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January 28, 2023

How I embrace uncertainty

One of the greatest lessons this year had in store for my was uncertainty and learning to cope with it. While most of my friends and family struggled from uncertainty during lockdowns in the past couple of years, I felt pretty secure back then. The shelter of my home and the fact that I was working for a company that provided IT support for pharmaceutical company made me feel pretty safe, I was working from home even when I was quaranteened.

For a year now I’m living the opposite of this – living on the road, changing locations every couple of weeks, not having a job, trying to live without money as much as possible… Nothing in life is certain if you really think about it, there’s no guarantee your job will be there tomorrow, there will be food on the table, you’re partner will come home this evening… but having a certain predictability of your life gives some kind of comfort and security.

It’s mind-blowing for may people when I tell them I left this secure life behind me that could secure me a good life until retirement, even if I tell them I was deeply unhappy and depressed. They can’t imagine how I can be happy now with my life, despite of all the question marks and blurry images of future and the uncertainty of what’s coming tomorrow.

– That’s not how you live life! – said one of my old friends over the phone the other day when she figured out about the way I life.
– That’s totally how you have to live life! – was my immediate reply.

“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, Infinite Possibilities open up in your life.” — Eckhart Tolle

But to get to this attitude towards life as it is, I had to learn to embrace this uncertainty. I admit, it still makes me anxious sometimes and I still worry about some things, but the same time it’s exciting and it gives me the feeling of being alive instead of feeling like I’m stuck in a time loop.

It’s like when we played with home made play-dough whit my cousin when we were kids. You have this mass in your hands (life) and you get to decide how you shape it. Of course, my imagination is usually better than my handcrafting skills (ho things turn out), and there are times when my dough creation falls apart or looks like a disaster instead of the beautiful sculpture I dreamed into being (things don’t work out as planned). It’s not always perfect but other days the dough forms something magical in my hands, something way better than I could ever imagine. That’s the beauty of play-dough or living an uncertain life, if you like.

The last few weeks have been quite secure for us, so naturally it was harder to cope with the uncertainty of next month, which I know nothing about apart from I have to leave this place where I am now. I’ve been returning to my favorite source on uncertainty, Pema Chödrön, as well as thinking a lot about how it applies to my own life. I want to share some of my ideas about what embracing uncertainty means for me beyond this kind of basic understanding of life being uncertain..

If you subscribe to the more nuanced understanding of embracing uncertainty then you’ll could see it as coming from a place of deep commitment rather than an attempt to escape commitment. Also, instead of being about a liberation from pain and difficulty, embracing uncertainty becomes about facing up to these things in a way which is both hard and courageous. This is why Chödrön calls it a warrior path.

Go slowly with it

Learning to embrace uncertainty takes time. We often find uncertainty painful and we rush to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. To embrace the uncertainty we have to take the time to look into our hearts and examine our own panicky feelings which are driving our impulse for a quick resolution.

One thing I used to do was to act quickly. When having a difficult time at with my partner I wanted to break-up. I had hard time at work for an extended period of time: I quit. It was just a quick response that got me out of the situation because I wanted to escape the situation entirely.
I had to learn that embracing uncertainty means to sit with the situation in all its uncertainty for as long as it takes to see it from all angles, and until I know that the resolution I came up with is the best.

Confront Your Fears and Lean into Your Self

To accept uncertainty in our lives requires a change in our perspective. We have to surrender to the natural order of events by leaning in to our fears and insecurities.I noticed anxiety creeps in when I perceive things with a logical mind instead of becoming embroiled in them. Remaining present in my body helps a lot with this.

I often remind myself that fear is an illusion and I can reduce it by being exposed to it moderately each time or changing the way I think about the situation. For me it’s easiest through journaling, to look at what the situation means for me, what my habitual reactions are telling me to do , and why that might be the case. Few questions I like to journal about are:

Have there been moments in the past which caused similar anxiety?
If so, am I repeating those same feelings/reactions instead of facing them?
What vulnerabilities do I carry from such times?

When I learned to embrace uncertainty I had to deliberately turn towards my fears and insecurities, to lean into them, to really understand them.

This means a hard and messy, difficult work to look directly at the things about ourselves that we feel most vulnerable and ashamed about. The situation wouldn’t be so uncertain and difficult if it wasn’t touching something deep and painful in us.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius declared,

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Find your own ways

Embracing uncertainty will be different for each of us. Meditation a good way to slow down and stop the monkey brain from chattering, others prefer talking things through with a trusted friend or mentor. It’s important to remember the balance of retreat and engagement: we need to build in time away from the situation to see it more clearly. I like to go for a walk in nature where the lush greenery and big sky seems to relieve me from the pressure of the tangle. You have to find your own ways with this, so you can embrace the situation and make the most out of it.

It takes time but this journey is also a way to yourself, to get to know who you really are so you might walk slow but you’ll reach far and the results will last forever.

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