The unstable path

In our lives, we need both stability and instability. They can also be understood as certainty and uncertainty.

We construct structures for ourselves that provide us the stability and instability we seek. For example, we get married to create stability (perceived) in our relationship. We get a job so that we have stability in our income, leading to certainty of our survival.

We also need instability, or uncertainty. Amid the stability of our lives we allow ourselves pockets of instability in which we have the space to discover new things. For example, we might go take a class to learn a new skill, or we might attend a social event to get to know more people to expand our network.

With instability, two things happen simultaneously.

One, we break down existing beliefs.

Two, we expand. We are able to expand our perspectives and grow because we have overcome barriers to growth.

Barriers refer to the limits in our beliefs and perspectives that stop us from experiencing whatever lies outside our limits.

For example, to make a new friend, I would have to let go of my discomfort around speaking with a stranger, so that my heart can expand to take in a new point of view and make space for a new person.

Seeking stability

We seek stability on multiple levels but here I wish to focus mainly on emotional stability. Physical stability refers to buying a home, ensuring we have enough money for food, and so on. But we also seek emotional stability, and I believe this is what stops us from experiencing the totality of life.

Let us look at a simple work relationship. Why do we go to work? If it is for survival, we do not need to work so hard, a simple job that gives us enough money to eat would be sufficient. But to many people, a work is not just about survival. For many, work is also about prestige, recognition, status, achievement, and self-worth. Of course, for those who have transcended these levels of awareness, work is also about expression, mission, self-actualisation, and self-realisation.

Let us focus on those who look to work for their identity and self-worth, i.e. people who work for the extrinsic motivators, such as promotions, prizes, recognition, praise, approval, validation, and so on.

What do they seek as a stability? If I work hard, I get X. This is then the equation of their lives. I work hard, I get attention. I work hard, I get more attention.

So the cycle repeats.

Although within each cycle there is instability, namely the question of ‘Will what I am doing pay off and bring me attention?’, the base equation is the same, and is therefore stable, constant, in that person’s life.

Why we seek stability

Why do we seek emotional stability? What drives seeking? Why do we seek attention, praise, approval, acceptance?

We seek that which we do not have.

Therefore, any person who seeks these things must not possess them within. I seek acceptance from you because I do not accept myself. I seek attention from you because at some point in my life I needed attention and no one bothered about me, and I felt neglected.

We seek externally to fill holes in ourselves.

What happens when we seek stability

When we seek stability in this manner, two things happen.

One, we get what we seek and our efforts pay off. We feel a momentary satisfaction, but then start to feel empty once more. So we continue the cycle, seeking more desperately each time, like an addict needing more and more. We want so desperately to hold on to that love, attention, knowledge, or whatever prize we have identified.

Two, realise that the methods we use to seek what we wish to gain are no longer effective. There is a breakdown and a re-evaluation of what we do. For example, people who seek fame and fortune, gain everything they want to gain, and then realise that that was not the answer. Or those who seek approval from others and one day realise that the cost to seeking external approval was a rejection of the self, and the pain of self-rejection eventually grew too great to bear.

In the second outcome lies our growth and our hope, because it is there that we allow for something new to come into our lives, something more.

In the second outcome lies a chance for change.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

– Anais Nin

Enter instability

When our comfort zones prove too tiny, when known methods prove ineffective, when something in our hearts call for more, we are finally willing to embrace instability.

There is a desire for newness that arises within us, driving us to seek out more. To explore, dream, discover. This is when, with much pain and reluctance, we put down all that we once knew, to follow the path less traveled.

Letting go of the fetters of routine, we take a leap of faith into the abyss of the unknown.

We see this happening when a person gives up his stable job for the path of entrepreneurship, trading in conformity for creation.

We see this happening when a person lets go of an abusive relationship, trading in submission for freedom.

We see this happening when a seeker gives up a routine life to find himself, trading in comfort for truth.

What differentiates the stable path and the unstable path?

On the stable path, there is grasping. On the unstable path, there is flow.

What is grasping? Grasping we are more concerned with capturing moments than actually living the moments themselves.

During a concert, instead of giving ourselves up fully to the intensity of the moment and surrendering fully to the music, we take out our phones and record what is going on. When we come across beautiful scenery, instead of becoming one with the beauty, we try to capture the beauty through a phone.

He who binds himself a Joy,Does the winged life destroy;He who kisses the Joy as it flies,Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

– William Blake

But can moments really be captured? Or are they meant to be felt absolutely, fully, completely? When we grasp we deprive ourselves the completeness of experience, and in ourselves we feel something forever missing.

Grasping is when we are so desperate for a particular outcome, for external reality to match up to our internal expectations that we stop experiencing life as it is, but live in a miserable comparison of what should be versus what is. ‘But it MUST be this way,’ we complain ineffectually to the incontrovertible reality.

On the unstable path, there is no more grasping. Instead, there is allowing. In allowing the flow of life, we start truly living. We recognise that change is the only constant in life, and start to dance with life, rather than against it.

The light in an electric bulb shines through the bulb, but the bulb does not own it. Nor can it claim any ‘piece’ of electricity as being in its possession, for that which shines now in a billionth of a second is gone. There is but a river of life or light that flows through a myriad conduit pipes. None owns the river of Life, and he who holds its waters in his hand will find that in his attempt to possess the water he has stayed the flow, and all that he holds is ‘dead’.

– Christmas Humphreys

A constant creation

One of the things we quickly learn on the unstable path is that there is no such thing as certainty, that life is a constant creation.

You enter the forestat the darkest point,where there is no path.Where there is a way or path,it is someone else’s path.You are not on your own path.If you follow someone else’s way,you are not going to realize your potential.

– Joseph Campbell

But this is what makes the unstable path worth it. To know that it is your own path, to know that you are the creator of each and every step you take. The unstable path demands absolute responsibility from the traveler, because no one else can now be an authority for your life and your actions. No one to be exalted or blamed but yourself.

With each endeavour of originality and creation, we take back our power from the hands of an outside authority, and invest that power in our own judgment and experience. Sooner or later we realise that all power lies within, and we stop seeking power from without.

The outcome of the unstable path is to fully own every part of ourselves, that we may be a whole and complete being, self-reliant and self-sufficient, yet in constant communion with the universe. Like a wave in the ocean, like a vapour drop in a cloud of mist.

The river of life flows through us, not to be grasped or stopped, but to be allowed and honoured and expressed. Like a ray of white light shining through a prism, light and life is of a constant quality, yet diffracted through our imperfect selves giving rise to ephemeral and myriad forms and expressions.

We walk towards the day that we can be a perfect and unaltered expression, a conduit through which the river of life flows.

Warriors of duality

On the stable path our fights are focused on the outside. What do I have to do to prove myself so that my boss will promote me? How well do I have to dance before the scouts notice me?

But on the unstable path, the focus is on the inside. How do I truly express myself? What is this moment asking of me? How can I master myself so that I can be a more effective vehicle of light and love? Who am I, really? What is my purpose?

Success on the path depends on how well we are able to fully encompass duality. How well can we integrate both positive and negative poles into our beings, such that we no longer need to strive and demand outcomes only in the positive pole, but we are able to absorb the negative as well?

Surprisingly, when are able to embrace failure, we experience success. When we are able to feel sorrow, we are able to feel joy. When we are able to suffer loneliness, we find connection.

In the seed of every event, every definition, every occurrence, is its opposite. Black implies white, beginnings beget endings, union signals separation. When we can embrace and accept the good in the bad, the ugliness in beauty, the poverty in affluence, we can be said to have integrated both poles, and are free from attachment to one particular mode of existence.

This brings freedom along the path, but also requires us to face our inner demons. We once sought the stable path because we wanted to escape the demons, to escape the negativity by constantly working to produce subjectively positive outcomes. We only wanted to experience one dimension of life, to alleviate our inner pain and to fill our emotional holes.

However, once we rush past the gates of comfort into the vast field of the unknown, we are called to experience all that life has to offer, even the subjectively negative outcomes. This we must face with courage, grace, and acceptance, for letting go of attachments undoubtedly involves pain. This pain we recognise as the burning away of a mirage.

When all is lost

Along the path of truth, all illusions must be lost: comfort, mental crutches, emotional dependencies, safety, certainty, demands, needs, expectations, fears, identifications, images of self, concepts of self, means for the egoic self to survive.

And may this be our prayer: Everything for the truth. Give me truth, even if it means that I am nothing.

For what is nothingness but the void from which all things arise and all things return?

Originally published at www.betterself.sg on December 21, 2018.

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Shuying is a life and voice coach. She loves exploring life, seeking truth, and empowering people to reach their potential. Blogs at betterself.sg

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Shuying Ke

Shuying Ke

Shuying is a life and voice coach. She loves exploring life, seeking truth, and empowering people to reach their potential. Blogs at betterself.sg

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