In recovery, much of our newfound lives sport Change as a common theme. This Change fellow may be a close cousin of Uncertainty. Think about it! If change tends to be full of wonderful opportunity, why is it that we so often try to avoid it with all of our might?
Only a small handful of people that I know have said that they would be comfortable in an unpredictable sea of uncertainty. Just the idea of bobbing along in the middle of the ocean leaves me feeling panicky (what just swam underneath me?!). There is a woman, however, who claims that we have the best chance at being content, peaceful, serene, and our best selves when we can be “comfortable with uncertainty”.
Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan Buddhist, has written some of the most beautiful, soulful strings of words that I have ever had the pleasure to read. I highly recommend checking out anything she has penned – ever. Specifically, The Places That Scare You, When Things Fall Apart, and Comfortable with Uncertainty are exquisite. As students and adults – let’s just say humans in general – we are bound to encounter any number of the wonderful and terrifying emotions that come as a package deal with this life we’ve been given. In the spirit of cultivating tools to move through the less-than-ideal moments that recovery undoubtedly brings with it, this week’s post is dedicated to Pema and to some of her magical teachings.
1. “Trying to run away is never the answer to being fully human.” – When Things Fall Apart
What’s that I feel? Anxiety? Restlessness? The Great Unknown? But… but… running the other way is the easy thing to do! 2 straight hours of scrolling mindlessly through Facebook; changing the subject in an about-to-be-deep conversation; excessive napping; you know the drill. I think I try this one so often that I mostly do not even realize I am doing it. Another of Pema’s quotes goes nicely with this one: “Even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.” Let’s DO this, warriors!
2. “Patience is the training in abiding with the restlessness of our energy and letting things evolve at their own speed.” – The Places That Scare You
But wait – I promise I know exactly the timeframe of how this (you know, life in general) should go. False. While it is absolutely necessary and useful for us to make plans for our lives and to act on them, it is a waste of time to force things into existence. Do you know the feeling that emerges right at the point where you begin to manipulate a situation? If you do, then we might be able to agree that it is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Pema’s writing has tried to remind me – sometimes I selectively listen – that right on that threshold is an incredible opportunity for freedom and growth. Loosening the grip is, believe it or not, much less work. Fancy that!
3. “Uncertainty is all we have.” – Comfortable with Uncertainty
Sure, we know what our parents decided to name us. Unless we are color blind, we probably also know what color hair we have. But those are not the things we want so badly to be certain about. When it comes to the heavier questions – At what point will I feel perfectly fulfilled? What do I need to do to reach my full potential? – there has never been a right answer. Pema’s words encourage me to remember that it is only by living moment after moment that things become decided. To grasp onto any one idea, person, or item as though that thing is the ultimate truth is to try to hold water in our hands. I am still wrapping my head (and hand) around that one.
4. “We already have everything we need.” – Start Where You Are
Yes, a front yard, a better health care plan, and a stress-free life all sound awesome. Some of those are attainable; one is not. What they do have in common is this: I need none of them in order to live freely and peacefully. I think the lie I buy into the most is the one where we’re told, “Once THIS happens, THEN you will be complete.” According to Pema, unless the “this” is being comfortable with uncertainty, that marketing hoax is 110% nonsense. The beauty in that truth, however, is that we are fully equipped, straight from the womb, with goodness and strength beyond what we might ever comprehend. Now up on my to-do list: internalize that.
5. “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” – Comfortable with Uncertainty
This is one of those brilliantly soulful strings of words I mentioned in the beginning. Can you feel it? After reading this sentence, the pangs of fear that I still feel on a regular basis have begun to be accompanied by a reminder: listen to that gut-punch of anxiety; it has something important to tell you. In the meantime, this wave of the unknown is ready for you and your surfboard.
Hop on up, says Pema, the water’s fine.
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