Since the results of the US elections were announced last week, I’ve taught 17 yoga classes and held space with over 200 people. Like me, many of these students are feeling angry and disappointed. But by far, the most painful feeling that seems to be arising is uncertainty. “What’s going to happen?” we ask. “Can something be done?” we wonder. “Are we safe?” we whisper.
For an untold number of people in the US and around the world, it’s like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. But as we scramble to regain footing, we have an uncommon opportunity to experience the groundlessness of our collective situation. As we free-fall, we have the chance to recognize that there is no ground, and there never was any ground to begin with.
Human beings tend to dislike uncertainty. We want to know if it’s going to rain and whether we should bring an umbrella. We want to know that the world will keep turning in our lifetime, and our children’s lifetime, and our children’s children’s lifetime. We want to know that there’s meaning to our days and something solid to stand on despite the randomness of life. We want certainty because the pain of not knowing is so great.
It was the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, who first introduced me to the idea of groundlessness, but as she did, I heard the yogic teachings around aparigraha (non-attachment) in her words. There’s nothing solid to stand on because impermanence is a fact of life. We can find our footing for a minute, a day, a year, maybe 10 years, but the rug will be pulled out eventually; it always is. To the extent that we were counting on the rug to stay put, we will suffer. But to the extent that we can stay open to impermanence and uncertainty, to the extent that we can stay tender-hearted even as we free-fall, we will nurture and grow our capacity for love and compassion. Then, when we meet people who have lost their footing, we will know their pain because we’ve felt it so many times.
The times have always been uncertain. The way forward has only ever been love. We can’t be sure what’s going to happen, but we can commit ourselves to staying open, rather than shutting down.
Photo by Erin Bidlake