The Paradox of Uncertainty

Julie Tallard Johnson

The Present


Much has been said about being in the present.

It’s the place to be, according to the gurus,

like the latest club on the downtown scene,

but no one, it seems, is able to give you directions.  taken from The Present, 

–Billy Collins, from The Rain In Portugal 

Billy Collins identifies for us the paradox (and humor) with our push toward “being in the here and now” in his recent poem The Present. Being present is often advice we hear. In fact, I often give others and myself this sort of counsel: “Take a deep breath, what’s wanting your attention, Now?”

Recently, “be present” has been replaced or accompanied by “learn to live with uncertainty.” We are all living with much uncertainty as a result of the recent election. For some of us uncertainty is also close to home.

Asking our selves to live with uncertainty is like pushing ourselves to live more in the present moment. In reality, we are already here now, in this experience, and, there is nothing (whatsoever) that is for certain.

Nevertheless, there are ways we can live more creatively and positively with uncertainty. This time of uncertainty for me has reminded me to "make everything the path" toward wholeness and awakening.

What might help when living with (so much) Uncertainty:

  1. Be willing to give up expectations and focus instead on something closer to home – you know, (another helpful slogan): focus on the journey not the destination.
  2. Name what is meaningful to you; what is worth your energy and attention?
  3. Bring your spiritual and creative practice to the forefront. Live life from the inside out, rather than the outside in.  Let the outside world influence you but not dictate your experience or choices. In fact, I find the greatest gift of having so much uncertainty in my personal and communal life is that it brings my spiritual practice so close in. What an opportunity to practice non-attachment, acceptance, courage, while facing into things rather than denying my circumstances.
  4. Name what is a constant for you. This constant may be an internal quality such as LOVE or COMPASSION. Or this constant may be your work and service in the world. Your faith could be a constant, or your reliance on a Higher Power.
  5. Learn to host the edges of Uncertainty, and the various emotional states that go with your particular experience of uncertainty. Be hospitable to these difficult times and emotions without being controlled by them. I don’t know what is going to happen, how things are going to work out. Of course, I want to know! Can I be with this tug for certainty in a forgiving and compassionate way? Can I be hospitable to all my feelings without harsh judgment or for the need to do something about it asap? (The need to do something asap means I am trying to force a resolution.)
  6. Explore what's possible. Consider and open yourself up to all that might be possible. Wherever there is uncertainty there is great space made for what is possible.  Imagine that all the uncertainty is making room for what is possible. Every day consider and imagine at least three seemingly impossibilities as possible

    “I can’t believe that!” said Alice.“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone.

    “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”Alice laughed. 

    “There’s no use in trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

  7. Remain curious about what seems to be happening and what might want to happen.
  8. Finally, Take care of your self. Do what makes you feel whole and balanced. As I’ve shared in previous blogs, I have three daily rituals that when I do these I feel good about my day. (For me these are walking outside, meditation and writing). Each day, do that one nurturing thing, connect with others, eat healthy comfort food, meditate, paint… or …. What truly feeds your mind, body and soul? Each day I also make sure to meet up with someone I care about and who cares about me.

Basically, we want an approach to these uncertain times that help us relax with paradox and ambiguity. Nothing is ever resolved for good. You know:–everything changes. (Or change is the only constant). So focusing our energy and attention on a resolution will only cause more suffering. Wanting things to be different only increases our stress and discomfort.

This doesn’t mean not to notice what is disturbing; just that we don’t have to become disturbed to make a difference. In fact, research shows us that when we are calm and at peace in our bodies and minds we handle disturbing events much better. We may be living with a lot of uncertainty but this doesn’t have to translate into being uncertain or being worried and anxious. Just so, depressing news doesn’t have to mean we become depressed.

For me another way to frame uncertainty is that there are times in our individual and collective lives when we are between stories. We are in a gap. So, when this is so, let’s do our best not to fill the gap with Facebook posts, worries, overeating, or useless distractions. The new story will arise, and we will each be a part of its narrative.

“God is not limited by your lack of imagination.” –Guidance from my Al-Anon sponsor.