Relying on Our Uncertainty
Life can feel like we are sailing a small raft on a vast ocean of uncertainty. Uncertainty stretches before us as far as we can see in every direction, from horizon to horizon. We search for one unambiguous, sure thing we can hold onto which will hold us firm rather than relying on our uncertainty.
Uncertainty can make us feel uncomfortable and afraid. It is easy for us to feel we need to find a safe place to hide and wait for uncertainty to be resolved.
We assume uncertainty is a temporary aberration. If we are patient and wait long enough, we are sure things will become certain again.
People say the only things certain in life are death and taxes, but we behave as if even those are uncertain.
Some of us turn to spiritual life seeking certainty and clarity. In our ocean of uncertainty we want to anchor ourselves to an island of certainty we can trust. We believe spiritual life will give us strong, certain, sacred truths for a firm foundation.
My experience of spiritual life has taught me different lessons. As I explore and discover spiritual life within me and in the world, things often become more uncertain. What I think I understand about spiritual life is often transformed into something hard to recognize.
It is almost as if spiritual life is more about seeing things in new ways than about looking for safe places.
The story of my relationship to spiritual life is a long process of relying on uncertainty. Spiritual life has taught me to question things which feel certain and look at uncertainty in new ways.
I am becoming more comfortable with relying on uncertainty and less comfortable when people around me are certain.
The Joys of Relying on Uncertainty
Some of us believe life is all about being sure. Any hint of uncertainty, questioning, or doubt makes us uncomfortable. We may be convinced we are smart enough to find solutions, resolve doubts, answer questions.
It is easy to assume life is about sorting things out and resolving our own minds. We may believe as we gain experience we find answers to our questions. Some of us expect to become more certain as we get older.
We like to fool ourselves into thinking we can only trust what our physical senses tell us. It is easy to believe what we can see and hear, touch and smell, and taste.
We feel nervous or afraid about uncertainty and work hard to protect ourselves from it. Our fear and anxiety keep us from experiencing the joys of relying on our uncertainty.
My experience teaches me expecting life to be certain, stable, organized, and solvable is not real. No matter how hard we try to put everything in its proper place, life is more alive than that.
Not only do we get frustrated and discouraged when life will not stay the way we organize it, we are missing the point.
While it can be helpful when we sort things well, life is about living. Spiritual life lives in us and in the world around us. We cannot organize or analyze our way into deeper spiritual life. Spiritual life is about living.
We cannot know the outcome before we live our way into it. Life has unintended consequences. As we begin relying on our uncertainty we start to see it in new ways.
The joys of relying on uncertainty show us who we are becoming as we live through it.
Each of us experiences the joys of relying on uncertainty in our own ways.
How Do We Begin Relying on Uncertainty?
Our first step toward relying on uncertainty is understanding it is not a weakness.
People do not need to worry or be ashamed about their uncertainty. We are not uncertain because we are unprepared or have not worked hard enough.
Life is uncertain because life, including spiritual life, is beyond our control. Our lives are filled with opportunities for the incredibly complex beauty of uncertainty.
Uncertainty is the beginning of curiosity.
As we recognize the beauty and potential of uncertainty, we can become more mindful of it. We begin to see the intricacies of our uncertainty and revel in them. As we pay attention to our uncertainty we begin to gain the insights it has for us.
We begin relying on our uncertainty and can appreciate its joys.
The more we pay attention to uncertainty the more we start to recognize its value.
Our practice of relying on uncertainty allows us to incorporate the power and beauty of uncertainty into our lives. Life is uncertain and we are opening ourselves to the reality of uncertainty.
Our Practice of Relying on Our Uncertainty
We practice relying on our uncertainty because we appreciate it is an important part of life, particularly spiritual life. As we pay mindful attention to our uncertainties we begin to understand they are not either good or bad. Uncertainty no longer intimidates us or makes us afraid.
Our practice of uncertainty can be challenging. There may be times when we are tempted to return to our fear and discouragement. As we face the ocean of uncertainty from our small raft we will long for a place where we can be sure.
Even spiritual life, where we might want to turn to find certainty, is full of uncertainty. Spiritual life is not a place for us to find easy, concrete solutions to our questions. If anything, spiritual life sparks our questions more than giving us answers.
As we practice leaning into uncertainty we begin to value our questions more than finding the answers.
Our questions tell us what is important to us and draw us into exploration. We stop asking and exploring when we think we are satisfied with the answers we have found. That is when we are no longer learning and growing.
Our practice of relying on our uncertainty keeps us alive.
How will we practice relying on our uncertainty today?
When will relying on our uncertainty allow us to explore new insights this week?
[Image by TMAB2003]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is http://StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.