Groundlessness

I have a warm spot in my heart for the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, and Roadrunner. The schtick is well-known by this point, but I always enjoyed the Roadrunner and Coyote. As a kid, I imagined being able to run off cliffs and avoid the law of gravity simply by not looking down. I would never have been so silly as to look down like Coyote–he never learns!–and end up plunging into the canyon below.

That’s the image that pops into my head when I think about the concept of groundlessness. Pema Chodron speaks wisely and at length about “the fundamental groundlessness of life” in many of her books. Groundlessness is the idea that the act of living is an ongoing situation of impermanence. Life doesn’t stand still and sometimes the ground gives out beneath you. When that happens, the feelings of uncertainty and upheaval can lead to clinging to old ways and routines.

I’ve struggled with groundlessness, and I don’t think there is anyone, even the freest of free-spirits, who doesn’t struggle with wanting to avoid calamity, danger, or a future that might not turn out the way you wanted. What could be more human than to seek warmth, familiarity, shelter, and safety? But this cozy narrative of what it means to be human leaves out a big piece of our story and our drives.

What could be more human than to seek opportunities and adapt to them? What could be more human than to discover and explore, to try to understand something never seen before, to be open to the unexpected, the uncertain? This is groundlessness in its purest form. It can find us or we can find it, but either way, the loss of certainty is inevitable and repetitive.

I have a theory that the real reason Coyote plummets to the bottom of the canyon when he looks down has nothing to do with seeing where he is. It’s the panic and rush to go back to how it was that causes Coyote to fall and end up as a splat. You will notice that Roadrunner never has this issue, because the bird never panics about where they are in three-dimensional space.

It’s a cartoon. I’m stretching the metaphor to its limit, sure, but it’s not a bad interpretation. Roadrunner speeds over the edge, never looks down, keeps that fuck-you stride, and doesn’t fall. Coyote speeds over the edge, looks down, panics, reverses course, and falls. Over and over again. He doesn’t learn.

But you do. Embracing groundlessness as a natural force in this life is the only way to keep going forward. Keep going forward into the unknown, and sometimes say “Meep! Meep!” just for effect. Y’know, if you feel like it.

No Excuses Solo Travel

When was the last time I traveled completely alone?

I went to Oklahoma for my mom’s birthday in 2017. But I traveled with my sister and stayed with my parents, so that doesn’t count for these purposes.

No, when was the last time I went somewhere completely by myself? I visited my best friend when I was in high school and flew alone to Louisiana. But her family picked me up at the airport, and I stayed with them the entire time.

I can conclude then that I have never traveled completely alone. I have always had family or friends with me for the better part of a trip. I’ve never been in a position to independently plan my days and activities. How strange to be in my late 30s and only now contemplating solo travel.

My favorite excuse for my inability to travel alone has been Motherhood. In fact, Motherhood has been my most-used excuse for the things I’ve said no to in the last 14 years. Motherhood was at some point somewhat of a hindrance, and it still offers limitations. But I am not so limited as I pretend.  

What would it be like to go to Portland, Oregon on a solo trip for four days, three nights?

Getting only myself onto the plane, off the plane, then to my accommodations. Taking some time to settle in first then go walking and exploring, getting a feel for the neighborhood. Finding my bearings and a cafe. Dinner. An early night to rest up for the next day.  

Choosing the day with the best weather to go to the beach. Walking the shoreline, exploring, turning over driftwood, rocks, feeling the cold sand, breathing the brine. Lunch. Finding another coffee shop or quiet bar to write and read.

Another day I would go to Powell’s Bookstore and make that my epicenter for exploration. I would walk in ever-expanding circles (or more probably rectangles), discovering the nooks and crannies of the high streets. Looking in at boutiques, used bookstores, pastry shops, Thai places. I would get a tarot reading, a massage.

I would go a whole day without speaking more than necessary pleasantries. I would be eyes and ears, hands and feet. I would tunnel into the thoughts these sensations evoke. Slip out of expression except through movement and writing. How interesting to be, without being forced to emote or communicate outside of oneself. Only for a short time, but what a pleasure to vacate the land of speech.

I’m going out to find new stories, my own stories, and bringing them back to share.

Fewer excuses, more stories.

 

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Everyone has a rock star dream. For some, the dream is to work at a prestigious institution whether academic, scientific, artistic, or corporate. The dream might be owning your own business or being your own boss. For others, the dream could be living in an exotic country, in a city far removed from anything familiar. Perhaps the house itself is the dream in the form of a houseboat, a tiny house, an old farmhouse that needs renovation, or a recreational vehicle and a nomadic lifestyle.

Only last year, I dreamed of becoming a full-fledged CPA and globetrotting accountant, but I broke up with that dream in January 2018. So why did I leave that dream in the dust despite a good company with upward momentum and a strong network?

Dreams change.

I moved into my dream and began to follow the steps to make it happen. I was well connected and had clear indication from peers and superiors that my career would fall into line. Their only question was where would I like to live and work next? But making dreams into reality causes some strange shifts. It doesn’t feel the way you expected on the inside. Like a fancy dress with netting in the skirt, the romantic look of it masks the reality of yards of scratchy netting next to skin.

I did not want the dream anymore. The dream made me feel that I was leasing my life from my job. The dream required a two-hour daily commute. The dream meant that when I had time with my children, they saw a woman who was irritated and always tired. The dream severely limited my social life and strained my relationship with my wife. The day the dream became untenable was the day I realized that the next promotion would mean even more hours and even more stress. The promotion was only six months away, but I was already at my breaking point. It had to stop.

Unfortunately, realizing that it’s not working is not the same thing as breaking up. It took me three months to fully see that this dream was incompatible with who I was and who I wanted to be. I thought I had failed the dream, forgetting that dreams should be tailored to the dreamer and not the other way around. When dreams change, it’s okay to mourn a little, kick the dust, and give the limp, worn out dream one more embrace.

If the dream isn’t for you anymore, it doesn’t matter how shiny it is—put it down and walk away. You will find that you are full of dreams and breaking up with the wrong ones will bring those other possibilities to the surface. You will be able to walk through other doorways, down other avenues, unencumbered.

And your mind won’t itch the way it did before.