It seems we are universally uncomfortable with the concept of uncertainty.
It’s been my experience that negotiating our way through uncertainty, developing a new relationship to it, is the hero’s journey of empowerment.
I like to break it down into a couple of categories:
There’s the 1.) big picture uncertainty, over which we truly have no control.
And then there’s the 2.) manageable uncertainty, or that which we can attempt to organize.
The question is, where do we focus our attention and how does our pattern with relationship to uncertainty affect our life? What good is it doing us, for example, to frequently obsess over big picture uncertainties? And can we bring any aspect of a big picture uncertainty into the manageable realm? We can’t control the weather, but we can build a contingency plan for next week’s family reunion on the beach, right?
With manageable uncertainty, we can learn to glide through it with four simple questions:
- What is my situation?
- What do I ultimately want?
- What are my obstacles to that?
- What am I willing to do in this moment to overcome those obstacles?
The truth is, growth occurs in the tension between a current situation and a newly defined future possibility. Uncertainty is the great catalyst for personal transformation. We generally reject the notion of uncertainty though because, transformation be damned, it’s really freaking uncomfortable.
Pain is an unavoidable aspect of nature. We hurt when we burn our hand on the hot stove. We hurt when our loved one dies. That’s pain.
Suffering, on the other hand, is our chronic reaction to the inevitable pain of life. We haven’t experienced a tsunami first-hand but we hurt for those who have; we hurt because tsunamis happen. We haven’t lost our job, but we hurt for the very possibility of it.
Suffering takes place when we dwell on uncertainty without taking any mediating steps to manage it. If there are no steps to possibly take (big picture uncertainty), then surrender is our only call to action, to release the tight grip of expectation. Suffering takes place when we carry around the fear of possible pain, that something might hurt us one day, that we may have something to fear in some distant future.
But when we realize that from the moment we were conceived life has been a sequence of incredible uncertainties, and then stop to take a look at where we are right now, how far we’ve come from that moment the egg was fertilized, we realize that we’ve been immersed in uncertainty since moment one. It’s not some abstract monster that may or may not arrive some day; it’s always been right by our side. Maybe it’s time to befriend it.
If we lose our job, we’ll feel fear and we’ll deal with it.
If someone leaves us, we’ll experience grief and we’ll handle it.
If we get sick, we’ll be present with it. We’ll transform the illness or the illness will transform us.
True power lies in cultivating a friendship with uncertainty. To learn to harness it, manage it, for our own highest expression. And when there’s nothing left to do, no steps left to take, we give ourselves to it, wholly and willfully, as an empowered individual who can handle anything life throws our way.
There’s a name for a life without uncertainty. It’s called boredom. It’s called stagnancy.
No thank you, I say.