Sunday, 23 May 2010

dynamic equilibrium

In my year 12 geography class we learnt about dynamic equilibrium. We were studying coastal systems - the actions of tides and waves and wind on sand and land and ocean landscapes. In a nutshell coastal systems are ever changing and yet always in balance (remember we were studying in pre global warming days). We looked at a number of ways that people intervened to try and prevent change in coastal areas - building walls of concrete and rock, dredging, importing sand, you name it - and how spectacularly all such interventions failed. Change, as they say is the only constant and no amount of real estate investment can halt it.

This concept of dynamic equilibrium captivated me. The idea of constant and unstoppable change felt instinctively and undeniably true, but the companion notion of eternal balance was enormously comforting. Where change had always felt unsettling and frightening (who knew where it would lead?) the idea of constant change as a function of balance, rather than a competitor to it made change fun and full of promise. Each change was merely an adjustment, an improvement, a fine tuning, while all else was working at restoring and maintaining balance. It should also be said I was greatly engaged by the complexity of it all - that enormous systems and systems in systems could somehow be cooperating in some imperceptible dance.

All that stuff in that last post is true, and there is much much more, but in the end it doesn't come close to unpacking the incredibly complex systems we all live in. Mapping these things out gives you a start on understanding the landscape, but it isn't a guidebook and it can't help you navigate. It can't explain why one person is up there on the hill and another down here in a ditch - or indeed why that hill is lush forest and that one over there a windswept rocky outcrop. To understand what anything means to you, you have to chase so many rabbits down rabbit holes that you might as well give up before you start. Big picture thinking is just that - it can't explain things down here where we live.

And that's the kick, right? You can know a lot and be no better off. Well, that's not entirely true. It does help to know I'm not alone, and it does help to know chances are it's not my fault per se that I am in this mess. That there's a great big barely perceptible system out there that's continually adjusting the landscape in mysterious ways means the good and bad are both as much about luck as about good planning. You can have the route all mapped out and still end up in the ditch, you can stumble blind into hidden paradise.

When I take my head out of the books and remove my professional line of enquiry hat I am at a loss to explain how I ended up here. Even knowing all the steps I took, knowing all the sound reasoning that went into them and the solid foundations from which I stepped in the first place I still can't understand why I am stuck in the mud.

Perhaps the dynamic equilibrium paradigm really only applies to systems larger than my life because it seems to me that a spinning top is much more how it feels. Big gestures start things moving and small imbalances are easily absorbed by momentum, but after a while even the tiniest overcorrection starts the cascade of violent oscillations that end, inevitably with a crash and sudden and absolute stasis, somehow washed out of the system altogether.

I don't know what comes next. Somehow things need to be restarted, but I just can't seem to find a way back into the system. I keep hoping like hell I will stumble upon the firecracker but there just doesn't seem to be any room to move. Instead I wander off in day dreams of radical upheaval, contemplating options I've previously disregarded or dismissed. Full time work. Interstate moves. Further study. Spiritual retreat. Crazy notions of freedom and fulfilment.

I have to say I have deeply deeply appreciated your comments on these last few posts and revisiting this topic after a few years has certainly been interesting. I wish I had more answers, or at least something a little cheerier and prettier to say about the problem. I'm certainly tiring of hearing myself moan. I have a fairly low tolerance for listening to people articulate problems they aren't prepared to tackle so I think that might be my cue to shut right up.


Rachael said...

I can't remember how old your children are, but I do think that life with very young children is so tough on everyone, and that in time it *does* get easier.

Or at least it better or I am going to be sorely disappointed.

flamehair said...

I absolutely hate being stuck in a deep rut. That's why we moved back to Adelaide actually - to shake off the Sydney grind and bottomless pit of unhappiness that we both seemed to have slumped into. But you can't just keep moving and doing drastic stuff like that to shake the funk so good luck on finding a slightly more calm resolution.

Jo said...

I've often times found myself stuck in the grind, hard pressed to find anything good about my life. I know I'm lucky that we're all alive, and have a nice home, etc, etc... but sometimes it all seems so negative. My thinking is all so negative. The things that work for me are 1. Levity - when the grind gets too much I really crave some levity, something to make it all nicer, something to look forward to and also to look back on and smile. The 'levity' department in our house organises fun family adventures, or date night, or even just some alone time. It's the 'levity' that makes it all not seem so bad; and 2. Good, Close, Honest friends and family who all add their take on my concerns. Sometimes I chafe against their thoughts, but more often it is just what I need to shunt me into a better space.

I thank you for sharing your thoughts in these last few posts, for sometimes even sharing helps to lessen the burden, and your words have added another element to a dialogue that we have been partaking in for quite some time in my household. More food for thought, more ideas, and more communication between the interested parties. All good stuff.

kris said...

Another post that echoes so clearly our own experiences at the moment. We bore ourselves silly going over the same issues, the same will we/ won't we; should we stay or should we go; but what can we doooooo???? conversations.

And the wondering how did I end up here? Oh, yes.

I hadn't thought about it in terms of dynamic equilibrium, but that begins the suggest the weirdness of making changes and then seeing our lives slip back into the same old patterns and problems.

No answers for us, either, but we know that tweaking around the edges isn't helping and so we are screwing our courage into a ball and making major changes of the one person quits their job type. We're hoping it will be a circuit breaker ...

and leaving the long term risks for another time.

Thanks for taking such care in thinking through and writing these posts - it's helped my own thinking a lot.

Tanya said...

I thank you too, Sooz, for thinking and writing about the stuckness.

Di said...

So much food for thought and discussion. I'm really looking forward to Craft Camp- it should be an interesting weekend!

Anna Bartlett said...

Your mention of 'dynamic equilibrium' is terrific. And I've found myself quoting your 'fair does not have to mean equal' take on things in recent conversations.
Thanks so much for such educated and well thought out discussion. While things haven't changed for me, at least I feel like I'm not alone and there are other educated people struggling through it all too, putting their families as 'first' as they can. And know they should.