Traveling Lightly & Being Grounded in the Middle of Chaos

October 2, 2018 Updated: October 2, 2018

Today Eva and I decided at the last minute to move our 3-week around-the-world trip up two days early to avoid running into a strong typhoon that was headed our way.

We felt tremendous groundlessness going into our trip through Asia, Europe, and Africa with a bunch of work left undone as we headed to the airport.

What is helping us in this time of chaos and uncertainty is two things:

  1. Having the flexibility of traveling lightly; and
  2. Grounding ourselves in the center of the storm of our lives.

I’d like to share a little about these because I believe they have larger lessons for our everyday lives and the groundlessness we feel all the time.

Flexibility & Traveling Lightly

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I’m a huge proponent of traveling lightly. Eva and I each travel for weeks at a time with a small (20L) backpack.

That might sound like bragging, but it’s an important approach that lets us be more flexible on a trip like this. And it speaks to an approach to life in general.

Flexibility and lightness allow us to:

  • Switch plans easily if needed and travel through airports and train stations quickly
  • Not get tired by dragging luggage around and be more open to the experiences
  • Not worry about spending an extra day somewhere—we could walk all day with our backpacks
  • Take an unexpected route (walking, bus, taxi, train, plane) if we feel like it
  • Not be hardened into inflexibility, or as worried about things going wrong

People who pack for every contingency might feel more prepared than we do, even if they pay for it with the burden of weight. I’ve learned to be OK with having fewer options, trusting that I can handle pretty much any situation I’m likely to face because I’ve done it many times before.

Think about this idea as it might apply to our daily lives—being light and flexible might mean we’re less stuck in our ways. We have less to carry on our backs—and in our minds.

With a flexible mind, we can be OK when plans shift as they do every day. We can be open to the opportunities that arise and the experiences that come up unexpectedly. We can flow with change and enjoy it.

How do we develop lightness and flexibility of mind? By being less rigid in how we want things to go. We can choose to love what actually happens. To do that, we need to be aware when our minds get stuck on certain beliefs. Then we can experiment with letting go of those beliefs so we can find new freedom and peace.

Grounding in the Center of Chaos

As we arrived at the airport, Eva and I both felt a huge sense of groundlessness, as if we were falling through the air with nothing to hold on to.

This can feel like being in the middle of a storm without shelter. It can feel very scary, very stressful.

And our normal reaction is to get control of things, to find comfort, or distraction, or to run away from the uncertain situation. We may also complain, or lash out at others, or curl into a ball to protect ourselves.

This comes from a belief that we need to protect ourselves from groundlessness or do something to get rid of the groundlessness.

This is simply not true. We can stay in the middle of chaos and groundlessness, in the middle of the storm, and be perfectly OK. We can breathe, and feel the groundlessness. We can smile, and feel the joy and freedom in it. We can be completely in love with the storm.

The way to start, as I did at the airport, is to come to stillness in the center of chaos. Just stand still for a moment, and feel the sensations in your body. Notice the swirling of emotions, the stress, the tightness in your head or chest.

Just notice, for now. Stay with it, instead of running to a story about the situation. Be with it, with gentleness and curiosity. Develop a friendly attitude toward it.

The tightness might be in your chest, and in fact, you can let go of this and relax. Breathe and let go of the tightness, which is simply you bracing yourself against the storm. By letting go of the bracing and the tightening, we can be at peace in the middle of the storm.

Smile, and let the storm pelt you. Savor the feeling of having no ground under your feet, feeling the freedom of that. Let your mind become wide open like a vast blue sky.

And this is the feeling of being grounded—it’s being at peace with not needing a ground.

It’s actually loving the moment of complete chaos and uncertainty, which is the ground of life.

It’s beautiful, and I’m in the middle of it right now.

I hope to stay centered in the middle of the chaos of this trip, which will be filled with change, stress, complexity, and the unexpected. I hope to maintain my flexibility and stay open to the heartbreaking gorgeousness of the storm.

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