Living with Uncertainty

IMG_3220I grew up on a safe, tree-lined street on the West side of Los Angeles. We lived two blocks from the 405 freeway, one block from a strip mall that included a bank, Marie Calendars restaurant, McDonald’s, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and across a busy street was Pic N’Sav (now Big/Lots), Hughes (now Ralphs), and Thrifty (now Rite-Aid)). Although I felt acutely disconnected from nature, we reveled in the convenience that we could walk to so many stores and restaurants or hop on the freeway in minutes. There were no big trees, no creeks, no open spaces, and, well, no threat of natural disasters. I felt safe. In my bubble world, I didn’t even know that hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or ice storms existed. Sure, we experienced the occasional earthquake, but I learned to roll with the rumbles and they never caused anxiety.

In the weeks following the recent floods, I found myself living with more uncertainty about our safety than I’ve ever known. Will the creek rise again? Was this truly a rare occurrence – a 500-year flood – or, with the changes in our climate, could these kinds of floods occur more frequently? As my older son said to me a few days after the flood: “Mommy, didn’t you and Daddy say that one of the reasons why we moved to Colorado was because there were no natural disasters here?” Um, yeeees. Looks like Mommy and Daddy didn’t do their research very well. So here we are, living with the reality that nature is infinitely more powerful than we are, and that by continuing to live here we’re living with a certain level of uncertainty.

In my nervous state, I spent some time researching (ie Googling – exactly what I tell my clients to stop doing) “cities with least threat of natural disasters”. While everyone has their opinion, what the “research” revealed is that every place has their threat of danger. And the real truth is that our neighbors two doors down and all around were untouched by the flood. We were hit hard and others were spared. The same phenomena occurs with tornadoes, ice storms, and earthquakes. Had we purchased the blue Victorian house on the corner instead of our yellow house on the creek we wouldn’t have experienced any damage. We would still be living with our illusion of certainty and safety.

Because here’s the truth about this statement – “by continuing to live here we’re living with a certain level of uncertainty”: “Here” means planet Earth. By living on Earth we’re living with uncertainty. As I often teach my clients who are struggling with the need for certainty that they’re making the “right” choice in terms of their relationship partner, the work is to become more comfortable with uncertainty. For just as there isn’t one “right” partner, there isn’t a place in the world that could be considered completely safe from natural disasters or another type of threat to safety (burglary, fire, etc). To live is to risk. To love is to risk. We can allow fear to direct our choices  – as I was doing when I indulged in the part of my mind that wanted to move away – or we can learn to work with the fear itself.

Sometimes working with fear is a matter of reframing. In a fearful state one night following the flood, I wrote to my husband, “I hate this. It makes me want to move away. But I don’t know if there’s any truly safe place.” To which he responded, “The way I think of this is that Earth is a dynamic and living planet, not dead like the moon, or mostly dead like Mars. This is part of being on a living planet…not a dangerous planet, just alive.” God, I love this man. His words helped me contextualize and reframe, and in that instant I reconnected to the aliveness of not only our planet, but also of our little wild spot here on the creek.

In my truest self, I don’t want to move away. I’m deeply in love with our land and with the water that flows through it. I have a profound relationship with the giant Cottonwoods and slender Aspen trees, with each blade of grass that lies submerged between thick layers of mud but will poke through again in the Spring, with the creek who has endured her own trauma and now meanders on a new path, with the birds and insects and wildlife who flock to our land by the water. If I left them, a part of me would wilt, as they are some of my most meaningful friends. Will we build measures of protection when we rebuild our land, like rock walls behind our barn and floodgates at the back of our property? Probably. But we also recognize that living with aliveness, living in nature, assumes an element of risk. Living on Earth assumes an element of risk. True safety comes from within, the refuge of an internal “okayness” that isn’t dependent on externals to create the illusion of safety.

In those early weeks, when fear reigned and uncertainty loomed, I drank deeply from my own medicine and practiced the teachings I bring to my clients every day. I knew it was time to widen my tolerance for uncertainty, to make friends with that most uncomfortable feeling that snaked up my body and into my thoughts and tried to convince me to run. I breathed into the uncertainty. I breathed into the grief that coursed like an underground creek beneath the need for certainty; when I let myself grieve, I found my solid ground. I turned to my husband for wisdom and containment. I accessed my own imaginary guides, like the wise woman who lives on the edge of the creek and opens her arms wide to embrace me in her ancient comfort.

After years of coasting along and enjoying the eddy of a calm, secure life, those first several weeks were a period of growth. It hurt and it was scary at times, but it also opened me to a space of divine connection and gratitude that is more elusive during the eddies. And through that enduring connection, through the love of the spirit in this land and my commitment to honoring my relationship to it, the need for certainty diminished and my place of internal safety widened.

Might we experience another flood if we remain here? We might. But I’m no longer living with that fear, only the gratitude and love that led us here, that nourish us, and that we have the privilege of giving back as we restore, repair, and renew both ourselves and the world around us.

19 comments to Living with Uncertainty

  • Betsy

    As always, your words are absolutely beautiful. Thank you Sheryl.

  • Tina

    I think what gets me is how impersonal nature is. And that is a good thing to come to grips with. It reminds me of my place in the universe. I prepare carefully when I interact with nature, knowing that preparations are all about risk-management. It could still go horribly wrong for me and nature wouldn’t care one bit. I am both thrilled and terrified at my smallness the scheme of things.

    • This reminds me of a Hasidic teaching that says that every person should carry two pieces of paper, one in your right hand pocket and the other in your left. On one of the pieces, you write the verse “I am but dust and ashes.” On the other piece, you write: “Bishvili nivra haolam/For my sake the world was created.” If we could hold these opposites we would find great tranquility.

  • Louise

    What a great post!

    I used to love roaming through the forests of my home town growing up, but a few years back a massive storm hit the area and left a trail of destruction in the city, but also the surrounding woods. On the sides of the hills facing the wind hardly any trees were left standing, and walking along the usual paths in the aftermath felt like I was walking across a silent graveyard. Now, 5 years later, one can still see the destruction, but in the following springs and summers the area transformed very quickly – with the trees gone many beautiful little bushes and flowers started to grow and it became absolutely beautiful in a completely new way!

    I hope everything will look up soon!!

  • Shivani

    thank you sheryl. it was really helpful.

  • Val

    I loved this post and it came at the perfect time for me. I am constantly overwhelmed with feelings of uncertainty. Mostly things like “what if we get divorced?” “What if I get sick of him” “what if don’t love him” the “what ifs” plague my mind but I push them out knowing that this is anxious fear as you taught me. I try to love and live without letting these thoughts control me, but it is difficult at times. This post gave me a needed reality check and brought me back to my center. Thank you Sheryl.

    • The more you drop into your core feelings, true thoughts, and loving actions and learn to anchor into and fill your well of Self, the less the thoughts will take hold or even appear. Deep waters of Self is the medicine.

  • Jake

    I don’t know if I just change the meaning of your blogs in my head to relate to what I’m going through but I don’t know how every time I’m going through a rough time and I read one of these it’s exactly what I need to learn about.
    Thank you so much for sharing I’m so grateful to have found your work

  • Roxie

    As always, your posts are enlightening, deep, and magically timed. Thank you, Sheryl. And Happy Birthday! I just read that post the other night. Your insights are truly helpful. Wishing you lifelong peace, health and prosperity for you and your family.

  • Lola

    Thank you for this post Sheryl. It’s a helpful reminder for me to breathe through and still live through a period of uncertainty. I am faced with the prospect of a new job (at least an interview) and while it offers new opportunities it also brings a lot of uncertainty (the environment is very different from where I work now, and may be a difficult place to work as a woman…not that we are in the 1950s here or anything, but still). Faced with this opportunity (not even decision at this point), I have found myself wilting a bit and seeking comforts, wrapping myself in little things of certainty.

    It’s a reminder to open my eyes a bit and focus on clarity. Clear eyes, not fear eyes, and the knowledge that everything changes. We can control only a little bit of it but are not controlled by it.

  • Paty

    Jake,

    I feel the same way! Sheryl is a God sent. I’m getting married next weekend and am so grateful I’ve gone through my period of “stormy weather” because it’s made me able to enjoy the moment I’m living now. I want to recommend a book it’s called Transitions by William Bridges, it’s amazing. It helped me realize, like Sheryl writes, there are moments of uncertainty, or chaos, you can either give in and let it take you under or realize that your situation is simply brewing energy and fuel for what is to come.

    To all of those suffering from anxiousness like I have, keep working through it and read, read, read (credible sources that is), talk to people about what you’re going through (professional help is great!), and don’t reject or be ashamed of who you are and what you are going through. “Vive tu vida intensamente/live life intensely” like my mom always says!

  • Jennifer

    Blessings to you Sheryl, this post brought tears to my eyes as I read of your journey to find a deeper and wider sense of safety within yourself. Turning to nature, to your family and to your teachings is good medicine.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    Well said.. There is no point worrying about something that might not even happen.. Even if it happened once. Life is full of wonderful surprises as well. Natural causes are just that natural causes. We cannot stop it from happening but we can choose to learn from that experience and be prepared if it happens again only it will be easier to manage emotionally.

  • Angela

    I recommend a must read book from Margaret Paul called DEAR GOD HOW CAN I HEAL SO THAT I MAY LOVE?
    Yes, she is Sheryl’s mum. What wonderful passionate and genuine women about sincerely helping people.
    Thanks so much 🙂

  • V. Kerr

    Right now I am living in a state of spiritual uncertainty. Questioning my faith in God, I loved how you said to make friends with the uncertainty. Your timing of this post was perfect. Thank you!

  • Demeree

    Sheryl, your words touch something very deep in me. Not only is your message meaningful, but the words and imagery you use bring me to tears. Thank you for the beauty that you share so graciously with me and your other readers.