Stability Within Instability

stability within instability person swimming underwater“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

I wake up with the oddest sensation. It is as if I am floating, dizzy and disoriented — as if all lines that tether my little balloon to the earth are sliding out of my hands. As yellow sunlight leaks into the room, I let myself feel this lightheaded drift-y feeling. It makes perfect sense that I would feel this way. In less than a month, my husband and I will be hovering between houses: one sold in June, one available in September. Three months of peripatetic* adventure await … and I feel a mix of excitement and anxiety.

It feels like all my stability is gone. But is it?

First this: all movement depends on stability. Without stability, the body cannot find mobility, agility, flexibility or strength. Stability is the sensation that supports everything else.

Then this: reality is inherently fluid, constantly changing, fundamentally unstable. Reality is more like an infinite swimming pool of change than a black and white, rule-based chess board. We are all one phone call, one freak accident, one moment away from our lives being completely upended and utterly changed.

So if all movement depends on stability and if life is fluid and always changing, how do I find stability in an inherently unstable world?

“You don’t” is my answer when my head is spinning and I don’t know what box my socks are in.  But actually I can and do find stability by aligning the way I think with my direct experience.

This may sound a little like nailing jello to a wall but hear me out. Ready? We can do this.

Let’s begin with the body. Early in my Nia training, I was introduced to the sensation of stability as it relates to movement. My expectation, my mind’s idea was that stability was about DOWN ~ rooted, grounded, anchored. In my mind, stability was a solid connection down to the rock of the earth. But that was (and often still is) my mental concept of stability. Real stability isn’t only the pull down, it’s not belly to the dirt. That is immobilized collapse.

Real stability is expansive and allows for everything. Real stability is the sensation of energy radiating out from center in all directions equally. Turn on your awareness as you stand up or walk across a room: the stability you feel isn’t only down, it’s forward, back, up, out, all around.

This radiating out is the direct experience of stability in the body, but my mind wants stability to be something solid, something unmoving and unchanging. My flight/fight/freeze lizard brain (a.k.a. my sympathetic nervous system or my amygdala) is looking for a nice, solid rock to attach my sticky lizard feet to.

To recap: my direct experience of physical stability is one thing (fluid and expansive). My concept of stability is another (a rock).

That which is true in my body is also true in my larger experience. The direct experience of my life is one of constant flow, shift, and change but I think of it as solid and fixed. In a dharma talk in her Noble Heart series, Pema Chödrön says (paraphrase alert),
No matter what we’re given, we turn it into rock. Wisdom or prajña refers to a way of seeing that realizes the open fluid nature of everything.

Pema calls it the difference between Rock Logic and Water Logic. Rock Logic is the desire for everything to be solid and unchanging: our personalities, our relationships, everything. Water Logic recognizes that we are always swimming in and always part of a fluid, boundless vast reality. Water Logic, like stability, is that which holds everything. (You can hear Pema talk a little about this here particularly at 5:00 and after.)

We know this, yet our minds resist. My direct experience of reality is that it is fluid and always changing. My mental concept of reality is that it is solid and predictable. I think of myself as walking solidly on the earth and when it is actually more accurate to think of myself floating in a endless ocean of reality. Imagine yourself swimming deep under water: stability in this environment is not about contraction or rooting down, but rather in expanding, opening, relaxing.

So how do I find stability in an inherently unstable world? Through awareness of and letting go into the boundless fluidity of life rather than resisting against it.

So relax and paddle on, my friends, that’s where stability really lies.

*VOCABULARY NOTE: I had to look up “peripatetic” – it means moving from place to place – it is now officially my favorite word. I think I need a t-shirt.

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