Groundlessness: The Path To Emotional Freedom

This quote embodies the concept of groundlessness

“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?

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise
A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.

I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.

While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.

“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”

At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.

While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.

Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.

I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.

Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.

Downhill Battle

Joe is smiling because he’s enjoying his ski day. I’m smiling because things are finally falling into place. Hallelujah!

Eight years. It took us eight years to get our oldest son to spend a day downhill skiing and walk away from it saying he was excited to do it again. I’m not sure what it was that made today the day that everything changed. It was quite cold, downright blizzard-like at times, and he’d spent eight years crafting excuses and explanations about why he despised the sport his father and I love. Seemed to me like a perfect day for him to continue his protestations against a sport he’d never even given a chance. Perhaps he simply got sick of fighting with us about it and realized that after eight years of dogged determination on our parts he was never going to win this battle. No matter. Today was the day everything changed. That’s all I need to know.

“Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.” -EM Forster

I think about this quote (from one of my favorite authors) quite often. So many things in my life haven’t gone according to my appointed schedule. Oddly enough, the Universe does not seem to give a pink patootie about my carefully laid plans. For each time things have gone awry, though, I’ve become a bit wiser. I’ve learned that what’s meant to be will be when the time is right. And about that timing? Well…that’s not up to me, nor is it my job to understand why things happen the way they do. My job is to accept that I have only a modicum of control over anything in my world. Sometimes even something simple, like what to have for lunch, is foiled by a random microwave failure or a too-hot slice of pizza that falls from my hands and lands cheese side down. True story.

Now, I suspected that my son would eventually learn to enjoy downhill skiing. The majority of children who learn to ski end up enjoying it. That part is a no-brainer. As for the timing? Well…it took a little longer than I hoped (eight freaking years longer), but I’m becoming hopeful that we might become an entire family of downhill skiers at some point. It could happen.

Sometimes you just have to back off your expectations and give time some time to work. Thinking you have control over anything, especially your children, is a huge mistake. The Universe conspires to ensure things go directly downhill the minute you think you’ve got it all in place and nailed down. But, if you patiently allow time unfold, let go of your demands, and have faith, at some point in your future the stars might align and what you want and what is will become the same and all will be right in your world…at least for a moment. Then your job is to notice it and enjoy it while it lasts.