Uncertainty Is the Gateway to Possibility
We are a culture of certainty addicts, yet the reality is that we can’t know what will happen even one minute in the future. For all we know, the earth could get hit by some cosmic event that would destroy our whole planet tomorrow. And we are simply not okay with this. We smother our deep-seated fear of uncertainty with food, alcohol, cigarettes, excessive exercise, busyness, television, and other numbing behaviors that distract us from our discomfort with the fact that we can’t control life the way we wish we could.
Think about what you give up if you insist on certainty. You close the door on curiosity, creativity, and possibility, you cut off your openness to new things, and you miss out on the excitement of being a perpetual student. As Rachel Naomi Remen says, when we take this stance, “We trade mystery for mastery and lose a sense of aliveness and possibility.”
Life as the teacher shows up in a variety of ways. Your children may be your teachers. The homeless guy on the street can be your teacher. Heartbreak can be your teacher. Abuse can be your teacher. Fear can be your teacher. Many of the gifts life has to teach us live not in the realm of the certain, but in the uncertain. A willingness to let life be your teacher requires a certain humility, but we are all capable of becoming learners if we’re willing to not know. Whether you’re the President of the United States or the dean of Harvard or a kindergartener, life can be your teacher, if only you’ll let it. It will tend to point to the places where your craving for certainty has made you the most blind.
Something magical happens when you stop trying to control every aspect of your life and commit to letting life be your teacher, even when things aren’t going your way. When you’re willing to release your grip on certainty and lean into the mystery of the unknown, life can start to delight you. You grow. You transform. You’re ready to move past the false fears that hold you back and lean into uncertainty from a place of faith.
Loss Is Natural and Can Lead to Growth
If we’re willing to let them, pain, grief, and loss are here to wake us up from the mindless slumber of the Small Self and free us from the soul cage of false fear. Graciously receiving such a gift does not come easily to most of us. In modern culture, we tend to have an unhealthy relationship with loss. In indigenous cultures, loss is more easily accepted as a natural part of life. But in our materialistic modern culture, we have no cultural mythology that helps us deal with loss, so we become loss averse.
We view loss as failure, rather than being willing to accept it or even embrace it for the teachings that accompany it. We punish children by taking things away from them. We reward them by giving them things. We train our children to associate loss with personal failure, shame, guilt, and being “bad.” Loss is not seen as a natural part of life and welcomed as an essential part of growth. Instead, we resist loss at all costs, which means we also resist change, since change always requires loss in some form. Nothing begins without something ending.
We hate to face this painful truth, but life is impermanent. Everything we cherish we will one day lose. And life most often teaches us our greatest lessons through the vehicle of loss. Loss, if we let it, can initiate us into a soul-driven life. Loss can lead to a sort of rebirth that matures us, grows the wisdom within us, and opens a door to the next phase of our growth.
In her book Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser writes, “Adversity is a natural part of being human. It is the height of arrogance to prescribe a moral code or health regime or spiritual practice as an amulet to keep things from falling apart. Things do fall apart. It is in their nature to do so. When we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of change, we are not listening to the soul. We are listening to our fear of life and death, our lack of faith, our smaller ego’s will to prevail. To listen to the soul is to stop fighting with life—to stop fighting when things fall apart; when they don’t go our way, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood. To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty, and to wait.”
It’s a Purposeful Universe
Do we live in a dangerous world? After the events of September 11, many people certainly thought so. In the wake of that tragedy, people were so afraid of being killed in a plane hijacking that many switched from flying to driving, even though the biggest risk of traveling by plane is the drive to the airport. In fact, one professor calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one jet per week, a person flying once a month would only have a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a plane hijacking, a miniscule risk compared to the annual 1-in-6,000 risk of being killed in a car crash.
When news of swine flu hit the media in 2009, hundreds of thousands of people began stockpiling the antiviral Tamiflu, while rushing to hospitals for even the slightest symptom. In 2011, when an earthquake caused a tsunami to devastate the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, people as far away as the United States began buying up the nation’s supply of potassium iodide, believed to help protect the thyroid gland from radiation exposure, until prices of the limited supply of the supplement began skyrocketing on eBay.
Yes, there are real dangers in our world, but we’ve lost touch with the statistical likelihood of these dangers, and as a result, many of us live in chronic fear. We’re afraid of pesticides, hormones in milk, chemicals in food, poisons in our water supply, genetically modified organisms, and toxins in our air. We’re worried about mercury in our fish and fillings, bacteria in our cheese, lead in our paint, leaky breast implants, and mold in our basements. We’re afraid of toxins in our cosmetics, poisons in plastics, and contamination of our meat. We’re anxious about whether microwave ovens, cell phones, and deodorant will kill us. We’re terrified of cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and herpes.
And yet, in all measurable ways, we’ve never been safer. It’s true across the developed world. Just for example, Americans enjoyed life spans 60 percent longer in 2000 than in 1900. In 1900, a baby born in England had a life expectancy of 46 years. In 1980, it was 74 years. Today, in Canada, for example, the life expectancy is more than 80 years. We’re not just living longer—we’re living healthier. Fewer people develop chronic illnesses, and those who do get sick develop illnesses 10 to 25 years later in life than in years gone by. Even when people do get sick, the illnesses tend to be less severe. And people in developed countries today are less likely to become disabled.
Living in a purposeful universe allows you to come into right relationship with uncertainty because now, instead of viewing uncertainty with suspicion or fear, you can be at peace in the face of the unknown. Instead of guarding against loss, you can trust that even loss has a purpose, even if you don’t know exactly what it is.
Once you begin to trust in this way, you’ll find that false fear, while it may still show up, no longer rules your life. Instead of panicking when you lose your job, you trust that the perfect job will appear in the perfect timing. Instead of clinging to a love affair when it’s ending, you trust that the dissolution of the relationship is a sign that a healthier, happier relationship is on the way. Instead of feeling afraid when you have a health scare, you have faith that whatever happens, it’s all a welcome part of your soul’s evolution. Even if you’re faced with the ultimate bad news—that you may lose the life of a loved one or even your own life, you’re able to trust the process and the outcome.
We Are All One
The left hemisphere of the brain gets us into a lot of trouble, as individuals, as a species, and as citizens of our world. False fear originates in the left hemisphere of the brain, where language lives, because every false fear is nothing but a thought, a figment of language. Because the left hemisphere also creates this illusion of separation, distinguishing between “I am” and “You are,” conflicts and traumas arise, and we are able to inflict all kinds of emotional and physical violence not only upon one another, but also upon our planet.
Most of the global challenges we face as citizens of earth arise from the mistaken notion that we are separate beings, disconnected from one another and from Source. The moment we remember that we are all One, we can no longer turn our backs on other suffering humans, endangered animals, the destruction of rainforests, polluted oceans, and a thinning atmosphere.
If we are all One, we are only as strong as our weakest link, and our weakest links lie in the devastation of the natural world right now. At no other time in the history of our planet has one species been responsible for the total destruction of other planetary life. As long as we’re stuck in the illusion of separation, we’re capable of making selfish choices that might keep us more comfortable in the short term but in the long term, we will destroy the natural world, and with it, ourselves as a species.
When we remember that we are all One, we will be called to open our hearts to unprecedented levels of compassion. Rather than succumbing to fear, dividing ourselves with judgment, or throwing our hands up in helplessness, we will be called to action. The choice is ours.