In a recent email conversation with Lori Skoog and thinking of Gin at High Mountain Muse, and Tamara at The Barb Wire, I was reminded of the fundamental Buddhist concept of groundlessness.
We humans work hard to create an illusion of standing on solid ground, of seeking metaphorical earth under our feet, especially in times of crisis.
This propensity to create safety and continuity for ourselves has its roots in the neurological setup of our brains. It’s natural for people to try to create formal systems out of chaos. Even daily life, even at its most prosaic, prompts us to make sense of all the input, and to organize and categorize it in order to create a perceived sense of order. When life goes to DefCon 5 and we realize that we are out of control, this creativity kicks into high gear.
My own recent situation exemplifies this very human way of organizing experience. It was my decision to leave Virginia, the home that has brought me the most happiness in what has been, unarguably, a very rough and tumble life. At last, I’d found some peace. After almost seven years, I discovered that I’d found a little too much peace. There was no challenge for me in the life I’d created, other than meeting the constant needs of a hundred-year-old farm. Those burdens were simply not the ones I wanted, it turned out. Increasingly I sought mental and emotional challenges instead. I chose to leave. Conscious choice. I convinced myself that I had a solid ground under my feet in this decision. Just as people do when making decisions: they make little lists of pros and cons, discuss their decisions with their loved ones, let the question rest a while and then return to it. All in the name of making right what they want to do. This is a form of pushing away the illusion that there is order in the universe, that we can impose meaning on the chaos in our hearts. But there really is no such order. The fact remains that I did what I wanted, needed to do. And shortly thereafter, things went haywire. Wild Card!
Things happen. The world is a seemingly chaotic place. We can never predict. All the planning in the world can never indemnify us from the unsecured dog, the friend who turns on us, the reality of life with 1000+ pound equine partners.
But we can indemnify ourselves from harmful, negative reactions to these factors.
The first step is acknowledgement of the fact that there really is no ground under our feet. All our years of training, all the preparation, all the homework, don’t really add up to the concrete pedestal we hoped for. The products of this background work are still constructs of the human mind. We have to acknowledge this fact in order to move forward with the understanding that we are always flying by the seat of our pants. It’s true we have put in the requisite hours over fences or on the trail. But in the end, the preparation is just that.Preparation. When the time comes to use it, we are on our own.
Given the fact that we are in partnership with other living beings, like horses, who have minds of their own, it pays to remain aware that this wild card virtually guarantees surprises.
Pema Chödron writes a great deal about humans’ unwillingness to accept the fact that we stand on continually shifting ground, and the kind of tantrums we throw as we discover that there’s nothing we can do to solidify our base of support. My beloved books have not arrived from the mainland yet, or I’d have plenty of meaty quotes from this wise woman to bolster my point. If you’re so inclined, click on over to her site, and see what she has to say on the subject. She is far more eloquent than I in writing words that allow us to embrace this groundlessness.