It’s been an intense year of uncertainty. We’re tired and weary, with so much of life put on hold. We can’t wait to go ‘back to normal’, but even as we look ahead and hope to emerge from this pandemic, uncertainty is likely to remain.
Instead of looking for light at the end of the tunnel, and waiting for when this is all over, what does it look like to find peace, and presence, in the midst of uncertainty?
Here are five things I’ve learned that help:
Life interrupted vs. This is the life
When the unexpected happens, when curveballs hit, we often see this as ‘life, interrupted’. We see struggle as the obstacle that’s in our way. We put life on hold, while we work this out, before we can continue on our path.
But what if this is the life? What if this uncertain, awkward moment is precisely where life happens?
When we think of struggle as ‘life, interrupted’ we’ll wait. Wait for better days to come. Wait for when the road looks straight and clear.
What if, instead of waiting for the struggle to pass, we showed up anyway, in this moment, instead of waiting for the perfect moment?
Something funny happens when you accept your reality as the new normal. You stop waiting for it to pass. You stop planning for when it’s over. You look it right in the eye. You shift from “How do I get through this?” to “How do I want to live here?”
How do you want to live – not when this is over – but right here, right now?
Often used as an improvisation technique, the words “Yes and” are based on the principle of ‘accept and build’. In a live improvisation setting, you accept what the other person has offered, and you build on it. The same can be applied to what life gives you.
Yes, this is hard and I am learning.
Yes, there’s much I don’t know and this is what I do know.
Yes, I’m excited and I’m terrified.
Yes, there is sadness and there is joy.
“Yes and…” helps us to hold contradictory thoughts and emotions in the same space, and in doing so we expand our thinking, rather than feel like we have to shut a part of us down.
Letting go of the need to be right
When we’re navigating new territory, dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty, there’s likely to be much we don’t know, plenty to learn, and many twists and turns along the way.
When we hold too tightly onto a need to be right, uncertainty becomes the enemy instead of the terrain. We see every unexpected outcome as defeat, every surprise as an attack, everything we don’t know as weakness. It’s no wonder we get defensive.
When we get defensive, we shut down our curiosity in favour of certainty, we trade compassion for conviction, and we preserve our feeling of confidence, at the cost of our learning. Sometimes right is the wrong thing to aim for. Being curious, playful, and practising, for example, are some alternatives to being right.
Noticing fear and activating curiosity
Fear is our basic instinctive response to the unknown. It sees all change and uncertainty as a potential threat and activates our fight or flight stress response.
Biologically the fight or flight response gives us a narrow focus. In a life-threatening situation we don’t need a wide-angle perspective. We home in on the escape route or the weak spot in our enemy. We filter out what is possible and focus on what is necessary for immediate survival.
Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Where fear says “Danger, don’t go there!” curiosity says “That’s interesting, let’s take a look.”
Curiosity widens our view. What initially looked like anger could actually be pain. What appeared dangerous could just be different. We ask better questions, beyond “how do I defeat or escape this?” to questions like
“What am I seeing? What am I not seeing?”
“What if there’s more to this?”
“What might be possible here and now, that wasn’t before?”
See the opportunity
That’s when we see the opportunity, the mystery, the potential.
Beyond the options of fight and flight we find a world of possibilities. Where the unknown is not something to be fixed or avoided, but adventure to be explored. Where being wrong is a doorway to discovery. Where strength and power take many forms.
And we remember that as human beings, we are capable of so much more than running or fighting. We remember to learn, wonder, experiment, grow, digest, discover, create, repair and evolve.