RESPONDING TO THE CERTAINTY OF UNCERTAINTY
These are uncertain times. Of course, this is always true, but collectively, there is a palpable sense of shifting sands and rapid change. Our challenge is to respond to these changes and attending uncertainty (e.g. national and global crises, work and family concerns, or an unwelcome diagnosis) with our fundamental values intact-and lived.
How do we do this?
The first step is to acknowledge how uncomfortable we feel. Usually, we attempt to bury this fact of uncomfortableness in all kinds of escape hatches. Rabbit holes of stress eating, excessive talking, social media, drinking- you can fill this in with a million other not so sly schemes.
So, today, try just acknowledging the truth of how you’re feeling. Acknowledge, and if you can, name what you’re feeling. Fear, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, worry- these are all natural responses to uncertainty. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these responses or with you.
And then, allow yourself to actually feel it. I don’t mean think it; the tendency we all have to reactively spin stories in our head about how horrible a situation is, how we “can’t stand it” another minute. These narratives ramp up our experience of these feelings, guaranteed, but they (the thoughts) are not our feelings. If it’s fear or anxiety- where do you feel in your body? Is in your chest, perhaps feeling a tightness? Or is your heart racing? Is there a restless energy throughout your body? The same goes for anger – these feelings have specific patterns in our human bodies.
If we don’t keep adding more story (more fuel for the flame), the feelings pass. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte-Taylor, in her book My Stroke of Insight, notes that the physiological lifespan of an emotion in the body and brain is 90 seconds. The sensations—adrenalin, heat in the face, tightness in the throat, rapid heartbeat—arise, peak and dissipate on their own…if we let them.
Go easy; try not to judge yourself. When experiencing strong emotions, become aware of the current stream of thoughts without judging whether you should be having these thoughts or not. Be curious about them, but not necessarily true in any real way.
We don’t need to act on our feelings or thoughts before it’s time. When we are uncertain as to the outcome of a situation at work or home, we often feel the strong urge to push things to a conclusion before they’re ready. It feels like it will just be a relief to know, one way or the other, to have some sort of an answer instead of this not knowing. It is human to crave certainty and to want to know. But don’t push- answers will come. Start small. Here is a practice to begin:
Awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions
Settle into a relaxed posture. Feel your feet on the floor and your body being supported by the chair.
Now, taking three full breaths, as deeply and slowly as feels comfortable for you. Then, turning attention to the energy in the body. Pausing and breathing and feeling the energy. What’s here? Does the energy shift from moment to moment? Does the intensity of any particular sensation peak and then soften?
As you continue to breath, lean in to your experience. If agitation or uneasiness is here, see if you can put out the welcome mat for these feelings. Move closer, even if just a moment, treating these sensations as an invited guest.
Begin working with little uncertainties (whether it’s the possibility that an important meeting may get cancelled or how a colleague may respond to a change in plans). This increases your ability to wisely respond to whatever shows up in the future.