Warning: F-bombs up ahead!
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”
~ Pema Chodron
We have no idea what is going to happen in life.
Like, no idea.
The more I watch time go on, the more I move through my journey, the more I discover this truth. The more I see that I have no idea what’s going to happen to me or the life around me later than the moment right now.
Last summer, almost a year ago today, I slipped two discs. I spent the rest of the summer in bed, and then the next five months, too. It sucked. It was so shitty that words cannot do justice to it right now, but one thing I learnt right from the very beginning of that journey is that we have no idea what’s going to happen to us along our life’s road.
I found myself laughing in the midst of pain, when I discovered this truth. And at times I still do, when I think back to that time or this time now—the way parts of me have spent so much time predicting the future, to help protect me, to help keep me prepared for what proposed danger is going to hit, or tsunami is going to hit my home—internal or external—and how no matter how hard they have tried to be right, to keep me knowing what’s going to happen, they never have been.
I have spent so much time predicting the future the last two years, and probably a long time before that, too (my self awareness has just blossomed greatly over the last two). I found myself laughing compassionately at this, at me, at this trait that makes me completely human.
We can have ideas, we can have dreams, we can have ambitions—and I really, really believe in all those things—and we can have worries and fears, too, but what we can’t have is certainty. No freakin’ way.
All we can have is the complete opposite: uncertainty—along with uncertainty’s friends: excitement, fear, worry, joy, hope, love, appreciation, gratitude.
And what we can’t have, too, is a feeling of confidence in our worst-case scenarios. I have ones that haunt me daily—the same fuckers that sneak in with a seemingly different dialogue, but when I look closely or challenge their theories more deeply, I see that they’re the same scenarios, doubts or stories that were here before, a week ago or a year ago.
When I lay in bed with my back, I realised that never—not once—did I predict that that was going to happen. Never, in my wonderings and wanderings, worrying and future-tripping did I think that I would end up with two slipped discs in my back, living like that, and tackling those challenges.
I had predicted many other scenarios, incredibly painful and scary ones, but ones that—in many ways—couldn’t have looked more different. The undercurrent, the theme, through all of them was and is a feeling of pain, hardship, and suffering, but the kind of pain, hardship and suffering that ends up happening in real life look completely different to the way I thought they would, when worst-case-scenario-ing.
Now, when something happens that’s hard and horrible, or beautiful and joy-filled, I often realise that never did I ever predict this happening in exactly this way.
Perhaps I had ideas, perhaps I had day-dreams or feelings of need for something similar, but never has something happen in exactly the way I wanted it to, or thought it would. Like, things have happened that I’ve organised or day-dreamed about, but no matter how much planning or how little planning I’ve put into something, nothing has ever gone exactly how I would have predicted.
Sometimes better and more beautiful, sometimes more challenging and more painful, but always different.
The fear that I feel around this is lined with the feeling that if nothing can be predicted then holy fuck the uncertainty feels huge! But one thing that does bring certainty is the knowledge that nothing is for certain. And that nothing ever will be, either.
The voices in my head saying, “this is going to happen, and this and this, and it’s all going to go to shit, and I’m fucked, and, and, and…” know as little as I do about the future.
The worst-case scenarios that trip-off in my mind offer a place for the part of me feeling afraid, to head to in moments of doubt. They offer a soft bed of seeming certainty in the perplexing road that lies ahead. But they bring a whole host of worry, panic, and fear with them, instead. Yet until now, this fear, panic and worry has been the thing to have soothed.
We’re in this together, this nutty, rocky and stunningly beautiful road of life, and no-one knows what’s going to happen. But one thing I do know for sure is that the future will unfold. It might not look how I want it to, and it might not look how you want it to, either, but it will be there, and it will unfold as it is doing right now.
Life will be more beautiful than you could ever imagine right now, and in ways you didn’t think were possible for you. It’ll also be painful in ways you can’t imagine or predict right now, too, but the learnings this pain and suffering will bring, will be greater and more transformational than you could ever have known possible, as well.
Those are the things I hold close in moments of doubt and worry, and times I’m grasping for certainty that part of me longs to hold.
Tuck Pema in your pocket and head out onto the road, with trust and doubt, freedom and fear, adventure and a need-for-safety, joy and sorrow, and know that it will all come together.
“Do we see the stories that we’re telling ourselves and question their validity? When we are distracted by a strong emotion, do we remember that it is part of our path? Can we feel the emotion and breathe it into our hearts for ourselves and everyone else? If we can remember to experiment like this even occasionally, we are training as a warrior. And when we can’t practice when distracted but know that we can’t, we are still training well. Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on.” ~ Pema Chodron
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman