Over the past couple of years, some new words have emerged to describe the global difficulties that human societies face. There is “Permacrisis”, which was the Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2022 and is defined by them as “An extended period of instability and insecurity”, followed by “Polycrisis”, which came out of the World Economic Forum in 2023. Polycrisis is defined as, “A cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, where the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part”. Polycrisis is also a useful way of understanding the interrelated complexity of how we might tackle these challenges. There’s no escaping the difficulties that human societies are going through, from recent terrible geopolitical conflicts, and economic uncertainty to the climate crisis. When all of this is combined with personal difficulties that we may be going through, it’s no wonder we sometimes experience mental and emotional turbulence that unsettles our stability and balance.
Although stability and balance are related, there are subtle differences. Stability is about being grounded, still, and connected, so we are more resilient to the push and pull of events. Balance is about maintaining equilibrium in our body, mind, and emotions. A tower crane on a construction site maintains its stability by being mounted on a large concrete base and is carefully balanced with a counterweight that is moved on the arm. Another example is a wobbly toy with a weight in its round base, which rights itself when moved off balance.
Physical balance, which is often taken for granted, is maintained by the vestibular system in the inner ear and allows us to stand still and move without falling over. It’s interesting to observe how professional balancers, like tightrope walkers, or surfers, achieve what looks like a smooth and unwavering skill. But when you look closely at how they maintain their balance, they’re making a lot of very small micro-adjustments, as they skilfully respond to feedback in the moment. You can try this at home by balancing on one leg for a minute. You’ll notice that your body is almost constantly adjusting to maintain balance. We tend to lose our balance when we sense a movement in one direction and over-compensate in the other.
We can lose stability when we’re stressed or caught up in strong emotions like anger and anxiety. Like a shaken-up snow globe, we become full of mental and emotional noise and movement as the sympathetic nervous system goes into the fight, flight, or freeze mode. We find it hard to concentrate and focus our attention and have no space to think clearly. Ironically, it’s this lack of internal space that makes it difficult to find a way of recovering our stability and balance.
So, how can mindfulness help us maintain stability and balance when we encounter turbulence in our lives?
Mindfulness is about working skilfully with present-moment experience. The key skills are about improving our awareness and attention, which help us see what’s going on. We can then use other skills to help change our state from turbulence to calm, and from noise to silence. Like the shaken-up snow globe, when it’s placed on a stable surface, the swirling particles glide gently down to settle and find a point of rest on the base.
We can use mindfulness to bring stability and balance in several ways:
- Focusing on our breath to allow any noise or agitation to settle and find a bit of peace and calm.
- Grounding, anchoring, and connecting with our body as we find a point of physical balance and stability.
- Closing our eyes and using the image of a snow globe to see how shaken up we are inside, then allowing the particles to gently float down to the base as we become settled and still within ourselves.
Like a skilled tightrope walker, with improved attention and awareness, we notice and respond more skilfully to whatever’s happening in the present moment. We can also work with emotions as they arise, acknowledging feelings and allowing them to dissolve in their own time.
If you find yourself in a mental or emotionally noisy state, try taking a break from what you are doing – an intentional pause. Maybe go for a short walk outside, breathe in the air, become fully aware of your body, seeing what’s going on for you, as you open your attention to the world around you for a few minutes. Listen to sounds that are near and then far-off in the distance. Then rest your eyes on the scene, as you expand your awareness out to the horizon and sky.
Cultivating a point of stability and balance is a useful mindfulness skill. With practice, this becomes like a comfortable armchair we can return to again and again to feel whole, complete, and at ease within ourselves and the world around us.
Suggested weekly practice
- Check in with yourself during the day to see how stable and balanced you are. Has some emotional turbulence crept in? Is your mind a bit agitated?
- Remember to connect with your body and breath to bring yourself back into the present moment where you can find stability and balance.
- If you feel full of turbulence and noise, go outside, and stand still, looking up at the trees and sky as you extend your awareness out to the soundscape around you, breathing deeply and resting for a few moments of peace, calm, and connection.
Find somewhere undisturbed, sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then either read through the session content or play the talk on stability and balance below.
- Then play the second practice to discover and start cultivating your own point of stability and balance within yourself.