I recently returned from a trip to Europe where I was able to visit my granddaughter and her parents. It was a fun trip filled with new experiences for all of us. My granddaughter was learning many new things. One of them was to sit up on her own. If she over-reached for a toy, she fell forwards or backwards. She was working on developing a strong core to be able to stay upright and to right herself if she fell. Additionally, we took a trip to a new country for me–England.
Overall, there was plenty of new information to take in and integrate into my knowledge of the world. I started thinking about the need for both adaptability and stability as we approach new situations. We need them both to learn and grow. Without adaptability we remain stuck in our old way of perceiving reality and without a solid core or center we can feel out of sorts and confused.
As a small example of this, bathrooms in Europe are quite different from those here in the United States. While there are some similarities, there are many challenges one faces when trying to accomplish the simple task of toileting, especially in public places. Some have self contained rooms with both sink and toilet; others have common sink areas. So far, that seems similar to the US, right? But the faucets connected to those sinks came in all shapes and functions. At times I would just stare at them, not knowing how to even turn them on. I never saw one that was automatic like the ones common in the states. However, there were ones where the faucet was hidden in the stem that tried to fool me into thinking they were automatic. This made the task of washing my hands a challenge sometimes. Also, reading the signage in some of the stalls was a bit like trying to assemble furniture from IKEA.
It was important to remain flexible while dealing with this common but important task. It helped to use what researchers call fluid intelligence. According to psychologists Robert Cattell and John Horn , fluid intelligence is the “capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge. It is the ability to analyze novel problems, identify patterns and relationships that underpin these problems and the extrapolation of these using logic.” Being flexible helped me to search “outside the box” for a solution. Additionally, I could draw upon my experience in other situations or my “crystallized intelligence” to make a best guess on how to proceed.
Using flexibility or adaptability is important in many of life circumstances. At the same time, it is important to have a sense of your deep identity to keep yourself centered and grounded. If either of these two qualities are out of balance, we can “fall over” just like my granddaughter did when she over-reached her center of gravity. We can ground ourselves through centering prayer, mindfulness, breath work and many other ways of stabilizing ourselves in the present moment. We can practice flexibility by trying new things in our everyday life, even if they take us out of our comfort zone. If we can stay in balance with these two tasks, we will be able to deal with most of life’s challenges or at least be able to right ourselves when we “fall.”