Scrambling for certainty in a world of change
“As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux.” ~ Pema Chodron
This is so true. Recently, I found myself in the midst of some very uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty and it took me a while to realize that I was ‘scrambling for certainty’.
I had to have cataract surgery in both eyes. I’m not a fan of western medicine but I knew that I was not going to try to heal my cataracts with herbs. Too much work and it may not work. Surgery it would be. Plus, cataract surgery is simple compared to most any other surgeries, and my doctor has been meditating for forty years! What’s there to be scared of?
It all went fine, basically. However, during the five weeks from beginning to end (I had to wait three weeks between eyes) I found myself feeling a sort of panic and didn’t understand it at first. What was this panic? Then, I realized that I was experiencing a deep sense of uncertainty triggered by having my eyes operated on. A kind of groundlessness— and my Buddhist understanding of life suddenly became very helpful.
When we experience stress or unpredictability in our lives, finding something safe and predictable to stand on gets very important. Yet, the very nature of our life and life itself is change. During this time between surgeries, I found myself scrambling for certainty. I wanted to know for sure what my next book would be about. I wanted to know for sure what car to buy. I wanted to know for sure who I could count on in my life. So many things that ordinarily I would simply trust my Inner Being to inform me about, I began to panic about instead.
I want to share with you some of the wisdom I gained from my experience:
Have compassion for the part of yourself who may scramble for certainty. We all do that and we always will. It’s part of our human dilemma. What I mean by ‘have compassion’ is to simply be with the feeling. Glance inwardly at the panic. Bring consciousness to whatever you are feeling that is uncomfortable.
Look and see how you may be scrambling for certainty in your life. Do you hang on to an identity of yourself for a feeling of certainty about who you are? Such as “I’m a professor” or “I’m a coach”? Does this identity limit your full expression? Do you use this identity to place yourself above others? Remember, whatever we hang on to blocks our wisdom! We all do have identities, by necessity, but the awareness to cultivate is one of knowing that you are much vaster than any identity. And besides, the identity can change tomorrow.
Do you have a story line that you hold tightly to for certainty? One of the things I share in my memoir, which of course has a storyline by its very definition, is how I created the story and how I am not the story. It’s a paradox. We all create stories from our lives. The problem arises if your story becomes your ‘you’. For a deeper understanding of this paradox, you may want to read the book.
Our human experience of groundlessness is very uncomfortable, which is why we try to find some kind of security. However, if we can be fully present in the moment to the feeling of uncertainty, a new space opens up and that new space feels very real and very filled with Love. Being able to do this takes practice, like any worthwhile thing.
The new space is the place where the vertical plane of our Being meets the horizontal plane of our human world. This is the spot where you will Find Your Voice—the expression of your own imprisoned splendor, the expression of what you came here to express. So if you are committed to expressing your Deep Being, your imprisoned splendor, then cultivating this practice is a must. We will spend lots of time practicing this at the Oxford retreat coming up in September.
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This thing we call ‘being human’ is a practice! Each moment is an opportunity to look and see what you are thinking, feeling, attaching to, resisting, believing and choosing. Learning to accept the impermanence of your life is a practice. We never get to a place where it’s finally comfortable. But we can learn to be with the discomfort when it arises without judging it, trying to fix it, or resisting it. What would open up then?