“Relax. Nothing is under control.”
I read somewhere that the craving for certainty is the very definition of anxiety itself.
It made me think of anxiety like a growth on your body. One that if you followed it down to its very root, you’d find this little person with a big voice screaming out a series of terrifying ‘what ifs’.
This little person craves pining things down and hates the great unknowns. It tries to imagine every single possible scenario, preparing for every conceivable outcome, disguising overthinking and overanalysing for preparation.
As much as I love to have plans, goals, structure, routine – it doesn’t change the fact that most of what happens in life is out of my control. And yours too. I mean, think about it: we are literally held down by a gravitational force on a rock that is spinning through and infinite amount of space. Having control is an illusion. The only obvious thing we can control is ourselves, and even that feels often feels difficult.
I recently discovered a podcast called Secular Buddhism. It’s as if the universe conspired for me to hear it because I’ve been struggling a lot with a specific soon-to-be change in my life. So, I scrolled through and discovered the episode titled “groundlessness”. I laughed because it’s all the rage nowadays to feel grounded. I clicked on it and allowed my ears to sponge up a soothing modern-day Buddhist remind me that: ‘life is not in my control, and never actually was, and as scary as that sounds it’s actually okay.’
So, what is ‘Groundlessness’?
It is what Buddhists call it impermanence and it’s a difficult reality accept. Human beings crave solid ground; a concreteness, a knowingness that everything will work out. It’s in our human nature.
But no matter how much we try to make things secure and permanent, each one of us will experience a complete and utter loss of control. These situations will vary in magnitude, but if we live long enough, something unexpected, often painful and entirely uncontrollable will happen. Maybe we discover our beloved dog has terminal cancer, or our partner is leaving us, or we are being fired from our job, or we have some incurable illness. Whatever it is, we are thrown out of our secure little routine-based lives and plunged into a whole new world of uncertainty, anguish, confusion and suffering.
Accepting the loss of control
According to Buddhists, we suffer most when we resist what is. Instead of accepting the fact that we our entire sense of the world is out of control, we might try to deny it or escape through drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, etc. But all we need to do is feel the fall and embrace it.
That’s right. Embrace that terrifying, horrible, gut-wrenching sensation of falling. You might then ask: how exactly, Mr Buddha, could I ever possibly get to the point where I would embrace the filling of having the rug pulled out from under me, throwing me deep into uncertainty and insecurity?
Apparently, this happens by allowing ourselves to feel the sensations of uncertainty in our body as physical sensations. We allow our body to surge with fear, anxiety, frustration and become present to it circulating in our body. That’s it, just letting it be. Most of the time, we cause more suffering by telling ourselves to not feel what we currently feel. Which is well, futile, because we are already feeling it.
Whether we like it or not, the very essence of life is change and impermanence. In order to find peace we need to make friends with uncertainty.
Difficult moments push us to grow
Difficult moments offer us an opportunity to discover something about ourselves. Suffering and pain allow us the opportunity to transmute those experiences for something bigger than ourselves.
Instead of reaching out for an escape, turning bitter or closing down, we are encouraged to face our suffering and use it as fuel for transformation.
When life is spiralling out of control, the last thing anyone wants to hear is “stay present”. Um, no thanks. I’d rather dissociate and take my mind anywhere but where it is. But staying present comes hand in hand with acceptance. The good news is that we are always far stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
Once we learn to accept all of the darkest moments of life, we learn that nothing lasts forever. Everything is changing and fleeting. As much as it may feel like we do, we actually can experience love, abundance and joy without having the solid ground to stand on.
“Wherever we are right now, whatever our lives are like in the moment, this is our mandala, our working basis for awakening. The awakened life isn’t somewhere else — in some distant place that’s accessible only when we’ve got it all together. With the commitment to embrace the world just as it is, we begin to see that sanity and goodness are always present and can be uncovered right here, right now.
– Pema Chödrön