“Whether through birds in snow, or geese honking in the dark, or through the brilliant wet leaf that hits your face the moment you are questioning your worth, the quiet teachers are everywhere. When we think we are in charge, their lessons dissolve as accidents or coincidence. But when we’re brave enough to listen, the glass that breaks across the room is offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think.”- Mark Nepo
Uncertainty is part of life. Part of the human condition is to be aware of and struggle with uncertainty, yet few people inherently know how to live with it in a graceful way. Left to its own devices, and in the absence of a culture that teaches us how to create footholds that help us anchor into life in healthy ways, the mind will choose the path of least resistance in the face of uncertainty, which most often means hooking into misguided ways to try to control: obsessions, compulsions, rumination, worry. These are the mind’s way of creating a stop-gap in a world that never stops changing, the ego’s tactics for trying to keep us safe. At the core of every intrusive thought is the need for certainty, which the ego tries to achieve by sending out the sentries of the mind to scan the horizon for danger. “Am I with the right partner?” “Do I have a terminal illness?” “What if I lose my job?”
If you’ve struggled with intrusive thoughts you know that they don’t actually offer comfort, reassurance, or certainty. You’ve likely suffered through a variety of thought-stories that have vied for your attention over the years, and just when you answer one in a satisfactory way, another one pops up in its place. You know this isn’t an effective tactic to try to find a foothold in uncertainty, but you’ve never been taught a better way.
There is a better way. There’s a way that allows you to unfold more often into grace and flow than the stagnation that occurs when you become entrenched in the world of intrusive thoughts or lured into the unsettling field of hooking into the fear of loss.
Let me say a bit more about the word grace. Like “prayer” and “ritual”, the word grace has been co-opted by religion, so when people hear these words they often evoke a religious connotation. While religion certainly is one place where we practice prayer, rituals, and becoming graceful, religion doesn’t own the copyright on these words and these experiences. I know that many people who follow my work have their own religious practices, and I know that many more not only do not subscribe to religion but, because of their earlier experiences, are opposed to it. If we’re going to access the power of these places to help us flow more with uncertainty, it’s important that we take these words out of their strictly religious connotation.
Grace simply means that we’re flowing with life instead of resisting it. When we say, “She handled the death of her husband with so much grace,” we don’t mean that she didn’t cry or rail against the universe in rage or fall into a healthy depression. We mean that she rose to meet the utter heartbreak of the moment instead of running from it through an addiction. We mean that she grieved fully, expressed her anger responsibly, and allowed herself to lie in bed when she needed to cocoon away. Meeting life with grace means that we meet it on life’s terms. When it comes to uncertainty, it means that we find healthy ways to flow along this ever-changing river of life without becoming stuck or stagnating in the eddies of intrusive thoughts or allowing ourselves to become lost in the magnetic fields of the story-spheres, like health anxiety or career anxiety, that pull for our attention. And when we do get stuck, as we inevitably will, the path of grace means that we reach out for help and to our practices so that we become un-stuck.
What does it mean to find grace through uncertainty? If uncertainty is a part of life and it’s very presence causes anxiety, what does it mean to flow with it instead of becoming stuck behind the defenses against it? To answer these questions, let’s review what you’ve learned on this site about the link between sensitivity and anxiety.
At the core of every human being is our beautiful, sensitive heart. If this sensitivity isn’t honored in the early years – if you were shamed or judged by being told either overtly or covertly that you were “too much”, “too dramatic”, “too sensitive” – your innate sensitivity shut down, sealed over, and morphed into anxiety. If, however, you were able to retain connection to your sensitive nature in any way, the sensitivity was channeled into creativity and spirituality. On one level, anxiety is sensitivity gone awry. When we can repair the damage done to our sensitive hearts, several layers of anxiety fall away.
Likewise, uncertainty is part of life. We don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. We’re not offered iron-clad guarantees that a marriage will work out, that kids will remain healthy, that buying this house is a wise move. Because loss and death exist, humans are aware of a fundamental uncertainty, and if we’re not offered effective ways to manage it, it morphs into scanning, obsessions, worry, and compulsions. The mind knows that there’s something “off”, something that is outside of its control, so it desperately tries to find something it can “fix”, something it thinks it can control. On one level, obsessions and scanning are uncertainty gone awry.
Sensitivity and uncertainty aren’t the problem; it’s how we respond to these non-negotiable aspects of being human that determines whether or not we tumble into a stuck place or flow with more grace through life. And the hidden beauty – which those of who you have done your inner work around relationship anxiety already know – is that once you embrace the core reality – the sensitivity or the uncertainty – your life grows and expands in untold ways. Just as sensitivity isn’t just something to “get over” but is the doorway to self-love, so uncertainty is the doorway to grace. When we learn the practices that allow us to flow with uncertainty, we find grace on the other side: a life of more ease, more spaciousness, more equanimity, more joy.
This is what I will be teaching in my new course, Grace Through Uncertainty: A 30-day course to become more comfortable with the fear of loss by falling in love with life. This seeds for this course were planted two years ago when I encountered my own brush with death (I share the full story in the course), and it’s been evolving and growing ever since. Not a day passes that I don’t hear questions about uncertainty in some form from my clients, my kids, myself, and my friends. This course is the response. It will begin on Saturday, September 29th, 2018, and I very much look forward to seeing you there.