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March 16, 2020

Embracing the Unwelcome Guest of Uncertainty

If you’re anything like I am, then lately there are moments of simple clarity and presence, alongside other moments of feeling consumed and concerned by this rapidly accelerating, multi-layered mayhem.

There are moments of deep breath, and moments of trembling.

These times of global uncertainty require so much of us—such a fierce commitment to staying clear, grounded, kind and self-loving in the midst of unending temptations to panic, deny, react or collapse.

What sobering, humbling times these are—times that illuminate our absolute interconnectedness and interdependence as a species. Times that are kicking our collective ass, while strengthening our compassion and our courage.

And perhaps this true sobering, this great humbling—is part of the real medicine coming for us through this immense unfolding.

Not a “medicine” we would ever wish upon anyone, let alone our own beloved communities and lives. Not to bypass the very real challenges we are facing. Not to spiritualize the reality of human suffering. Of course not, no.

But given that this moment is here, maybe we can stretch to glean the gems that accompany it? Maybe it’s wise to inquire what the hidden gifts are within any experience, and most especially the ones that fundamentally trigger us?

Maybe our response need not be limited to fearing it, dreading it, denying it, hating it, or fantasizing about it.

Maybe we can also ask quietly, with open curiosity: What is this here to teach us? What is it asking us to face? What wisdom might it have to impart?

How is this microscopic, world-shaking virus in fact our own self, come to mirror something essential for us to see?

When I was eighteen months old I barely survived a serious bout of meningitis. The disease literally hobbled me, leaving me with considerable trauma and nerve damage from my waist down. I’ve come to think of it as the first “divine humbler” of my lifetime. Many more humblers were to follow.

I’ve come to see this quality of humbling as an essential component of our right relationship with life.

From my dance with a disease that almost took my life, that left me feeling broken and ashamed and unable to control my bodily functions, I learned humility, compassion and empathy.

In the wake of its preying on my tiny, tender nervous system, I learned to turn to the Great Mystery for solace. I became an imaginer, a dreamer, a listener, a seer, a truth-teller, a healer.

From a torrent of self-loathing, I found my way home to lasting self-love.

Sometimes life kicks us to the ground, so that we learn how to pray.  So that we learn the art of asking for help. So that we can’t escape the reality of how fleeting these precious lives are. So that we stop scrambling in avoidance of death and loss and living, and learn to cherish it all.

To inhale the scent of our child’s sweaty scalp. To savor the sound of our mother’s voice on the other end of the phone across the country.

Here in our fabricated imaginings of separation and significance; of our important, special, independent lives, our stock market investments, our toilet paper supplies, comes a humbling wake-up call:

That we are truly in this together. That we are one living organism.

That we are immensely vulnerable and immeasurably strong.

That we can speculate all we want, based on the past, based on yesterday, based on scientifically reliable future projection, based on positive thinking and good-wishing, based on indigenous wisdom and ancient calendars, based on predictions from brilliant scholars with a thousand letters after their names, but finally, the truth is: we don’t know.

WE DON’T KNOW what’s to come.

We must live with this painful sense of foreboding. And not just about this virus. About the viruses that are bound to follow this one. About the wildfires that are sure to continue to wreak havoc on our communities. About the droughts and the floods. About our economic instability and political insanity.

We must open our hearts wider to this unwelcome guest of excruciating uncertainty.

We must turn to face our spinning minds, and learn to beckon stillness.

This is the time to walk our talk, my brave and beautiful friends.  This is the time to be especially kind to one another and to our own sweet selves.

This is the time to soberly say: ok, yes, I see. And to feel what we feel. And then to do what it takes, moment by moment, to respond with courage, generosity, clarity and love.

This is the way we learn about community, resilience and resolve.

This is the time we learn what our hearts are truly made of.

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