CULTIVATING BUOYANCY: Keeping Your Center in Times of Turmoil
Anna Singh Deo (2019, Journal Article)
Cultivating Buoyancy is about how we navigate and relate with life’s challenges.
Buoyancy is about our ability to float.
“Have you ever felt like you were taking on too much water and on the verge of sinking?”
Over the course of our lives, we all experience difficulties. Sometimes, we find ourselves losing buoyancy. We may be unable to float and can get swamped.
It was the summer of 2012, when my mind made the connection. The toxicity in my body was simply mirroring a widely contaminated world. That’s when I realized…”I’m just another a canary in a coal mine.” My own painful realities and physical symptoms were reflections of an extremely messed-up world. The loss of clean water, air and too many species to count. Pesticide-laden food and soil. “How is a person supposed to stay healthy in such a toxic mess?!”, I asked my self. “Especially when she desperately loves this Earth and works in the environmental clean up industry?”
For years, I’d already been chewing on …sometimes, stewing over… questions like; “What sustains Polar Bear biologists as they witness mother and cubs slowly starve with shrinking ice flows?” and “How do Hospice caregivers sit with dying people day after day after day?”
On one particular afternoon, while out walking in a nearby forest, words just dropped in from Sky! “Cultivating Buoyancy in the Midst of Anguish”, appeared like a whisper on the wind. When I got home, it dawned on me. “This buoyancy thing isn’t new! It’s just now, I’ve been given words describing what I’ve been doing for years.” In that moment, the Thread of My Life was named.
Our capacity for Buoyancy at any given time is a combined function of Resiliency and Equanimity.
Imagine…being a log raft floating on the surface of water and unexpected “bad news” hits – maybe it’s a serious diagnosis, loss of a loved one, or any challenging situation. Loading pressures increase and push down to submerge the raft. What’s needed for recovering and returning back to the water’s surface is a quality of elasticity. This is a function of Resiliency – the rapidity with which you are able to recover from, or adapt to, adversity. Again…Imagine…being a log raft floating on the surface of water when that challenging situation happens. The loading pressures do increase, however, the raft doesn’t take on water. You are able to be like the ballast of a ship…keeping the raft upright in strong winds, afloat in stormy seas. This inner-steadiness and stability is a function of Equanimity – a capacity for finding balance and keeping your center in times of turmoil, uncertainty and challenge.
Often, it’s the most difficult things to accept, the things we most wish were different than they are, that are most burdensome and weight us down. For a time, that’s how I experienced the life-threatening condition of environmental toxicity. There was so much – personally and globally – that I desperately wanted to be different than it was! I wanted a planet without toxic environments. I wanted to be free of grief. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to be healthy and strong again. I didn’t want to live in fear. As I resisted the full reality of my experience, loading pressures piled up on my raft.
The times when I spun out in worst-case scenarios, about if I would live or not, stress levels shot up, setting off nearly unbearable pain in all my abdominal organs. None of this helped my already extremely confused immune system! That’s when I realized I needed to change how I was relating with pain and fear arising inside. My life would depend on this.
In those most terrifying moments I was presented with an invitation: “Would I learn how to allow and really be with my own discomfort and painful realities?” I was being asked to notice, listen and attend the internal experiences happening underneath my narrative. Once I was able to drop below the level of my thoughts, and be present with my physical and emotional experience, the tide began to turn. Elevated biochemistry and screaming cortisol levels were then able to begin finding their way back down to a calm resting state.
By engaging with Cultivating Buoyancy practices, we turn back towards that which we’ve turned away from, learning to meet with kindness previously unwelcomed material and undigested challenges of our lives. The losses and sorrows, the hopes and dreams that have not been met, offer us an invitation to lighten the load.
When we can be with what’s uncomfortable long enough in a kind, caring and attentive way, things change and transform. By listening and hearing with our hearts, an internal shift occurs. This opens the door for a change of heart and makes room for a kind of reconciling. In essence, Cultivating Buoyancy is a way of welcoming the very experiences that make us human.
I often wonder …
“What if … each of us where to individually cultivate greater buoyancy in these turbulent times, an offering that would benefit both ourselves and our world?”
As a practice and a body of work, Cultivating Buoyancy is now the central focus of my life. Continually, I inquire into the following questions and enjoy sharing with others interested in such matters:
- What specifically increases a person’s capacity for being buoyant in turbulent times?
- What supports us to sit down in silence and stillness in the midst of our complex modern lives, and rest with an inner steadiness and stability?
- How do we strengthen our ability to be with the whole spectrum of life playing out – the ups and the downs?
Cultivating Buoyancy is a way of orienting to our life; a process for being with and responding to the difficulties; is a practice of strengthening our Equanimity and Resiliency.
Image Credit: Jacob Buller, Unsplash Public Domain