(Or: How To Dance In The Gray)
In today’s world there seems to be an inordinate amount of pressure to know the answer or have figured out our lives, our futures and every other major thing happening. We live in a world where information for most things is at our fingertips. Yet how much do we really know? When we don’t know what is that like? How do we learn to get more comfortable with the things that we are not sure about? How can be process healthily – living in uncertainty?
When is not knowing actually helpful?
Often when we don’t know what to do we feel a sense of insecurity. This often comes up in our relationships. When our loved ones are struggling and not certain of what to do in their lives we can feel a responsibility to help them and make things certain again. Although this often comes from a place of love I do think we are also trying to manage our own anxiety by throwing out suggestions and solutions.
When we can stay in the unknown with our wife, husband or child and listen to their struggle we can help them feel less alone in their own uncertainty. This is such a powerful way to be loving. To be there when someone is struggling and just hold space for them.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing…that is a friend who cares.
Another place we gain from not knowing is being able to see the complexity of life. When things are not black and white we can feel confused. This confusion may cause discomfort and wanting to end the confusion by taking a side. In taking a side we lose out on how complex things can be in life. It is possible to feel both sadness and joy at the same time. It is possible to feel revulsion and compassion with what someone has done to us. When we jump quickly to one of those we lose the fullness of the experience.
Having an open mind doesn’t imply having no opinion. It often implies having both opinions. It means not denying the supposed contradiction that victims can be victimizers and vice versa…
The Zen Of Not Knowing.
Today, in our divided world many people have staked their claim in certainty. On each side of the political spectrum or cultural divide are people yelling at the other side for being wrong and claiming the righteousness of their side.
In the Buddhist school of Zen there is a strong commitment to not knowing and staying present with uncertainty. The value of this state of openmindedness is to allow oneself to be able to see the perspective of someone else. A Zen practitioner can listen with an open mind and open heart when they practice not-knowing.
We all want to be the one who knows. But if we decide we “know” something, we are not open to other possibilities anymore. And that’s a shame. We lose something very vital in our life when it’s more important to us to be one who knows than it is to be awake to what’s happening.
Zenkei Blanche Hartman
The world needs more of this open way of being. In order to do this we have to learn to accept that we don’t know everything. This allows us to stay curious to political and cultural differences. When we grasp at certainty we lose our open mind and open heart.
Living with Uncertainty and Learning To Live With Gray
I think the real challenge in living in uncertainty is the issue of control. When we know what to do we have a sense that our lives are controlled which brings a sense of safety. When we don’t feel clear about something we feel a loss of control. Fear creeps in soon after we lose control.
In order to become more comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing we need to let go of the control we want to have in our lives. We do this by accepting the anxiety or uncomfortable feelings that emerge when we notice a lack of control.
When you don’t feel like you have control what happens? Does your anxiety increase? Do you want to get away from that feeling? Control is often a mirage that we use to override the anxiety that we are really feeling. Instead of being present with our anxiety we move to quickly manage the situation.
To live in the gray we must come into awareness of our lack of control and that we don’t really know much of what we tell ourselves is true or right. When we acknowledge this we can then feel the anxiety of not having control and allow this to be a part of our experience. When we are able to be honest with the feelings that emerge, when we are uncertain, we no longer need to be afraid. It can become a place to explorer with profound possibility.
How Living in Uncertainty Shows Up In My Life
I have lived a fake life of trying to be some wise sage who knows all. I took on that identity early in my childhood. Somehow I falsely appeared to be wiser than my age. I loved it when others would nod in agreement after I spoke. It pumped up my ego and made me feel like I was important. I guess that’s partly why I enjoy being a therapist. However, what I have discovered is truly helpful for my clients is not my ideas or wisdom on what they are going through. What helps is sitting with them in their own internal conflict.
I continually realize that really supporting people in my work is helping them to navigate what they don’t know. Is this the right partner for me? Am I being a good parent? What if I never get out of these depressive states? When there are no answers what is helpful is being in the grayness of it all. Feeling the fear, confusion and frustration for not having answers. Facing this fear is what helps us to find more resilience.
In my own life, when I jump to solutions, what I’m often doing is trying to avoid what I’m feeling. I want to ensure those around me that I am in control. This usually ends up going poorly. However, when I am true to what is happening in the moment I feel the pain of not knowing. As the pain is experienced I learn that not knowing is not as bad as I imagined it to be. Facing the gray with those around me often helps me to feel more connected and possibly create more creative solutions. It is in these moments that I feel a growing confidence that I can accept life as it is.
If you or someone you know is struggling with uncertainty I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Mentioned Further Reading: