The Omphalos Meditation: an alternative grounding and centering visualization

Grounding and centering is a fundamental part of my practice. It’s often the first thing Pagans and Wiccans learn, and it can be almost deceptively simple: connect yourself with the energy of the world around you in order to come into better balance. It really is that simple, and like many simple things, it really has many layers of complexity hidden within it. I’ve been known to say that it may be the first lesson in Wicca because in some ways it’s the only lesson.

Most of us do this through a visualization exercise, and the most common one is the Tree of Life visualization or something like it. But that visualization is exceptionally difficult for me to do when laying down. When imagining the Tree of Life, the trunk of my body, and especially my spine, become the vertical axis of the tree. I send roots out of my feet and out of my sit bones, and I send branches out of my head and shoulders.

Laying down, when I begin to visualize roots, if I begin to visualize them coming out of my feet (which are not supporting me), those roots make a hard 90 degree turn to go down towards the earth. My branches make a similar abrupt turn out of my shoulders, and the whole result leaves me with the amusing but unfortunately distracting image of a tree trying to get comfortable on a pillow while pulling up its blankets with one leafy branch.

If instead I try to have both roots and branches come out of my center of gravity, I get the unpleasant visualization of having a tree growing through my  middle with only a small area of contact as I am more or less impaled. This does nothing to help me run that energy throughout my whole body; it is frankly counterproductive.

The real problem is that when I’m trying to ground and center while laying down, it’s often because I’m sick. This is a time when I seriously need to ground and center, but also a time when difficult visualization may be beyond my capacities. If I feel so bad that I’m having trouble getting out of bed, then it’s hard for me to hold competing images (I’m laying down, I’m sitting up; my feet (roots) are in the ground, my feet are up on the bed…). It’s also a time that I need to be in my body, to ground and center in my body directly, rather than trying to detach myself and imagine being perfectly healthy and sitting or standing upright. I have to be honest about where I am and what I’m doing if I’m going to ground and center effectively at all.

I’m developing the Omphalos Meditation as an alternative. Omphalos is the Greek for navel (bellybutton), and the idea of there being an omphalos, or navel of the world, which was a sacred site, comes from Greek mythology. Multiple religious artifacts which represented that omphalos have been found, including one which was in the temple of the oracle at Delphi.

The omphalos represents a point of connection. Just as the navel is a point of connection between mother and infant, the omphalos can symbolize the connection between earth and sky, which nurture each other, or between the spirit world which nurtures and sustains life in this world.

As this source and center, the omphalos is also a kind of axis mundi. The concept of the axis mundi as a spiritual center about which the world is organized can be found in multiple mythologies. Whether it’s a pillar or a tree of life, this organizing and connecting vertical axis is a vital symbol. Our Tree of Life meditation is a kind of axis mundi which connects us, orients us, and steadies us.

The omphalos can be kind of axis mundi, marking the center, but instead of insisting on strictly vertical imagery, it is more adaptable. And because it metaphorically echoes the bellybutton, it can easily be used to make a gentle, steadying connection through that part of the body while lying down.

To do the Omphalos Meditation, lean back or lie comfortably so that your center of gravity – which is usually just a few inches down from your navel – is supported. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and steadily.

Draw your attention to your belly, your navel, and its place as the center of your body. Feel it being supported. Imagine it as the top of a pillar which extends down, through your support, becoming wider as it descends. That pillar is formed of your belly, whatever you’re resting on, the ground beneath that, and the ground beneath that. Follow it down as it goes deeper and deeper, becoming wider and wider, until you realize that the foundation of the omphalos is the whole earth itself.

Feel that connection steadying you and supporting you. Draw strength from it as much as you need.

Now see that the pillar below you has a twin, extending upwards from your center and your belly, one made up of air and light, which reaches up from you as far as you can see. The same air that flows through you and moves your belly when you breathe is caressing you from the outside. The earth below you supports you, and the sky above you comes down to meet it, touching gently, meeting in balance at this center point where you are resting.

Draw support from the sky as well, feeling it balance the energy below you. Circulate that energy throughout yourself as you need.

When you are ready, take a final breath, release the images, and open your eyes.

 

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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10 Responses to The Omphalos Meditation: an alternative grounding and centering visualization

  1. Interesting visualization. I am left with the image of an hourglass with my navel as the narrowest point and energy/sand pouring in from both wide-open mouths. I will have to try it and see how that works for me. :)

    • Literata says:

      That’s sort of it, although I don’t mean the point of contact at the navel to be too narrow. I tend to visualize it as being about as wide across as my belly is, or a little wider, the better to support me. That may sound identical to the tree imagery, but somehow for me it’s easier to use that wide contact – which has a depression it it, like my navel or larger, like a shallow bowl-shape at the top – as a circle to spread the energy around and radiate it gently through my whole body.

      If you keep trying it, please do tell me how it works and doesn’t for you, or how you adapt it.

    • Literata says:

      Thanks! I’d love to hear what you think if you play around with it, because I’m also hoping it’s a little more forgiving of different kinds of bodies, or at least less likely to play into body issues that emphasize “long and lean” aesthetics. On the other hand, if people are uncomfortable with their bellies, this might trip over that, so I don’t know.

      • I will!
        An image I’ve used myself in the past for sitting or lying-down grounding is a mangrove swamp. A single plant can stretch over a couple of square miles — that’s certainly one organism in the image — but like all living things, it started small. So I start small, with a single sprout at my center, and then imagine the mangrove spreading through my body until it forms a grove that looks something like an island, but has no land as part of it, just the plants on the water. Then I send down all those hundreds of thousands of roots to connect to the earth below that brackish water,

        Not a natural image if you don’t know what a mangrove is, but I grew up in Florida, and used to fish in mangrove swamps. They’re pretty amazing. Other environments probably have plant life that is more distributed as well, like some kinds of grasses, water lilies, strawberry plants, raspberry thickets, etc.

        • Literata says:

          I like that. It’s a great example of how our natural environment will give us more options – and a lot more details for visualization – than we might come up with on our own.

      • I have an eight-year-old friend who has been very curious about my practice lately, so, with her parents’ permission, I’ve been teaching her bits and pieces, as she asks. Today I taught her to ground and center using your omphalos meditation, and it went wonderfully. I simplified the language somewhat, but not a lot. We talked beforehand about what your center is, and how it’s the center of your balance, and the center of your energy, and what energy in your body is and how it moves and works, and we talked about how the earth has its own energy and how and why we connect to that, and how the sky does, too. And then we worked up some dough for sourdough pretzels, and then we did it. (I like to give her a little time to adjust to an idea before putting it into action.)

        And she got it. The imagery made perfect sense to her, she gave me feedback as we did it that told me it was working well for her, both metaphorically and practically. She really liked laying down for it, and it seemed to improve her concentration a lot to do that (we do some sitting meditation when she comes over, with a drum). And it just. . . worked. Simple and clean.

        Some people, the tree or the fountain meditations just make perfect sense to, it just clicks for them, and some people they don’t. Your omphalos meditation really clicked for my friend. (And it worked well for me, too, although I was paying more attention to her, so I don’t have any more specific feedback personally; I definitely want to play with it some more on my own.) Thanks!

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  3. I definitely have the same problem with grounding and centering when I’m laying down. I usually just force myself to sit up and put my feet on the ground.

    Sometimes if I can’t sit up, I will ground and center using the imagery of the ocean shoreline – instead of roots, the ocean’s waves, the sand, the sun, and the wind send energy in and out as needed until I am balanced. The visualization is one I still need to fine tune, though, before I can effectively talk others through it.

    The idea of the Omphalos is intriguing, but I think for myself being the balance point between two pillars would be even more disorienting (and perhaps slightly terrifying) than a crooked tree :)

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