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.