Embrace Groundlessness When Everything Seems Out of Control

Life goes in some unexpected directions, but that can be wonderful if you let go—and let it flow
By Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
September 30, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2020

It’s a fundamental fact of human life that we want our lives to be under control—we develop plans, goals, routines, systems, tools, and schedules to give structure to our lives.

But while developing some structure is a very helpful thing for most of us, the truth is, there’s so much that we don’t control. Life is chaotic.

It’s what Pema Chodron calls “groundlessness”—the feeling of no solid ground under our feet. Other Buddhists might call it impermanence, which is a basic fact of life that we very often don’t want to accept. Whatever you call it, we don’t usually like it. People want solidity.

So what do we do when life feels out of control? We open up to it.

Normally, we seek some kind of control or permanence. The routines and systems, the hardened opinions about how life should be and how others should act, the comfort foods and distractions, all provide certainty and comfort. It contributes to why we procrastinate, put off healthy habits, get angry at others’ behavior, and feel so much anxiety.

But what if we could embrace the groundlessness?

Fresh, Open Experience of Groundlessness

We normally think of the world around us, other people, and ourselves as solid things. But in fact, the things we think of as solid are just our ideas of them. The things themselves are constantly in flux.

Consider yourself:

  • You think you’re an individual person, separate from everything around you. But in fact, you breathe in the air and it becomes a part of you. What separates you from the breath of air you just took in?
  • You drink water and eat food that becomes a part of you, and that food was brought to you by others, the water was brought by a whole system of water distribution, a whole weather system before that. You are only existing because of everything around you. Where do you begin and everything else ends?
  • You are made out of atoms with electrons that are bouncing off, generating heat waves from your body and sound waves from your voice. You radiate an electromagnetic field. In a very real way, you are this field, from a quantum perspective. And you are absorbing the energy from the atoms around you, through breath, your skin, and so on.
relaxing man in the sun
Your life is up in the air—feel the openness of this, the freedom of nothing being fixed. It’s beautiful. (Shutterstock)

In fact, we’re all just interrelated phenomena, constantly shifting. The line between one thing and everything else is in our minds.

OK, that might all seem too abstract. The idea is that nothing is as solid as we think, and everything is interconnected in such a way that we can’t really say that “this is this, and that is that.”

To take it to an experiential level, try this:

  1. Pause for a moment and take in everything around you in this moment. Notice all the objects, the space, the light, the sounds. Bring everything around you, yourself included, into your awareness.
  2. See everything as less than solid. Imagine that everything isn’t as solid as it seems. The air isn’t solid, it’s constantly flowing and changing—now imagine that everything else is similarly fluid, yourself included. Imagine that it’s all just one big sea of changing flowing matter.
  3. Experience the openness. If nothing is solid and permanent, then everything is changing and open. Feel this openness as freedom, a fresh, exhilarating vastness. Relax into this openness, and feel its beauty.

This is the openness of groundlessness. Nothing is solid, nothing is fixed, but this is the good news. Openness is unconstricted, free, peaceful, and gorgeous.

Learning to Find the Beauty in Groundlessness

So things seem out of control and it brings up anxiety in you. How can we work with this?

First, we can allow ourselves to feel the sensations of uncertainty in our body as physical sensations. How does your fear, anxiety, frustration feel in your body? Forget the story about it and just feel the feeling. Being present with this is a courageous first step.

Next, we can experience the groundlessness of the situation. Your life is up in the air—feel the openness of this, the freedom of nothing being fixed. It’s beautiful.

Yes, you have some things to do—that’s the practical aspect of needing to get things done in your life. But for now, just experience the beautifully fresh freedom, the vastly open groundless moment.

Relax into it. Appreciate it. See it with fresh eyes, as if you’ve never experienced this particular moment before. Because you haven’t. No one has.

Then, from this place of openness, ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing I can do right now? What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself and others?”

Take that next step, not out of anxiety or fear, but out of love.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net