#4 Uncertainty (not always bad)
In part 1 of this series, I mentioned a friend who has lost his positivity over the course of the recent news cycle. He worries that so much about the future – from presidents to protests – is “up in the air.” Yes, we hate uncertainty. Markets hate uncertainty. It’s become a reflex, as in the way the UK vote for Brexit spurred a nosedive of leadership in a massive rush to abdicate.
Fear is the keyword behind uncertainty. It warns us, “don’t explore this territory!” But things don’t always turn out so bad as we fear they might. In fact, the fall of large systems is often met with the innovation and upsurge of smaller ones.
Pema Chodron has written a whole book on the subject of uncertainty – Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change. Her primary point is that uncertainty is a fact of life.
We seem doomed to suffer simply because we have a deep-seated fear of how things really are. Our attempts to find lasting pleasure, lasting security, are at odds with the fact that we’re part of a dynamic system in which everything and everyone is in process. - Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully…
Of Pema Chodron’s many smiling, insightful books, this is not the easiest to take. Basically, she calls times of uncertainty the best opportunities to meditate, to practice.
The best tip in Living Beautifully is that we need not torture ourselves with rules and requisites around our meditations. No “must sit X number of minutes”; no “must do every day, must be happy, must become loving, must, must...” Just start with a simple intention. That’s good enough.
We may turn to face tough emotions and find it miserable. Chodron encourages us to be OK with that. We are already bold just choosing to meditate in the face of fear. There’s no required length, only our intention to sit rather than run. This really lightens the load for our sitting practice. It clears out some leeway. We are free to allow ourselves to dip in – for an amount of time called “as long as possible” – and then dip out. In other words, be your own judge and be a kind judge.
Pema’s book offers a simple approach that will serve us in times of upheaval; it’s based on the Buddhist 3 Vows. As to the nuances of these vows, I will leave it to Chodron to explain them herself.
I took her advice, just intend, and made a commitment to try something other than a habitual response – like “Run!” or “Fight!” This post comes directly from my attempt (intention) to look more closely, with more focus, at emotions like grief and emptiness. I also followed the advice to go only as far into the meditative response as I could handle. The trainer of any exercise regime would advise as much. You push, but not past pain. Moderation adds longevity to the workout system.
“We are constantly looking for padding so that we don’t run into the sharp edges of the world,” Chogyam Trungpa, Smile at Fear
When I choose meditation over “padding,” I can’t always pinpoint “results.” Unlike an exercise routine, meditation practice offers no scale or desired weight, no biometrics.
The sad news of people losing lives because of flawed systems always hits my grief nerve. After absorbing a host of personal and national sorrows, that nerve was hit a lot. Losing my second dog in 3 months, over a news background of needless shootings, seems to have paralyzed me in some way. I went months between Blog posts. And so finally I sat with grief.
When I allowed myself to sit with it, unguarded, I did not suddenly “feel” a change. But that moment seems to have initiated some movement. I think it marks a shift in my energy because shortly thereafter, I took to keyboard again and began writing for the first time in months. I take the new drive to write as a sign that somehow intent or openness or just sidestepping fear moved the world a little so I could step back in.