We all want to be in control.
Our quest for control in the current atmosphere of fear has resulted in the hoarding of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks. In the illusion of control, we close our minds and our hearts to the possibility of the meaning we may discover during a time of crisis. Ironically, the very security we struggle to find becomes a wall that we build around ourselves, quarantined in terror. The most dangerous isolation is not the necessary reality of the precautions being taken for public safety, it is an overwhelming fear that separates us from our humanity and corrodes the courage we need to find so that we can learn to accept that, regardless of our constant attempts at control, we live with uncertainty.
When I was 55 years old, I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. And I hadn’t even entered the rather annoying elderly person category yet! My odds of surviving without treatment were 40%. I chose an aggressive treatment that raised my odds to a 70% survival rate. For the past 13 years, I have lived with a C-average in staying alive. Those of us who have faced down a life threatening diagnosis get a crash course in the truth that every human being faces, that we always live with an uncertain future regardless of the plans we have made. We will be “at risk” for the remainder of our lives. The challenge for those dealing with illness is not allowing our personal identity to be exclusively that of a medical patient. Since my diagnosis in 2007, I have dedicated my work as a psychotherapist to those who choose a personal exploration of cancer survivorship, living with cancer, and, sometimes, looking at the end of their lives. These brave people have honored me with their stories, their discoveries, their joys and sorrows. Together we have stood on the firm ground of uncertainty.
We have learned that accepting uncertainty has opened doors and windows, has let light into darkened rooms and that, when a light burns low, we can find enough breath to blow on the tiniest spark to ignite a flame.
We’ve discovered that risk creates aliveness.
We aren’t born with any guarantees and we certainly don’t come with an unlimited warranty. Letting go of the false promises of absolutes and living with the openness of uncertainty creates the freedom to live a wholehearted life. The challenge of dealing with the threat of illness, financial disaster, and other potential losses is also not allowing personal identity to be born out of fear but forged in courage and compassion. We’ll know what comes next when next arrives.
What does living with uncertainty mean to you? Exploring the truth of uncertainty is a deeply personal process. Learning to live with uncertainty may be your greatest challenge and your most profound opportunity as you navigate the turmoil of these stormy seas. Accepting uncertainty creates freedom. Yet we demonize uncertainty, think of it as something that should go away quietly and leave us alone. We swear and scream at it and run away from it because we’re frightened by what we don’t know and what we can’t control. But the creature of uncertainty, when ignored, will search for you in your dreams and haunt you in the ruminating obsessions of your days. Banished from your consciousness, fear returns from your unconscious depths as a monster that creates bigger and scarier stories than you need to carry around within you. Facing the “monster under the bed” of uncertainty and letting go of scary stories to explore your own authentic relationship with whatever comes through the doors and windows of your consciousness, brings you aliveness, and an opportunity to engage with what is real in your life. Being willing to meet and explore the challenges of uncertainty by exploring who you are now in your life allows a space for personal transformation. Inquiry and introspection may be a more meaningful use of your time and energy than buying up the last roll of toilet paper on the planet.