Creativity requires the courage to let go of Certainty ~ Erich Fromm
The uncertainty principle in quantum physics tells us that we can only know so much about behavior patterns of quantum particles. These particles are what our reality is made of. This would mean that we can never really know what will happen next. Our reality is unpredictable.
How much more unpredictable could it get when just last night a meteor hit Michigan! I gazed in wonder at the bright blue lights and thought since when does Michigan have thunder and lightening in winter?
We can always try and prepare for our future, however there will always remain elements of uncertainty, things we cannot foresee that will take place. There is no way we can know all that will happen before it happens.
This morning I woke up thinking I have a coffee date, and then I will be cooking dinner for friends. That did not happen. A snow storm ruined all my plans for the day. These things can in the least frustrate us, maybe even ruin our schedule and are such an inconvenience. However, if we learn to view everything that happens from an entirely different perspective, we will survive almost anything and in fact flourish. Learning to see everything that happens as having a silver lining is key. What I did with my day was improvise. I worked on a painting I had started, practiced yoga, danced and also managed to find time to read.
The definition of uncertainty as used in this essay is the state of not knowing what life will present us with next. There are always elements that emerge unexpectedly in the course of anything we attempt to do.
Having grown up in a war zone, I am naturally trained and always prepared to face such anxiety producing circumstances at any minute. All my senses, and intuition are always on high alert. Sometimes for good reason and other times not so much. Over the years I have learned to refine those senses so that I am not so much controlled by them, and they are more in service to me.
Here are my tips on surviving a world full of uncertainty. I have listed them in no specific order because nothing is fixed and sometimes you may need just one key while other times all of the keys must work together.
Tip 1- Trust: first and foremost
In yoga this is called: ishvara pranidhanaor dedication/devotion and surrender to a higher power. In no way does this mean being submissive and complacent, nor does it mean that one must believe in God. Our job is to plan and prepare for whatever outcome we foresee and yet know that there is nothing that we can really do to change what actually will happen. Holding our plans as lightly as possible and being ready to change direction at any given moment is essential. Doing what we can with what we have. The readiness to improvise. This is what artists of all genres and mediums do. They work with what they have and what comes up in any given moment. Yes, we create our reality, yet we must understand that there is another larger force beyond our desires, and it is the force that created the universe. It will serve us well to make a pact with this force.
When I paint, I have a very vague sense of where I want my painting to go, I have learned to keep that mystery alive. I trust that whatever needs to show up on my canvas will show up.
Tip 2- Faith: believing in something
I am not talking about the religious, dogmatic or theological sense of faith. I am talking about everyday faith. The faith that getting up in the morning is serving a purpose that one does not see but knows deep within. That each of us plays a role in the evolution and transformation of humanity, and that is why we are here in this physical reality.
It is simple, if you believe in a higher power to have faith that this power is on your side and has your best interest. If you do not believe in this higher power, it gets a bit tricky but there is a way around it, try to build faith in the laws of the universe. Life, death, rebirth…these things are certain, and inevitable. How do you do this? Always look at the bigger picture. You obviously have faith the sun will rise tomorrow, although it is also not a guarantee according to the uncertainty principle.
Another way to have faith is to having faith in one’s own being. Believing in oneself and one’s abilities to navigate whatever circumstance they are thrown in. Getting out of victim mentality is step in the right direction. When feeling victimized our sense of faith in anything is depleted and we find our selves unable to make healthy decisions.
Tip 3- Find that which you can control: Yourself!
What is the one thing you can control? Really it boils down to just one thing: Yourself! You can control how you think, how you behave, how you react to any given situation. Make sure your behaviors, thoughts, and reactions and ways of being are in alignment with the highest good for all involved.
This goes hand in hand with having faith in oneself. You are really the only person you can rely on by how you think, behave and act.
We often see two types of people, those who in rough circumstances need medication cannot function properly, and those who rise out of the ashes of their life into self -realization and inner knowing. It’s okay to crumble for a little while, feel your feelings, all of them. Always remember to rise up after a period of mourning, life goes on and so must you. Controlling yourself does not mean forcing yourself to do what you do not wish to do, it means knowing that you have the freedom of choice in any given moment, and to use that choice as wisely as possible.
Tip 4- Let go of white and black: embrace the grey areas.
Let go of polarity thinking. This one requires mastery. You have to fail a few times before you can actually be in a space of equanimity and not feel like lamenting your luck for a failed project or a disaster that has befallen you. Equanimity is embracing all that is arising be it negative or positive. How do you even practice equanimity? Begin by really looking at your beliefs about the world. Beliefs that you have acquired ever since you were a child and question their validity. I guarantee that in most cases these beliefs will be invalid. Especially to your current situation. A good example is beliefs we have around death. We think of it as an end all when in reality we do not really know. A piece by Thich Nhat Hanh comes to mind here:
“The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.
I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.
From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
What Thich Nhat Hanh is saying here is that he discovered that notions about death that we are fed growing up are not real as he could still feel his mother’s presence everywhere. Many have had such an experience of a passed loved one. This goes to show that many of our social beliefs are invalid. Death is not necessarily a negative thing. It is just different than life. This applies to other poles such as male and female, they are different expressions of the same energy as is day and night, high and low…and the list goes on. Finding our own beliefs is sometimes more useful to us than following social programs.
Tip 5- Self Care: the path to a quite mind.
Develop a practice that will allow you to quiet your mind. Meditation, yoga, yoga nidra, a walk in the park, a swim…anything…as long as your brain is not running 24/7. Make it rest so that when you need to use your reasoning faculties you are able to focus and come up with solutions immediately. A tired mind will resort to fear, anxiety, and anger.
How many of us have tried to work after a horrible night of insomnia? You really cannot focus, or get much done. Giving the brain a break is important for optimal functioning. Give yourself permission each day to stop what you are doing and just be. Sit on a couch, get a cup of tea and just relax. I have gotten into the habit of doing this so much that for an outsider, it looks like I am very unproductive. I cannot even tell you how productive my days have become. On many days I write, paint, run errands, do housework, cook, pay bills and other minor things and find that I still have enough energy to stay up late.
Tip 6- Practice staying positive.
It is impossible to feel grateful when the world is falling apart around us. However, what if we can feel grateful before it falls apart? What if we can be grateful when we have all we need? I know, this is a tough one, yet when practiced daily, before we face dire circumstance, we will have something to fall on when our peace gets disrupted. I like to repeat every night as I am about to sleep all the things I am grateful for in a day. This could be just a piece of chocolate that I had or an individual that has touched my life in one way or another. I thank my cells, my bones, my nerves my organs and then I drift off to sleep.
I remember how freeing it was after a horrible breakup to keep a gratitude journal. I would write in it every night things like: I am grateful for my cat, I am grateful that it rained, I am grateful that I am warm… In just a few days I was feeling more grounded, the grief did not disappear, however the realization that the reasons to be alive outweigh the reasons not to.
Tip 7- Balancing intuition and reason
Intuition is an ability we all possess. Intuition is feminine while reason is masculine. Balancing our feminine and masculine mind is important. We have to know when to follow our gut and when to follow our head. Sometimes we must allow both of them to communicate with each other. They both have a part to play and deciphering when to use which is key. So you ask how do we know when to use which? The answer is simple, when you have a gut feeling that something is off, know that you must not ignore this feeling. Drop into it and converse with it and try not to rationalize it away. Sometimes we know because we know. Because of all the experiences we have been through that allow us to intuitively understand and properly respond to a given situation. The voice of intuition is usually calm, true, safe , steady and reassuring while that of the ego is anxious, fearful, doubtful, guilty, angry and jealous. You will know which one is calling you when you feel into these different emotions.
I always play this game while making art, I have to have some sort of a guideline to follow and that is when I use my reasoning faculties. I decide on what colors I want to use, what size of canvas I would like to paint on and always leave room for intuition to allow for other possibilities to emerge. I just follow what comes up in each moment.
Tip 8- Embrace the Adventure
Think of life as an adventure that you are immersed in by choice rather than having to be in it unwillingly. Approach each day and each problem with a sense of adventure and take the stance of a problem solver. It helps to repeat this mantra: when nothing is certain, everything is possible.
My biggest challenge has been raising teenagers in the twenty first century. Everything that maybe harmful is highly accessible. I cannot say I have not worried about them ever, because I have, yet there is a quality that they bring with their presence in my life that I would never trade for anything. Aside from being my biggest teachers, they bring a sense of wonder and adventure into my life.
There’s always something new that I have to decipher and solve. When they reached their teens, I felt like I wanted to just give up. I had no idea what to do about anything. I did not want to resort to the controlling ways of past generations, and so I have been the most flexible and open mother they can ask for. At times it feels like perhaps I should have been more of a disciplinary. I am just unable to get myself to restrict who they are meant to be. I have learned to embrace the adventure that they are with all of its highs and lows every step of the way.
Tip 9- Flow as Gracefully as you can
To flow with life doesn’t mean being submissive. It means realizing that we cannot control the things we cannot control. We cannot control others we cannot control life and death and we cannot control the next big disaster, all we can control is how we respond to each one. Let me give an example…years back when I was studying at the American University of Beirut, I had a friend who was injured in the bombing that took place at the university hospital. I was about 25 at that time. I could have freaked out and went into coma, instead I was the one who took her with her injured leg to the hospital, and stayed by her side and cared for her for several days until I insured she was ok. Another example is the fires that happened in California recently, so many courageous people stepped up to help…figuring out how we can contribute what is our piece? what are we good at? What can we give in moments like these that will provide relief for others?
I can certainly make this list longer. However, I feel like these tips are the core essentials for navigating our unpredictable lives. If all else fails, get out of your head and into your body, and BREATHE!
Allow me to add a disclaimer here. Sometimes it is difficult to do all these things, it may even be difficult to even think of any of the things I listed above. Especially when something that one did not expect is thrown in one’s face. Take the other night as an example. I had finished writing a first draft of this essay and sat to relax and meditate, and my son texts me: My car broke down. The engine is smoking. It won’t drive. Like any mother what is my first reaction? Panic! My mind dialogue in the moment went something like this: Why now? Why me? I don’t need this now. I just want to sit here and relax. It has been a long day and I have been up early….he can’t call his dad because he’s out of town, I have to be responsible for this. I get there half an hour later thanks to a GPS location that my son sent me, and wait for a tow truck for two hours. Then as we drive behind the truck I get pulled over by an officer because I hesitated at a red light. Great. What else can happen tonight that I had not planned for?
That evening the thing that really helped me reset was that I came home and had previously prepped some lentil soup and all I had to do was chop a few ingredients and boil it all together. That bowl of soup was heaven sent. I also ran a bath. I cannot emphasize these practices of self-care enough. As I reflected on the night I was able to access my grateful state and began to feel thankful that despite the crazy night we had, my son was safe especially since there was a possibility in this uncertain world that he might have had an accident, the way the engine stopped in the middle of the freeway. I also realized that I had a sense of surrender to what has happened, I cannot change it. I can only do my part to assist in the outcome. I trusted that it will all be okay and we just need to move through this glitch in the middle of the night. Yes, I was tired, I was hungry and thirsty and really ready to call it a night. I still flowed through the event the best I can, all the while making sure I am not putting my son or my- self in more danger (balancing my intuition with reason), and in some way I appreciated those three hours spent in the car with my son, which I would not have planned had it not been for this incident.
What if it is a major disaster and there is no way we can get to a nice bowl of soup or take a hot soothing bath? That is exactly when the above will be handy! Another very important aspect is recognizing that we are all responsible for each other just as recognizing that I am responsible for my son’s well-being had helped me step up to the situation. When I say responsible I mean that we are the care takers of one another especially in harsh and catastrophic circumstances. That is the only thing that will ever save us. We cannot walk away from a dying person, we seek help for them. Yes, we can all be heroes for each other if, and w