I write a lot about the art of staying engaged and available for transformation. This is the big question of my life partly because I’m not always good at it.
For example, last week I was chopping some collard greens for a soup and enjoying the soundtrack to Hamilton. My mind began to wander. I started thinking about all that is happening politically and my mind started racing to all the suffering that could be dangerously lying ahead. Then – OUCH! I had sliced off the tip of my finger.
I took a time out to bandage myself. I needed to turn on some calmer music. I was humbly reminded of the danger of letting my thoughts and worries run loose.
This accident has given me a chance to think about what keeps us resilient in the face of uncertainty.
What’s your tolerance for uncertainty?
When we humans reach the end of our tolerance for uncertainty we usually grasp onto something to be certain about.
The recent organizational projects in my house absolutely reflect the need to create an oasis of order and control. I love our newly reorganized office closet and can work more efficiently because of it.
Despair is also a way of alleviating the stress of uncertainty. Strange but true. It can be easier to conclude that everything is decisively horrible than to stay with the uncertainty.
Truth and Uncertainty
“But wait!” you might say, “suffering is not just an uncertain maybe – people and planet are hurting right now.”
This is true. Part of my accident at the cutting board was about how difficult it can be to bear the truth of what is happening now.
Our ability to be with the truth is part of what’s at stake. And we are surrounded by confused truth – fake news, people lying under oath, and even science at the hands of corporate interests.
Truth has fallen into uncertainty and I believe that’s part of our collective problem.
Working with Uncertainty
Truth can create uncertainty. For example, the truth of climate change creates so much uncertainty about what a livable future might look like that some people have decided to deny climate change all together. Humans are great at denial. Generally we follow pleasure, not uncertainty.
Staying alive with possibility in the midst of discomfort and uncertainty is one of the most essential skills required by these times.
I am more resilient when I am tapped into a greater whole. For example, when I was first diagnosed with cancer it felt like a huge boulder was plopped into my life. While part of my treatment was about making the cancer shrink, the spiritual part of my healing was about making my sense of being part of the fabric of life much bigger.
I had grown so much in proportion to my “cancer boulder” that it was more like a pebble. Pebbles can still cause a lot of trouble, like when they are in my shoe. But I felt so much more leverage to engage with the situation. I’ve been cancer-free for over 7 years.
This sense of an expanded, resilient self is the gift of embodied spiritual practice.
Curiosity and Play
Coming back to the boo-boo on my finger, the morning after my accident I needed to take off my bloody bandage. I was worried the wound was stuck to the bandage. When I jiggled the wrapping I felt some pain. I even got all sweaty and light headed and needed to sit on the floor for a minute.
I sat with my hand in the air, worried about how difficult this was going to be. Then my cat came by. She’s curious about anything new and before I knew it she had (painlessly) batted off my bandage so she could play with it. I laughed so hard! I should have given her a kitty treat.
How had I convinced myself that it was going to be horrible and painful? The curiosity and playfulness of my cat had saved me.
From a posture of resilience, deeply connected to the web of life, may we all find the possibility of creativity and play in uncertainty. May we discover solutions that are surprisingly painless!
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