“Let go or be dragged.” ~Zen proverb
Last night at the Midlife Mindfulness group I attend we discussed the concept of groundlessness, which is the notion that life is in constant flux and we can never be fully grounded. As beings, we want to be on solid footing and constantly seek security, when in reality the firm foundation we crave and occasionally feel we have achieved is an illusion. Our resistance to the fluid nature of our existence causes personal suffering because when a change occurs that rips the rug out from under us we feel as if our life is falling apart. Even the term “falling apart” implies that at one point everything was together. But every day our lives are upended by changes. Something as simple as a driving detour can send us spiraling. We become frustrated, worried we will be late, annoyed at the inconvenience. Our discomfort is not caused by the detour, however, but by our resistance to the change placed in front of us. If we choose to regard the detour as nothing more than an unexpected hiccup, we accept that these things happen and our anguish subsides.
I have been considering the suffering I have felt because of the stage I am in with my sons. Joe is off at college, and Luke will graduate in June. As a woman who has devoted two decades solely to the care of my children, I have been experiencing groundlessness. The entire day-to-day reality of my life is changing. They are moving into their lives without me, which is how it is meant to be and what I have always wanted for them. It was only when I began to embrace the pain of letting them go without resisting the accompanying sadness that I was able to move through the grief and towards the point where I can now be at peace with this next phase in all our lives. Do I miss spending time with them? Absolutely. Does my acceptance mean I no longer shed tears about it? Nope. I still do that. But I am able to view this flux in my life now with gratitude for what has been and interest in how this next phase of life will unfold. I don’t have a clue what it will look like, but I don’t need to know that. I simply need to welcome the groundlessness. After all, everything I am now is a result of the changes and adaptations I have had to make in my life thus far. Who knows what personal growth this latest upheaval will bring us?
When I think about groundlessness, I remember one of my favorite scenes from the Ron Howard film Parenthood. The family is attending a school play in which their daughter has a part. In a scene in the play, her character is being pushed to do something she doesn’t want to do. When her little brother witnesses her struggle from the audience, he is compelled to run on stage to save her and chaos ensues. While many people find this interruption an amusing disruption, one woman yells with agitation towards his parents, “He’s ruining the play! He’s ruining the whole play!” The mother tries to stop her son but then decides to let the scene unfold, while the father remains visibly uncomfortable. The camera then films the scene as if the parents are side-by-side on a rollercoaster, the mother relaxing into the innocent pandemonium with smiles and laughter while the father looks frightened, tense and concerned about what others think, anxious about the ride he doesn’t want to be on. Eventually, he notices that most people are laughing as kids on stage have gone rogue and the set is falling over and what was probably a mildly amusing production has turned into an event they will never forget. He releases his desire to control the narrative and begins to enjoy the ride too.
I try to think of life as that rollercoaster ride. We can either choose to focus on the exhilaration of the inevitable peaks and valleys of being alive or we can tense up and feel queasy about them. The ride stays the same, only our attitude about it changes our experience of it. Choosing to live in acceptance of groundlessness can become our new solid ground and free us from the illusion of security along our journey. With some practice, I am improving my muscle memory around being secure within the insecurity of life. Let go or be dragged. Am I right?