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The Wisdom of Uncertainty

by Andy Puddicombe

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Contrary to popular opinion, we, as human beings, don’t really know much at all.

I’m aware that might cause the mind to bristle a little, perhaps even bring out a little righteous indignation in some of you, but it’s impossible to deny when you look a little deeper. In uncertain times, it is only natural for us to search for certainty. It provides a feeling of comfort, of safety, perhaps even a sense of belonging. In a world where everything is constantly changing—where people, places, politics, situations, and even our own mind is in a constant state of flux—the illusion of certainty is highly appealing…and reassuring.

It’s important to differentiate between what we know and what we believe, what we know and what we suspect, and what we know and what we’ve been told.

What we know is only what we experience, no more and no less. If we let go of everything we’ve ever read, ever heard, or ever been told, then we are left with nothing but our experience. And even this is constantly changing as each moment and each experience gives way to the next. So, when all said and done, we are left with nothing but the experience of the present moment. The certainty of now.

For some, this type of reflection is a revelation—an opportunity to let go of old baggage, and a vehicle to a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity in life. They can almost hear collective consciousness breathe an enormous sigh of relief as each and every one of us realizes that we no longer need to pretend to have all the answers. Phew!

For others, this reflection is the cause of heart palpitations, rising blood pressure, and sweaty palms; in short, it is too much to consider and they prefer to cling to well-rehearsed opinions and the remnants of certain beliefs—to the illusion of certainty. It’s probably more comfortable than peering into the chasm of uncertainty.

But there is no shame in not knowing, there is only freedom. An uncertain mind is an open mind. It is a mind which is curious, interested, reflective, and malleable. When we meet life with a genuine sense of uncertainty, we cease to project that which we think we know, and we instead begin to see life for what it truly is. The same goes for the people around us. It is only in letting go of our preconceptions and opinions of others that we allow them to be who they truly are, to change and evolve from one moment to the next.

This is the wisdom of uncertainty.

It is not a rejection of the human intellect. It does not disrespect the opinion of others. Nor does it negate or devalue the experience of others. If anything, it fosters the search for greater intellectual understanding, whilst embracing the ideas of others. In this way, it offers the opportunity for a considered response to the events of life, resolution where there is conflict, and peace where there is war.

The wisdom of uncertainty nonetheless highlights the importance of experiential understanding. To think about contentment is one thing; to be content is quite another. It is not enough to simply believe; we need to discover and find out for ourselves. It is not enough to suspect; we need to feel and know it intimately.

Just to be clear, this is not about thinking about uncertainty—that would be no more than doubt and confusion. No, this is the direct experience of uncertainty itself, from moment to moment, free from thought, judgment, opinion, or analysis. It is naked awareness. It is life itself, unfolding before our eyes.

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.