Life. It’s full of uncertainty.
Every day we wake to the possibility of sudden changes in our relationships, our health and our financial condition. It can be a little scary—if we let it be. Even the weather has the possibility of wreaking unanticipated havoc in our lives. All that uncertainty has the capacity to derail us, to cause us anxiety or frustration, to make it a “bad” day when something unexpected happens.
But that same uncertainty can also fill our lives with sudden joy. A new love. A financial windfall. Good medical test results.
So many people in this world seem to wander through life labeling things. This is good—like dark chocolate and ice cream. This is bad—you know, like beets and anchovies. And many of those people trapped in the perpetual labeling of life’s unexpected events will often offer us the chance to agree with them, celebrating in their definitions of “good” and mourning their definitions of “bad.” Sometimes, their measure of us is based on how much we might, or might not, agree with them, which seems only to threaten us with more uncertainty.
How we respond to uncertainty, and how others might label things, I suspect, is a sign of what psychologists and authors might call emotional intelligence. How we respond seems to be an indication of our level of mindfulness and where we are on the path to self-awareness—of how much progress we’ve made on the path toward waking up. Our responses can expose our our own mental formations, our experience biases—the lurking sense that we know just what is right and good—and how life should be for us and others.
Uncertainty often marks us with a sense of confusion or anxiety. Sometimes our emotions are mixed with a sense of betrayal or defeat. So what should we do? Perhaps we should embrace both the circumstances and the uncertainty that drives those feelings.
Maybe embracing uncertainty is actually a means of liberating us from its subtle but firm grip.
Embracing those feelings, and the uncertainty underlying them, reveals our own tendency to label things—rooting out the nagging notions of things as good or bad. I’m certainly not suggesting that disastrous weather, financial hardship, unwelcome health problems, broken relationships, or any number of the manifestations of uncertainty aren’t trying or that struggling with them is easy. Nor am I suggesting they are painless. Far from it. As psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote in the profound opening words of The Road Less Travelled, “Life is difficult.” If that is true, and I suspect even those of us who have lived the most charmed of live would admit that it is, we might as well deliberately acknowledge the truth—seeing things as they are—and move forward armed with the wisdom of an engaged awareness.
It’s no easy thing to look into our own hearts and minds, to come to terms with ourselves—or with others. But by embracing the uncertainty, by examining the deeply buried roots of our reactions, it’s possible to wake each day and wonder, “What adventure will today bring?”
It’s possible to use these things to propel us down the path of peace, where resilience, rather than frustration, becomes our companion.
If you find yourself reticent to embrace uncertainty, perhaps you should consider the alternative. Absent a deliberate effort to embrace uncertainty, the arrival of the unexpected can derail us. It can force us into regret rather than reflection. It can drive us into worry, making us wonder what else could go wrong. Those reactions tend to precipitate actions, often overreactions, that only perpetuate our discomfort with uncertainty. We withdraw. We hide. We pummel ourselves with guilt or accuse others. We curse the weatherman, our genes, politicians, or and squawk against the unfairness of it all. Yet in all these approaches, essentially resisting uncertainty, we have accomplished nothing more than stirring ourselves.
So as you wake each morning, plan your day, but invite the unexpected. Allow yourself to set intentions that are firm, but not fixed. Let go of the temptation to label things good or bad. Take action to avoid repeating the same mistakes which may have left you unprepared for uncertainty.
Embracing uncertainty in your own life will empower you to see the struggle it causes in others. It will breed within you a sense of compassion for them, giving you the chance to comfort and encourage them.
Like any skill, embracing uncertainty it takes practice. But give it some effort—there’s a big adventure waiting for you out there.
Author: Jim Owens
Image: Alex Wong/Unsplash
Editor: Emily Bartran