pack Up Home, Travel to New Land, Find Housing, and Start a New Job with New Coworkers.

It had been hard living Above Ground at that Job in the desert, but the Man with Heart Roots made it more bearable.

You can imagine what it might have been like when he left, can’t you?


Months pass.

In the fall she receives a potent Groundworks Root Infusion from Loamy Above Grounders with Heart Roots.

This provides just enough energy to finally leave the Job Above Ground, which was never a place for someone like her to begin with. It takes the Potent Infusion plus every ounce of the capacity she’s slowly built up over 2.5 years in toxic air.

She travels back to Black Mountain, because it’s the only place she knows, and all she has energy to do.

She feels a bit between worlds here, some space for Root Living, yet heavy Above Ground elements are here too.

Schedules and tasks that create pressure and discomfort.

The absence of deep loamy intention.

Above Grounders on Buddhist treadmills who talk about Above Ground.

Above Grounders on Workaway treadmills, coming and going with that hard-to-breathe air, that dizzying speed.

And in month four, Above Grounders on Magical Plant Class treadmills with their activism and making and sharing meals with friends and gathering in communities.

She smacks into a brick ceiling during that Magical Plant Class.

For three weeks she is surrounded by Witchy Above Grounders who can laugh and delight and drive to town with the effort of a breath and call a friend and be vertical after 4pm and be around other people all day.

Witchy Above Grounders who bond and have a life-changing experience with the Wise Witch Named Starhawk while she experiences Get Horizontal Now and Fuller Than Full and Too Much Too Fast Too Soon and Dangerous Depletion of Composting Time.

The brick ceiling is hard.

“Don’t try to climb!” it shouts fiercely, “You’re in Root Living, not Above Ground, silly.”
“Just be where you are,” it softens.

The impact with those bricks returns her to bed, where she lays with cough and snot and Full Cold.

Debris covers everything in a thick heavy fog.

She honestly doesn’t know if she’s climbing or falling.

How close to the surface is she?

When will she return from Root Living to all the people up Above Ground? When will she have in-person heart friends again? When will she feel like herself again?

Because damnit, she wants to be with the Above Ground people! It’s isolated and lonely down here! She never imagined so much of her fourth decade on Earth would be spent with the roots, in this world that was completely hidden growing up. A world unseen to many.

She holds oceans of grief for all these years unable to live Above Ground.
All these years without in-person friends and laughing and being-with and shared meals.
She needs a sanctuary with others in Root Living.
She needs to curl up and cocoon a while longer.

A week after The Magical Plant Class, still encompassed in fog, wobbling but able to be vertical, she receives word from The Man with Heart Roots that he’s ready to connect romantically with another Above Grounder in Montana.


She feels the same Deep Isolation as when her final foundations had crumbled upon arriving to the desert.

His home in Montana has been the only idea of where to go, if she can’t be Above Ground when she leaves Black Mountain for the Loam Infusion in four months. If it gets worse—as it had during the Magical Plant Class—and she needed to fully cocoon, that’s the only place she knows to go.

Now there’s no safe place to go. No one who understands her flavor of Root Living, which is really a universe. No patience to keep living in this intricate place that no one understands but herself, in the Catch-22.

She slides back down deeper in the roots,
painfully alone,
Deep in the despair of this collapse.

After a week of composting, and beginning to write this very tale, a realization surfaces:
Now Is Not Then. (hat tip Havi Brooks)

She’d grown roots with The Man with Heart Roots.


Not a foundation.

Here’s the thing about roots:
Roots remain.
Roots do not collapse after a single blow.
And roots gently return to the Earth when it’s Nature’s Right Timing.

There. Are. Still. Roots. Here.

She looks around in her dark, and senses what else has been hidden by the recent fog.

More roots:
Roots with her Soul Sister.
Roots with Loamy friends.
Roots with her Spirit, and The Great Mother.
Roots with Younger Her.
Roots with her Wisest and Most Loving Self.
Roots with her Younger Brother.
Roots with Energetic Systems.
Roots with the Energy of her Teachers from Books and Podcasts.
Roots with the Snails and the Redwoods and the Singing Frogs and the Stones.

Yes, her soil is lacking hearty laughs and deep delights and cozy friend-time. But it’s not a barren sand. There are nutrients here. She has cabin time and resting and books and grounding and looking at the mossy branches out the window. She has been replenishing this soil for years in Root Living.

In the weeks that follow, she gathers on paper the superpowers she’s gained through her explorations of Root Living:

~Sword of Truth – Slices through illusion and fears
~Learning Legend – Can learn anything!
~Snail Mail Magic – Sends love and new energy in envelopes
~Fierce Feeler – Sits with emotions and lets them flow
~Deep-Sensing – Senses subtle shifts in energy; intuits the unspoken, the unseen
~Superb Self Knowing – When body needs to lie down, knows upon first hint
~Micro/Macro – Seamlessly zooms in and out, to detail and the soul’s long journey
~Warm Space – Can transform any space to brighten energy flow

She feels a new rootedness, a sliver of fear/shame has been shed, a new layer is emerging. It’s subtle; this isn’t a caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. And yet it’s something. More like a new ladybug stage.

So while she doesn’t yet know places Above Ground that house and feed Root Living folks, that wrap them in safe gentle love, these bodies that can’t do Jobs and Rent and Towns.

And while she doesn’t know what it will look like to leave Black Mountain for Montana in 3 months–for another Loamy Infusion, how far underground she’ll still be, where she’ll live then.

What she knows is this:

She holds in her bones these Root Living superpowers.

And she holds in her heart a beautiful story.
Of meeting those magical connections who welcome her truly with open arms, deep love, let her sleep and cook her soup and don’t expect company or tasks in return. Flowing in her Root Living rhythms where the hearts around her have no expectations, no timeline, no pressure, simply deep wells of love. Singing together and crying together and feeling together and no one is trying to change anyone and these are relationships which can actually hold her and she doesn’t need to “get better” to return to the surface.

Through this love, she would connect deeply with Above Ground humans again. She would rise back to the Tree Trunk Land, her body able to be there anew, offer gifts in love and truth, develop deep relationship with an area of Earth she calls home–knowing it’s all connected, magnetize a Chosen Family of heart root people, live with the Earth’s rhythms, her body’s rhythms, feel safe to be seen & woven into community, and use her deep roots grown in Root Living to love and be with and witness other humans in Root Living. To create the spaces and maps and books she wished she’d had. Trusting that loving in Root Living benefits all beings, all Life.