On Meeting Change, Ambiguity, and Uncertainty


About a year ago, you may recall that many people were suddenly talking about uncertainty. There's a pandemic! Things are so uncertain now! Who knew this could happen! It's straight out of a movie!


Well, if you were an epidemiologist, you weren't surprised. If you read Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way we Live, by Nicholas Christakis, and/or you've been taking an interest in pandemics and viruses and how they work, you might be surprised that we weren't better prepared (yes, lots of reasons for that).


Your Position on Uncertainty Depends on Where You Place Your Attention


Let's say you're the kind of person who pays attention to research on disinformation, QAnon, Russian election interference, and the rise of the alt-right. Certain events, then, were no surprise and weren't evidence that uncertainty has increased. You might even make a case for the opposite.


Let's say someone you love died unexpectedly (not Covid related, and seemingly healthy) . That's an experience that can bring uncertainty front and center for you; it can make you say "If this can happen, what else can happen?" If you can't count on going to bed at night and waking up the next morning, what can you count on?


Events like these cause people to take stock and make big changes. It's as if there's an opening to do that that theretofore didn't exist. But of course it did; that opening exists whenever you want it. That opening exists right now.


In other words, the events and information in your field of awareness--which you choose to attend to or not and some of which you have sought out--create your perception of what the world is like. They create your lens. Including your fundamental beliefs--your mindset--about how the world works. Your ideas about what's possible and what isn't can change in a moment if you aren't prepared.


What You Take In Contributes to Who You Are

Your lived values and your identity cannot be divorced from what you take in. They speak to how you will meet ambiguity, change, and uncertainty.


In the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course and other mindfulness courses, we discuss this by investigating:

  • what we actually take into our bodies--what we consume (e.g., food and drink) and even when

  • what we choose to watch on television (the news 24/7? horror shows?)

  • our relationship with social media (e.g., how much time, which platforms, what the heck are we doing there?)

  • the books we read

  • the conversations we choose to have and the people we surround ourselves with

  • where we spend our days (do we make a point to get outside? or even to a specific place regularly?)

Why not investigate your own consumption habits? Examine the sensations that arise in the body when you:

  • reach for a bag of chips

  • have another glass of wine

  • engage in yet another fruitless conversation with someone over the same topic

  • attend to a device when we get a notification

  • read something (or not) and then share it

  • take stock of our likes and followers and shares

  • watch our favorite show

  • take a walk in nature

  • snuggle with the dog

  • share stories about our day with our children

  • eat mindfully

  • savor a wonderful memory

  • fill-in-the-blank

Do you have any habits that end in you not feeling so fantastic? Do you have any that begin when you're not feeling so fantastic? What habits leave you feeling good or start because you are feeling good?


Literally everything we take in contributes to shape who we are. And if we're paying attention, with curious friendliness and without judgment to our decisions and actions and conversations, we learn about who we actually are as opposed to who we think we are or who we might say we are.


The Fantastic News About Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a fact of life. What do you do with that? There's nothing to do, really; it just is. It's like the weather; it exists and there's no use arguing with it. If you do, you're setting an unreasonable expectation, which leads inevitably to disappointment.


There might be nothing to do about uncertainty, but there is something you can do about your relationship to it: you can decide not to get upset about it. There are many things that cannot be known--even in your own experience--until they happen. You can ease yourself into befriending this idea by simply experiencing for yourself--touching for yourself--parts of your life that are constantly changing and morphing. You can use your own experience as evidence that life is change--you are change. And then you learn how to meet each thing that happens. You can develop a flexibility that allows you to have the same attitude of curiosity no matter what happens.


Heraclitus said something like: The only constant in life is change. I'm sure you've heard that or seen it on some social media quote-maker. But do you know he also said: Nature loves to hide?


Let Your Own Experience Confirm This

Mindfulness as a formal and informal practice is an exploration of your nature. It's not all unicorns and rainbows, as it can involve meeting parts of yourself that you might not enjoy meeting. But they are all parts of your beautiful whole, and they've helped to get you this far. Thank them!


If waking up to your life, and investigating who you are and who you want to be sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to