Facing Uncertainty

It is interesting to note how our general knee jerk reaction to facing uncertainty in the world is a desire to try and control it or bring some sense of order to the situation. Many of us are struck with the need to dominate a situation with our will when facing uncertainty. The idea here is that our ego and sense of self can literally make things happen the way we want it to. The underlying belief is that we know quite clearly how things ought to be and will therefore impose our ambition to bring about that result. This approach is strikingly different from Eastern philosophical traditions that see true order in the universe from taking the self or ego out from being the central player. That by actually giving up our sense of control to embrace the uncertainty we live with constantly we invite true wisdom and natural order. Here is Lao Tzu in The TAO TE CHING passage 57

If you want to be a great leader,
You must learn to follow the TAO.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
And the world will govern itself.

In fact, when we sit quietly and contemplate who we really are, and our relation to the universe it becomes clear that uncertainty is the path of wisdom, not something to avoid at all costs. The Buddha pointed out over 2600 years that there are three marks of existence and one of those is impermanence. Meaning that things are constantly changing and or in flux. Thus, every single situation in life has elements of uncertainty. There is no escaping it, ever. We create our own suffering when we don’t welcome it. Now this isn’t to say that we are not facing scary times. The threat of a nuclear holocaust, terrorism, climate change, job change, divorce, death are all very real and very much a part of our lives. The question ultimately isn’t what might happen to us (because things will happen to us) but what is my reaction to what happens to us? My attitude, wisdom and comprehension of what is, are things I can develop and work on throughout my life.  By beginning to see uncertainty in a new light we can start to see things as they truly are and live with less self-created suffering. Let me share with you some tools that might help support you on this path.

Quiet the Mind-When I started meditating over 22 years ago I immediately started to notice that there is actual space between the thoughts that run through my head. Through sitting quietly, we can develop a relationship with our mind as opposed to our mind running us. Quieting the mind allows us to be present with what is really happening. When the mind is busy we miss so much of life as we try to manipulate reality in our favor.  We miss subtle emotional reactions, we miss nature expressing herself. Through meditation we start to learn about the nature of reality and the beauty of not having firm answers. We start to recognize that this egoic sense of self is but a small part of who we really are. We start to relax the contraction that seeks to control and begin to see with soft eyes the natural expression of the universe which is constantly changing.

Letting Go of Assumptions- Don Miguel Ruiz who is a teacher of Toltec wisdom wrote a book called the “The Four Agreements.” One of the agreements he focuses on is not making assumptions. The reason why it’s important to build a life practice around letting go of assumptions is because it doesn’t accept an open mind and the uncertainty that is life. A mind full of assumptions doesn’t inquire, doesn’t learn and doesn’t listen. It also doesn’t accept world and it’s constantly changing nature. We think we know through our assumptions and use it as a short cut to help make sense of our daily reality. Through the act of deep listening and recognizing like Socrates that wisdom comes from true dialogue we are open to learning and growing. It is hard to be in a true relationship when we are full of assumptions about other people. It’s hard to be a true friend and it’s hard to look at complex issues the world faces when we assume. In essence a mind full assumptions is a fixed mind and the nature of reality is just the opposite. One can take up the practice of beginning to notice all the places where we are making assumptions. By noticing how much they rule our life we begin the process of letting them go and just being with what is. 

Doing Good-In the Jewish Tradition there is an expression called “Tikkun Olam” It’s meaning is to “repair the world.” To repair the world means that I must seek to serve the common good for all sentient beings. It means that we must strive to live a life for a higher purpose beyond fulfilling our own needs. Because in a world full of constant change and uncertainty we must do all we can to make this world a better place. A place that’s ultimate expression is the love of all beings, that in the process recognizes the interconnection of all being. In a world so full of suffering and sorrow we have the opportunity to help alleviate it. This approach recognizes that serving this so-called self is misguided and that true happiness comes from serving others. In a world built around change and uncertainty thinking of others is the path to ultimate meaning and happiness.

When we choose to slow down and examine the root causes of our suffering it becomes clear that attempting to control our life and attempting to control uncertainty are causes of further distress. It’s also impossible to make anything certain when things are in constant flux. By embracing the wisdom of uncertainty through the practices of quieting the mind, letting go of assumptions and doing good for the world, we can start to live that meaningful life we all so deeply desire. We can also start to recognize the natural order in the universe that is so very present in all moments of existence.