Mind-Body Health

How To Embrace Uncertainty

A young Afro-American man looking out

Life is a mystery, and 2020 has been a stranger year than most. With multiple disruptions and many unknowns, it’s been nearly impossible to stay consistently calm. As a nation, and a world, we’ve had to reexamine fundamental beliefs and habits, get creative, and reinvent (or at least reorient) ourselves in multiple aspects of life. With an election just around the corner and political anxiety mounting on both sides, the “year of uncertainty” continues!

In my work as a psychiatrist, I encounter variations on the theme of “anxiety” all the time. People experience fear about losing a job that is needed, fear about a relationship crumbling, fear about children (or family members) struggling, and fear about not having this or that thing work out exactly as they’d like. I have great compassion for this situation. It is a part of the human condition. We desire certain outcomes and get anxious when we cannot guarantee them. The truth is we cannot control most things. Thus, I believe that healing anxiety is ultimately a spiritual practice—it is about slowly and deliberately learning to surrender.

We never really know what life has in store for ourselves—or for another, a country, or humanity. We can either worry about this or we can choose to trust that there is (most likely) some form of divine intelligence creating order within the chaos. Perhaps it is not possible to definitively prove there is a higher energy at work, but it is also not possible to definitively prove there isn’t. Thus, it’s a mystery! It’s helpful to believe that there is some (perhaps very elaborate) design within the capital-M: Mystery, however, even if we are not privy to it. I like to do what is helpful (or hopeful) when faced with the unknown. I choose to curiously acknowledge the Mystery and let it unfold.

Welcome the Mystery

It’s an interesting time to be writing an article about the Mystery. Fall is a season associated with nature beginning her descent into darkness. It is a time of transition. In Ayurveda, the fall season belongs to the Vata dosha. Vata is one of the three constitutional types (doshas) in Ayurveda. It is associated with dryness, wind, change, coolness, and creativity. Fall is similarly associated with dryness, wind, coolness, and change. Fall is a less generative season (in nature); thus, for us, it is also a more reflective and introspective time. Fall provides space for inspiration. It is a perfect season for honoring what we have and pondering what may come.

Discover your dosha type here.

In addition to the energy of fall, there have been several astrological happenings lately that make this an appropriate month to write about mysteries, darkness, and the unknown. The planet Pluto, which rules darkness and the underworld, recently turned “direct” on October 4 after nearly five months in retrograde (the perceived reverse direction). This occurrence, which happened in both Vedic and Western astrology, brings the energy of that depth-loving planet more “online.” When planets are retrograde, their energy tends to draw us inward, like a chrysalis—incubating changes and processing the past. When planets move forward, they produce more direct impact and results in the areas of life associated with that planet’s influence.

Pluto is associated with deep dives into unconscious realms, facing our shadows, and understanding our blind spots. It is also linked with obsessions, addictions, passion, power, evolution (death>rebirth), and mystery. So, all of those things are going to be coming a bit more into focus this fall into winter. Pluto was strongly involved in the astrology that set up the coronavirus situation; thus, it has had a big impact both collectively and personally this year. Astrologically, this has been a year of taking responsibility (a Saturn theme) and transformation (a Pluto theme).

So Many Unknowns

Ancient spiritual wisdom tells us that the root of all suffering is actually desire. Life is full of things we seek and avoid—each a different kind of desire. It’s unrealistic to expect to live without desire, but it is useful to be mindfully aware of the role desire plays in our suffering. It is possible to witness desire and contemplate life from a more objective perspective.

There is a Sanskrit word, leela, that is used by many Eastern spiritual teachers to describe the “divine play” that is life on earth. This term is meant to convey the changing, moving, surreal nature of what we think of as a firm, hard reality. In actuality, we do not really understand what is going on here. How solid is this world? Is it truly a “divine play” meant to teach us? Is it a grand stage on which souls in human “character” act out various desires and learn from their quests to achieve them (creating karma as they go)?

This is another one of those helpful thoughts. It feels right and makes sense to me, so I choose to believe it at least could be true. Viewing things through this lens allows me to (at least sometimes) not take things quite as seriously as I otherwise would. I still have desires and goals, but I work hard to let them go when I realize I am holding on tightly, trying to force a specific outcome. I remind myself to trust that life has its own natural rhythm and that there are many different souls here.

There are many things to consider. What I think I desire may not actually be what’s best for my soul’s growth, and thus, it may not happen. What I desire may not be best for other people’s growth, and thus, it may not happen. We are in this “divine play” together. Those of us with one perspective cannot necessarily just race ahead and always hope (or expect) to create outcomes that suit our value system. It’s like being on a playground team in school. A few strong players can sometimes carry the game, but weak players can cause errors and missed points. Weak players need to be helped on the field, but they may be the helpers in the classroom.

Thus, I believe it is important to have deep compassion for others who have different values and/or are on a different timeline. In an election year, it’s conceivable that outcomes some people might desire could help large segments of the population learn about or achieve certain things. Outcomes that another collection of people desires could create different lessons and opportunities. One of the key concepts of karma (as described in Eastern spirituality) is that souls get the freedom to explore their minds and express their will through actions, but they also eventually get to experience the results of their ways of thinking and being.

It takes a very open heart, significant spiritual development, and strong humanitarian values to choose to make a personal sacrifice while the collective benefits. Not every soul on this planet is working toward humanitarian values in a particular life. According to astrology, some are working on more concrete things, including financial advancement and family security. Ultimately, all paths lead toward soul growth and eventual self-realization. Every soul is simply on a different, unique-to-itself course.

If we truly strive to be spiritual, we might consider the benefit of having compassion for the state of humanity and trust that the unfolding path of the Universe is slowly making its way, on its own timeline, with its own innate intelligence as a guide.

In other words, we have to surrender.

This suggestion applies to individuals on both sides of the presidential race or any situation in which people disagree. It’s important to honor what is in your own heart and reach for what you believe is right for your values. But, in the end, we cannot guarantee a certain outcome in many (any?) of life’s “acts” (in the life-as-a-play metaphor). Differences of opinion are ultimately opportunities to examine our own hearts. Different experiences and motivations cause different values.

There are many ways to be on this planet, many different kinds of lessons to learn. There are lessons about relationships, power, manipulation, freedom, love, loss, trust, expansion, fear, and surrender. There are so many things a soul can experience and grow through. It is important to understand this because if we do, we can have greater peace, greater community-mindedness, and greater trust that the outcomes that happen are benefiting someone who is learning something, even if they seem to be unfavorable for us. Perhaps those who experience an outcome as unfavorable are learning about compassion, nonattachment, managing negativity, being generous, being creative, transcending eye-for-an-eye mentality, and more.

What About Fear?

Fear plays a huge role in determining just how happy many of us are on a daily basis. It has played a big role in the panic and unrest during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us have been afraid for our health, for our financial futures, for dreams and plans that depend on things being “normal.” We fear the loss of freedom, the loss of power, the unknown. We don’t know everything about this virus. We don’t know where to source the best information because reliable sources of information are speculating as the facts have yet to be learned.

Quotes

If you find yourself feeling extremely fearful as the election approaches or when any other challenge happens, now or later, inquire within: “Am I grounded?”

Everyone handles fear differently, but from an Ayurvedic standpoint, fear is often a symptom of Vata imbalance. Put another way, if you are grounded (stable, calm, centered, connected to the earth) you have less fear. Vata, especially when aggravated, is very ungrounded. It worries and swirls and has trouble feeling physically comfortable in the body and on the earth. If you find yourself feeling extremely fearful as the election approaches or when any other challenge happens, now or later, inquire within: “Am I grounded?” Inquire: “What do I need to do to become more grounded?” And “Is this really my issue to solve?”

Some of us feel called to take action in politically tense times or with specific personal, professional, or social issues. This is not wrong. It may even be the soul’s lesson plan (for those who feel called). But it is useful to observe how you feel if you do get pulled into social action. The Pitta dosha can get aggravated by activism, and yet, Pitta is also drawn to this kind of effort. Perhaps many Pittas are (karmically) meant to fight for an issue or perceived injustice. Just try to keep in mind that souls are here to explore different things, including different value systems. My perspective is just one of many perspectives that may resonate with some and not with others. It is not objectively right. Embrace it if it resonates or embrace any part of it that helps you. Leave what doesn’t.

Comfort with Uncertainty

One of the key ways I work with anxiety in my holistic psychiatry practice is by first teaching people to honor the pull of their hearts. It is important that we move toward what is interesting and attractive to us. I believe it is then useful to offer our desires and efforts up to spirit. We cannot make things happen that aren’t meant to happen. We have a choice to worry and feel disappointed if things don’t go our way, or we can turn over control to where it already is—above us, beyond us, in the Mystery.

The ultimate healing of anxiety is achieved by letting go of our attachment to a certain outcome.

Setting intentions and then letting them go is a beautiful practice that will consistently diffuse anxiety and help you ultimately accept life exactly as it is. Becoming comfortable with uncertainty is a natural result of learning to surrender. When we realize we cannot truly control anything anyway, we take a more playful attitude towards life. We can center in our hearts and choose to go along for the ride. We can become curious about what might happen (and what we will learn either way), rather than being dependent on a certain outcome to feel okay.

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I believe many will look back on this year and see it as empowering, even though it has seemed disastrous on the surface.

This has been a year of challenge, but 2020 is also a year for leader making. This year is a crucible in which many of us are stepping up in different ways and finding out what we are made of. I believe many will look back on this year and see it as empowering, even though it has seemed disastrous on the surface.

I think this year, especially, has been aligned for feminine energy to come more into the forefront in the consciousness of humanity. In a metaphoric sense, “the feminine” is dark, unformed, and receptive. It is mysterious. Thus, women are potentially excellent leaders and role models during times of uncertainty. The more comfort an individual woman has with her own personal mysteries, her own inner world, and her own pain, the easier it will be for her to hold space for others to find comfort with theirs. It is possible to do this without even saying a word. If you are at peace with the darkness within yourself, if you know that within your own darkness you hold the power of transformation, then you are broadcasting a silent frequency of potential, acceptance, stability, and power.

Being Love

The goal when facing uncertainty is to not only surrender but also to be love. If you are attempting to think and act as love itself (or at least have that as a goal), then you cannot help but trust the Universe. Love is okay with all outcomes. Love always finds a way to be itself no matter what is happening. Love will help if things go wrong. Love shares if things are lost. Love grows new channels. Love opens novel paths. Love finds fresh connections. Love always creates a way towards expression, if you really commit to letting it explore itself within and through you.

Ultimately, how we handle ourselves in the metaphoric darkness shows a unique aspect of our character. Are you willing to be a light under any and all circumstances? Are you willing to see unknowns and uncertainty as potential pathways toward your own growth and transformation? Are you willing to model this perspective to others and hold space for them to try it on for themselves? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you are ready to lead or are already leading. You are ready to shine or are already shining. I invite anyone reading these words to choose to be curious about the unknown, to celebrate the Mystery, and to compassionately witness darkness. Remember, life is born through the darkness. All that is formed was first unformed. Contrast is one of our greatest teachers. It is only in the dark of night that we can see the stars.

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