“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” ~ Tony Robbins
Uncertainty is not something the United States of Advertising considers a “juicy opportunity.”
We run from the unknown like the headless horseman on Halloween.
You have a headache? Pop Ibuprofen. Stressed? Have a drink. You’ve been having a low couple weeks? Take antidepressants.
But what if our headaches, stressors, and lows are actually our gurus? What if our challenges, saturated in uncertainty, are waiting for us to ask: what is this trying to teach me?
For the past three years, I have experienced the most uncertainty out of my young 29 years. I sat in the discomfort of not knowing why I couldn’t sleep and wondering whether I’d ever be able to again. I didn’t know why I was ill, whether I’d be able to work again, where I was supposed to live—and what the hell was I supposed to do with my life?
I still ask myself the latter question on a daily basis. But, even before finding out I suffered from Lyme disease—I was able to see these illnesses as my greatest challenges and my greatest gifts.
On a spring day in 2016, I had barely slept in months, I felt awful, and I thought to myself: this could be it.
My worst nightmare had become a reality.
Tossing and turning left me with no energy to exercise, work, or even socialize. All I could do was watch TV, eat, and if I was lucky, read.
Finally, the thought of death whacked me awake.
I decided, even in the torture of insomnia, I would let go of my obsession with figuring out what the f*ck was wrong with me, be present, and start absorbing my surroundings.
Gratitude flowed through my fingers, flushing out frustration and self-pity. Tears streamed down my face. Suddenly, I saw my surroundings—like I was witnessing them for the first time.
I was living at my family’s log cabin built from salvaged wood and stone on 19 acres, infused with Kentucky trees whose leaves sparkled with infant chlorophyll. I heard cardinals call and smelled honeysuckle for the first time in a long time.
I surrendered to the unknown.
After that moment, slowly, I began to uncover the root of my illness, heal, and finally sleep. This process was the medicine my impatient mind needed.
Now, I welcome uncertainty and I trust that more information will reveal itself in its own, divine timing. I let go of my obsession with labeling my illness as Lyme or whatever else the doctor diagnosed me as.
Before, in my clinging, I couldn’t see what these illnesses were trying to teach me. Once I let go, I saw the gems of patience, presence, and peace sparkle like those baby spring leaves.
Admitting that “I do not know” or “I do not know yet” still challenges me.
I used to get anxiety going to weddings or big events when adults would machine-gun the usual questions, “So what are you doing with your life?” At the time, I was too sick and tired to do anything, and admitting that to myself made me go tomato-red with embarrassment.
No wonder our society is ridden with anxiety. We are conditioned to live in the future.
I’ll be happy when I get that promotion. I’ll be happy when I get married. I’ll be happy when I am healthy.
What about now?
What about owning “I know that I do not know.” How empowering is that? If I knew my entire future, I would be so bored. So why not embrace the mystery of the unknown?
In learning to be present with myself in the darkest of times, I was able to appreciate how the simplest things in life are extraordinary. And they are all around us.
The green seas of leaves that bloom each spring, the Cardinal that flies and sings on sunny days, the steaming mug of coffee on a fall morning—these are the jewels that ground us during uncertainty.
They encourage us in patience. They whisper our names like a prayer and hope we choose happiness. Because they are the present and that is where happiness lies.
As Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually without even noticing, live your way into the answer.”