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All life lives off-balance - I've got you … hooray!

Posted by Arlen Vernava on March 26, 2012


“All life lives off-balance in a world that is open to change.  And all of life is self-organizing.” (Leadership and the New Science, pg. 89, Margaret J Wheatley) 

For 20 years I taught swimming.  No child or adult ever forgets their mastering something every body can do:  float in water on one’s back.  “Lie back, relax, deep breathe, chest up, chin up, I’ve got you... hooray!   

Now it’s true, some persons are more buoyant than others.  Physiology:  muscle density, bone structure, body fat and breadth capacity all play a part.  Many feel “off-balance” filling their lungs with air and relaxing backward, face-up, into the water, until they trust themselves to trust air and water, to feel life self-organizing around their unique balance point.  Then for a moment or two, open to change, they float!

Some new swimmers approach this basic life-saving skill with real fear and much trepidation.  Water itself confounds them.  Athletic and exceedingly competent on dry land, water offers mystery and danger.  Once immersed, water can hold them and suffocate them.  It can caress and pommel.  It refreshes from the heat but can quickly tire muscles to exhaustion.  In lake and ocean, other living things share the same space:  a “sunfish,” plankton, jelly fish or turtle.  Weeds grab hold.  Stone and sand shift underfoot.  All of this, of course, describes the natural order and no amount of study or accounting can quiet one’s distress.  Only one action proves helpful:  the decision to trust one who comfortably inhabits water’s space and to trust oneself to float.

Organizational and congregational transition-time can produce real fear and much trepidation.  Leaders feel surrounded by much that confounds them.  They wonder:  how do we take our vision/mission into the marketplace?  Does our vision/mission even make sense to the uninitiated?  What do we do with expectations that no longer bring results?  Who will care for me and the institution I love in a way that I value?  If I can only understand, comprehend, analyze, design and stick to a plan, this transition-time will produce a good outcome, won’t it?  And when the next settled pastor, ceo, or executive arrives, what then?

Hear some good news:  dozens of books, workshops, conferences and consultants, educational organizations and industry specific administrative staff offer “how-to” resources and expertise.  And if “you live life off-balance [because] you are open to change” then sign up, grab hold and get at it!

However, if you are like a new swimmer who fears “lying back (in the water), relaxing, taking a deep breathe with chest and chin up,” then seek first the experience of floating, for a moment or two, without fear.  Trust holy Spirit:  life will organize into it’s naturally vital best.  Trust that “off-balance” feeling.  Don’t devalue change. Don’t seek to manage and control.  Don’t force your expertise on dry land into a water world.  Live life with clarity of purpose attuned to the place you find yourself, true to itself, comfortably moving within needed bounds.  Enter the water with someone who knows how to float.  “I’ve got you... hooray!”  

Senior Consultant, Director of Interim Services

-Arlen G. Vernava


Topics: reflections