Tag Archives: stability

Religion and the need for stability

Life is of course unpredictable, but there is something in many of us that craves stability. Some people thrive on challenge and change, but many do not. It’s easy to look at religion and the way in which we appeal for help or try to appease forces of nature, and see the desire for stability playing out. As we’ve become more able to control our environments and create stability for ourselves, we’ve changed from making sacrifices to the most dangerous aspects of nature, and grown religions that are more human-centric.

Religions are full of rules about what we can and can’t do. At some level, those rules are about keeping God happy because if you keep God happy you get stability. You don’t get floods, storms, volcanoes, plagues… The Old Testament is pretty clear that these are the consequences of an unhappy God. Being able to ascribe unpredicted things to the will of an angry God may itself give us more of a feeling of control.  Perhaps it is worse to imagine that terrible things happen for no reason at all and that the universe couldn’t give a shit.

We are comforted (some of us) by the idea that the universe gives a shit. The desire to see the world as both kind and meaningful can lead to staggering forms of cognitive dissonance. If the world is good, then terrible things are really good things in disguise. That which ruins our lives and tears us apart – literally and metaphorically, has to be recast as our benevolent teacher. I think choosing to learn can be a good and valid response to difficult things. However, the idea that we have been given the terrible things so that we can learn makes me really uneasy.  Sometimes it seems much kinder to say ‘shit happens’ and not to feel taught by it at all.

Change itself is neither automatically good, or bad. It can take us in either direction. However, change is exhausting when it is mostly what you experience. Even a great deal of good change can wipe you out. We need time to process change. We need to be able to make sense of it, and we need to feel we are riding the waves even if we have no say in where they are taking us. The more out of control you feel, the more tempting it may be to attribute the chaos to a will beyond your comprehension. Perhaps sometimes that helps. However, trusting that the chaos is taking you somewhere you need to go can itself be a dangerous choice, and one that encourages us not to think things through or take care of ourselves.

If you find yourself swept away by a river in full spate, do you trust the river’s intentions? Do you trust that the river God has a higher plan for you? Or do you try and get out of the river?

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Balance and the equinox

Although I perceive the lengthening of nights speeding up around the equinox, the event itself doesn’t register with me at an emotional level as an event. I know it happens, but I don’t feel it in the way I do the solstices. As far as I know there’s not much evidence for it being celebrated historically, but it does balance the calendar nicely, so – why not?

The idea of balance is an interesting one. It can, on the surface, look like a restful, peaceful if not downright static sort of state. Physical balance like any kind of balance in life is often more about having all the tension pulling just so in different directions so that the thing in the middle stays still. Walking is the fine art of not quite falling over, in a controlled way. Muscular strength vies with gravity. One slip, and gravity wins. We talk about work-life balance and that’s not passive either, it’s an active kind of juggling.

Is balance a good thing? Is it inherently unsustainable, underpinned as it so often is by opposing forces? There is the continual potential for one of those forces to gain dominance and drag that stability off in a sudden new direction. A bit like a guy rope going and the whole tent falling over. Does balance lull us into a false sense of security, making us blind to the emotional guy ropes pulling hard on us, keeping us in place?

Looking back, I had exactly that kind of balance in my twenties. I think most of the time I was able to put on a decent public face as a consequence of it. Being stretched almost to breaking to point, pulled in many directions, I somehow managed not to fall over. To a degree I created that situation, using other demands on my time and energy to offset things that were unbearable in my life. Using one tension to distract from another. Creating an illusion of stability that meant no one on the outside questioned what was going on with me. I was just very busy, to a casual glance. But I was stable, so that was fine. Except it wasn’t.

This last year I’ve mostly lost my balance. I have entirely lost all illusions of circumstantial stability, and all ability to maintain the relentlessly good face in public. No more stiff upper lip for me, and that’s probably a good thing. From the outside I don’t look terribly in control, or balanced any more. Some of the pulls and pressures in my life took control, and now where there was something a bit like stasis, there is instead a wild, chaotic rush of movement. It’s a bit like surfing. There are days when I am on top of the waves, and days when the waves are on top of me, and despite what I’d imagined such chaos to be like, I haven’t actually drowned yet.

Coping, is all about balance. Holding some kind of stillness in the midst of the storm, staying afloat, or however you choose to articulate it. Coping is the fine art of balancing all the tensions so that you stay upright, and don’t tear apart. It’s the tent metaphor all over again. But living and coping are not the same thing. Truly living, engaging with the world, doing new things, permitting yourself to feel and express – none of this lends itself to that perfect, centred balance. In much the same way that walking is the fine art of not quite falling over.

For a while this was all just happening to me, but like a child learning to walk, I’m getting a bit more choice in the process now. How fast to go, and when to lie down, rather than having lying down happening because I’d not mastered the ‘not quite’ bit of not quite falling over. It’s very different when you choose it. And pushing the metaphor out a little further, it also means I get to choose when to run, and why.

The kind of balance I had, was soul destroying. It was wrecking me in a way that was almost completely invisible. On the whole, I like this staggering about not quite falling over stuff better. It feels good to be moving. I have lost my balance, and found my feet, found the possibility of walking, and living.