Willpower doesn’t grow on trees.
In our daily lives, how often do we handle situations on autopilot, in the way we “know” is best? Probably quite a lot. We do it with people too; basing our relationships on what believe we know about the other person. But do we really know as much as we think? Every pre-conceived opinion we have is either something we’ve been told or based on our own past experience. We tend to collect this information and store it in our minds as our own Guide to Handling Life. And that’s not surprising. Life is changeable and uncertain, so we naturally search for rules and approaches we view as certain.
All we really know for sure is what we’ve actually experienced ourselves. So, to be certain of what we know, we have to let go of everything else – everything we’ve been told by others. That’s not to say we shouldn’t value the advice and knowledge of others, but experience is what really matters.
So now, we’re just left with our own experiences. But as one gives way to the next, these constantly change – so we have to let go of them, too.
That doesn’t leave much. In fact, the only thing left we can truly rely on as certain is the experience of the present moment, which is paradoxically uncertain!
For some, this revelation is a serious cause for celebration. It’s license to let go of all that old baggage that holds us back – and instead, tackle the world with a new sense of curiosity and wonder. Best of all, we don’t have to pretend we have all the answers anymore. We know they’re always changing anyway.
For others, it’s harder to deal with. As humans, when we’re hit by problems or fear, we feel an overwhelming desire to think, and find a well-rehearsed approach filed within the mind to handle it. That becomes our certainty; it feels better than peering into the uncertain chasm of life.
But the practice becomes easier once we realize that instead of feeling shame by not knowing something, we find freedom. Instead of a fixed, rigid mind operated by a set of preconceived ideas, our uncertain mind is curious, interested, reflective and malleable. And by approaching life, and the people we encounter within it, with genuine uncertainty, we can experience it, and them, as they truly are, at that moment.
Our response to life’s events becomes calm, non-judgmental, and entirely considered.
The wisdom of uncertainty doesn’t reject human intellect; it encourages us to understand more. It doesn’t devalue the experience of others; it allows us to embrace their ideas, because we’re less set on what we believe.
Learning to be uncertain highlights the importance of understanding through experience. For example, being told, or thinking about being content is one thing, but being content is something else altogether. It’s not enough to just believe something. We have to discover it, feel it and know it.
Meditation teaches us how mindfulness can turn our attention to the present moment. It shows us how to step away from our usual stream of thoughts and just be. Once we’ve mastered this, we can experience true uncertainty – naked awareness – that’s free from thought, judgement, opinion or analysis.
So the next time you find your mind flicking through its files to automatically handle a situation, take a step back, welcome a little uncertainty and view life as it unfolds before your eyes.