I wake up with dirt under my nails. It’s not that I don’t clean them — between painting and gardening and COVID handwashing, I have to scrape under them several times a day. I wondered for awhile if I was forgetting to do a thorough job before bed. Then I gave myself over to magical thinking and imagined I had a dream garden planted somewhere that blooms gloriously but is hidden from my conscious mind.

Do Trees Dream by Joy Murray 2019

I finally figured out it’s from the lotions I use during the night to numb my neuropathy and joint pain. I put it on several times a night and I guess it accumulates and darkens under my nails

Years ago, when I still lived in Portland, and could still walk with a walker, I was counseled by a friend about grounding practices to deal with anxiety. She reminded me to connect with the earth, to put my bare feet on grass, on dirt, on earth. It’s was hard for me, even then, to stand very long, but I would go to a park and sit on a bench, free my feet from my walking boots, then scrunch my toes in the grass and earth.

I never made grounding a conscious therapy. As spring has blossomed here I think of all the summers when I was young. I couldn’t wait to kick of my shoes and walk through the grass. As a child, I think I got a bee sting every year, but oh walking through clover was always such a delight.

People often look at me, see an older woman in a wheelchair, and they wonder if they could bear living life this way. I’m not sure I imagined if I could, but here I am. You adapt. You mourn your losses and find your strengths. My lower body sensations continue to change — some parts numb, others feel pain, others feel false sensations, like crawly skin and sudden twitches. Physically, I weaken and weaken.

I’ve been on a lot of different medications for these symptoms, but in the last few years, the medications that work really well have been regulated to the point that it’s become almost impossible to depend on being able to get them. I’ve lost faith in what for so long has felt like a support system. (These are regulations passed during the previous administration. I don’t know if they’ll get any better in the new one.) I’m switching to more natural medications, vitamins, and mind/body coping mechanisms. I’m taking it slow, but still have had a lot of mood swings and feelings of defeat. I also got blocked on painting.

Now I am grounding myself. I put plants in dirt and urge them to grow every day. I can’t work in the outside garden at all this year, but I’ve had good helpers and we’re planting perennials that will take care of themselves, as nature does, even if I want to take credit for what grows on my little bit of rented land.

On my porch, I decided to plant fewer pots so there’d be more room for chairs, and more turn-around room for my wheelchair. But I keep buying and finding more to bring home, so I’ll see what grows and how to arrange it so there’s room for both human and plant friends.

A degenerative disorder means you can never really feel the illusion that life will be the same from one day to the next. Even though I’ve had this disorder since I was 16, it still surprises me, sends me sputtering around in an ocean of self doubt and insecurity.

When I started potting plants, I could have used my garden gloves to protect my hands and keep them clean, but I wanted to touch dirt. It got it deeply wedged under my nails. I dug and crumbled up earth. I nestled growing things into that dark common substance that is the random gift of all the planet’s history.

I felt like I was burying parts of myself — outmoded beliefs and longings that needed composting. I felt a connection with the muddiness of all life. The dirt allowed me to shape it to my needs. In these small bits of garden, I planted my sorrows and confusion, and I know they will grow into something that delights me in the foreseeable future.

And then, I started painting again.

Grounded by Joy Murray, 8×10″, acrylic on stretched canvas


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4 thoughts on “Grounded

  1. Hi Joy.

    How good to hear you’re busy with potted plants. They are amazingly therapeutic and such a great way to connect with nature.

    You mentioned you were “blocked with painting”. A while back I was too. So one night I turned off all the lights, mixed up my pastels in their box, and painted in the dark. It was very freeing. Another time I thought about the colors I really didn’t like. So I pulled them out and made myself paint with those 3 colors only. Surprisingly, what came forward was one of my favorite paintings for years.

    I’m living in Florida now. My sister was in a coma almost all of April. She is still quite ill and living in the same rehab center as her husband. He had a stroke in early April, followed by brain surgery, Covid, and 4 more strokes. He is making some progress. All in all, it’s been dreadful for both of them.

    Life …some days it’s cherries and other days it’s the pits.

    I hope this finds you in good spirits. I think about our Bridge Meadows friends often and remember some great times there.

    Wishing you all the best,

    1. So sorry to hear your sister and brother-in-law are having such difficult health problems. I hope you are managing and staying well. Those are great ideas for dealing with creative blocks. I think blocks are just a part of the way I work. My son advises me to look at them as refilling the spirit. It’s a bit of advice we pass back and forth between us. He keeps reminding me there are no rules. I still miss Bridge Meadows almost every day, but I’m glad to see they are still thriving. Good to hear from you!

  2. I’ve read somewhere that just putting your hands in the dirt boosts your health, so glad you have a sunny place to watch the growth around you- not to mention do what you to be there with you. I can certainly see that as the subject of some of your art with your potted friends snd unpotted friends all enjoying growing snd thriving together on your porch😎
    They might as well meet to pull their hair or petals out!

    1. It’s true for me — I feel uplifted when I work in the dirt. But I also feel elated when the plants are established and I only and watch them grow. It’s a little miracle what a seed can do with dirt and sun and water. I don’t feel as limited, I see how growth happens in stillness. Thanks so much for reading my blog and supporting me on Patreon! It’s very helpful. I hope you get to porch with me sometime this summer.

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