Growth. Time. Change and the idea of flow in nature.
When I make a work I often take it to the edge of its collapse and that’s a very beautiful balance.”Andy Goldsworthy
Do you ever feel as if life is like piling rocks? You build a solid foundation and things feel stable and under control until something happens, and the column starts to wobble. Then one more small, even micro thing is added and the column, what you called stability, comes tumbling down.
One tiny change or piece of news can tip us over the edge and leave us feeling like life is out of control.
Tipping my balance
I thought I was doing pretty well, in my season of loss, and was enjoying summer’s long days and warm nights. I even promised myself “No more blogs about loss for a while.” Then another rock was placed on my cairn: my sister-in-law was diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer.
I carried on, of course, but I felt exhausted and edgy, vulnerable to the little things that can escalate into big problems. And then one happened: deer invaded our property.
I could feel the rocks tumbling: I felt out of control.
If you live in the city, you might not understand how crazy-making it feels when a deer invades. My husband and I fenced our property and gave the deer access to half. We enclosed the part of our yard that had vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamental plants and gave the deer access to most of the woods and fields. Then we asked them to keep the bargain.
Mostly they comply.
And mostly I am a deer lover. I grew up watching Bambi, and I find deer beautiful, intriguing, and natural—as long as they stay on their side of the fence.
But they become domestic terrorists after a break-in. In one evening they can eat:
- the leaves off all of the grape vines
- the tops of most the snap peas
- all the leaves off the Euonymus bush
- a good number of kale plants.
And that’s just what I discovered one morning when I found the culprits: a two-prong buck and his partner, sauntering across our yard as if they owned the place.
I was able to shew them away, and my husband and I rebuilt the fence where they had jumped in.
All good—until the next morning when I found their progeny, a young doe, chomping the remaining grape leaves. Evidently, she had hidden in the thick brambles or snuck in under the fencing. That’s when I lost it.
This is too f-ing much. I’m shaky enough. All this loss and now a deer. Too much! I can’t take anymore.
Watching my young opponent, I felt immobilized and so did the doe. We stood just ten feet apart staring at each other. (She was beautiful.) After a minute, she decided that such intimacy wasn’t to her taste and bounded off to hide in the woods.
And I went back in the house quaking, my anxiety spiking, unsure what to do. I felt out of control.
Welcome to the real world.
Truth is the world will always be a mix of moments of stability and times of being out of control.
People around the globe understand this. During the pandemic, we learned that believing we are in control is often an illusion.
Here are areas where I feel out of control:
- Climate change and global warming.
- The political situation in Washington, DC, and most of the world.
- The cancers plaguing friends and family members.
- The Washington State Ferry System — my lifeline to mainland USA.
I know that many in other places—think Syria or Ukraine—live the fragile balance every day between life-goes-on and life-is-out-of-control.
Then there are all the people who feel psychologically vulnerable and live with the risk that “one more thing” may topple their fragile ability to cope.
I could almost feel sympathy (almost) for those with so much anxiety about the future that they buy in to the false promises offered by autocrats and political douche-bags.
How to cope with feeling out of control
Life will always be a balance of stability and out-of-controlness. But feeling like we’re tipping can be terrifying.
Last week taught me to explore what we can do.
- Let it be. It’s tough to feel wobbly and it’s very human. We don’t need to add a serving of self-judgment when our plate is already full. (Preaching to myself!)
- Remember the balance. Change requires letting go and regaining stability. Life will go on. Often we’ll regain our footing and things will get better. Hang in there!
- Don’t kick the dog or insult your partner or friends when fear or anxiety wants to boil over. And avoid false solutions when your mind is spinning.
- Do little things that feel stabilizing, ones that you can control. I swept the floor. I washed dishes. I tried to move around even when I felt drawn back to bed. (Anxiety takes a toll on my motivation.)
- Indulge your senses. Sensory pleasures are like a quick trip to the here and now. I ate one of the remaining snap peas, relished my raspberries, and retreated to my art space where I found joy in letting my fingers dip into yellow paint and swirl it on a wood panel.
- Empathize with others. I’ve got it easy. I’m losing friends and family, and I carry grief from the losses that come with aging. But most of the small things that trigger my anxiety pale next to the poverty and catastrophes facing many.
My mini solution
When I relaxed and stopped hating the doe, I thought about her situation. The doe wasn’t doing anything wrong—just following her nose and clever instincts as she chewed through our fence. I tried to picture her as a sentient being and sent her love (really!).
When I stopped despairing about her presence, I could picture her path.
I did a special meditation asking for help from whatever nature spirits or invisible forces are with us on the property. “Please tell the doe that she is welcome—and help her leave the property.”
Did this subtle communication make a difference?
No way to know, but an hour later the doe was grazing in the unfenced harbor of a neighbor’s field,
My husband and I spent the remainder of that evening patching the fence.
And I said a big prayer of gratitude.
I know that deer can still break back in at any moment. I think they can smell our remaining peas from a hundred yards away, and they are highly motivated.
I will never be completely in control of my life.
In that way, my deer experience was a good life lesson. I added one last step to my list of survival skills.
- Reach out. I don’t usually feel like talking to anyone when life has me spinning. But the support of an empathic friend is one of the best ways I know to ground myself.
I close with an invitation for you to reach out when you feel out of control, the world feels like too much, and you find yourself spinning.
If this happens to you, remember you are not alone. We’re living in times of massive, collective uncertainty. And we’re in it together.
Drop me a line if it will help because, believe me, I’ll understand.
And now for a moment with a master of finding control and then losing it: the artist of the ephemeral, Andy Goldsworthy. I highly recommend watching Rivers and Tides, the slow-moving, gorgeous documentary about his work.