being human

What is certainty?

Our relationship to uncertainty is not always straightforward. Each of us has different ways we cope and dance with it. And each of us probably defines it in different ways.
But it is something we live with every moment of our lives while employing many methods for distracting ourselves or creating a sense that we have somehow sidestepped it with all our knowledge, opinions and belief systems.

The challenge in writing about ‘uncertainty’ is in the nuance and subjective qualities inherent as well as the amazing range it involves. From the greater umbrella of the mystery of life and death to our very mundane human realm of diversity and differences…..we are consistently employing ‘certainties’ to make sense of our lives.

In this I am curious how any attachment to what we think we ‘know’ can perhaps become something that is depleting overall. Or how our certainty feeds judgement and a more narrow world for us all to live in……a world where we continuously support systems that seek to diminish some and elevate others. Whether locally or in larger social systems I am curious how are desire to avoid uncertainty can become oppressive in our individual lives and also the world around us.

When it comes to this journey of life, living and dying can we ever truly say ‘for sure’ about the nature of it all? I feel we create meaning around us and look to define and shape our world as a way of feeling more comfortable. The space of ‘not knowing’ is typically not one in which we as humans seem to find comfort. (and yes, I realize these are huge generalizations I am making)
My experiences and journey has led me to perceive all of life as uncertain…. and that as humans we seem to impose ‘answers’, interpretations and definitions to feel a sense of control, comfort and safety. In many ways our certainties define us and help us define the world…..they are the lens through which we read things. And these certainties can allow us to experience the world and life in a way that is more ‘manageable’. It lets us create a safe ‘container’ when we design definitions and draw lines around us. In a way it gives us something to lean or push up against as opposed to boundless space all around and perhaps a sense of falling. We are truly amazing and brilliant for creating ways of making sense in this vast universe.

In our everyday interactions, thoughts and choices we can find a very subtle interplay of our attachment to ‘certainty’ informing our opinions. I am particularly curious about our sense of certainty as it leads to judgement of oneself and others. Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t be asking any of these questions if I didn’t have little flags going up around the nature of our certainties and how they fuel so many of our judgements and systems of hierarchy… the simple desire to define and feel certain can fuel limiting perspectives that become divisive in ways that are not nourishing.
(And just to clarify the difference between judgement and opinion….for me, when your opinion seeks to make someone else wrong or ‘less than’ it has moved over into judgement.)

In our day to day lives we are confronted continuously with belief systems and choices. It can be as subtle as what someone should wear to a certain event or occasion to how one should raise a child. Again, having our opinions is beautiful but what happens when it shifts to a certainty of one method being ‘better than’ another or ‘right’? When does our attachment to what we ‘know’, what we feel certain about, shift into judgement and become a defeating system for our diverse community and planet?
How do we truly embrace one another in all our diversity if we are holding fast to our certainties without room for other views? What is it that compels us to let our certainties/belief systems see someone else as ‘lesser than’ or to create a hierarchical system of human worth?
That is the curiosity I have and ponder……never arriving at an answer but compassionately witnessing the conditionality of what it is to feel safe in this human world….all the choices we make, have learned and pass on to our youth around ‘acceptable’ ways for shaping how we ‘think’ and interact with each other.

For me it has been a joy and terror over the years to develop a comfort level with saying ‘I don’t know” and letting go of my attachments to knowing and certainty. I observe at intervals throughout my days the feeling of security and safety in believing I ‘know’ something. Whether it is the ‘best’ route to take between 2 points, politics, concepts of an ‘afterlife’ or a moral dilemma…… we find layers of our certainty wound up in our beliefs and opinions. There is a complex design at work within us and discovering which certainties we are attached to can perhaps teach us volumes about oneself and the world we live in. (And again, my focus is around where we feel ‘attached’ and inflexible to some degree.)

More and more I have moved into a place of finding my safety in not knowing. I have said before that I don’t believe life is about maintaining ‘comfort’ but riding the balance of ‘comfort’ and ‘discomfort’. There is an incredible wealth of freedom when I am not attached to being ‘right’,‘knowing’ or comfortable….. and I can then open up to any number of ‘answers’ or perspectives to emerge simultaneously.

I realize that opening to different ‘truths’ and ‘knowingness’ can create a place of discomfort (especially when it potentially touches on core belief systems). But what do you have to lose by simply practicing letting go….even for a short time…letting go of certainty and fast held beliefs or judgements? They are always there to reclaim. What makes us feel comfortable in our certainties, beliefs and attitudes? What makes us uncomfortable when we consider the space of simply not knowing, having no answer or multiple answers?

Try this……

During the course of your day see if you can notice/observe something about which you feel certain. This can be a perception of someone close to you, a political topic or a discussion involving a different point of view with someone else.
In observing your thought see if you can embrace the equal possibility that there are simultaneous other ‘truths’ or perspectives. See if you can generate a few other perspectives or embrace ones that others have offered. Then, see if you can also whole heartedly embrace a perception of ‘not knowing’. To allow yourself to not arrive at any answer or opinion for a few moments.
Now notice what thoughts come along with this exercise. Notice what pushes your comfort edge and where you feel more attached to ‘knowing’ and/or being ‘right’? Where do you feel any resistance?
If you feel no resistance or discomfort keep pushing the edge a bit with different topics/situations and see which ones actually challenge you and where you find attachments unwilling to loosen.
Also, observe how long you are able to rest in ‘not knowing’ before your mind wants to arrive again at an answer, attitude or ‘truth’.
(If you have a flair for imagination you can even question things like your favorite foods, music or activities as a practice of letting go. These are things that might seem strange or trivial since they are basic personal preferences but they allow us access into where we are attached to what defines us personally)

Can we find equal space to be curious rather than reaching for certainty and relying on definitions? Can we play with letting go of any sense of knowing or even opinion and dwell in a space of uncertainty for even brief periods?

Ultimately this is all about ‘practice’……the practice of the self……the practice of curiosity. The willingness to go into the laboratory of your own mind and discover through experimentation the power of your own thought processes (as well as collective processes). This is a practice that asks you to step outside the accepted framework of your thoughts, attachments and beliefs and engage questioning as a tool for learning…..and I would even say ’empowerment’ on many levels.

Our human world is complex, diverse and filled with so many beliefs and definitions. How do we navigate the fullness of this with grace? Can holding fast to certainties and defintions truly nourish us and the world around us in the long run?……or does it create a system that depletes ? And do we choose a feeling of ‘safety’ at any expense whether to the people around us or other groups in our society?

I support and admire each of our incredible uniqueness, personal expression and opinions. Along with this……how do we continue to grow and open? How do we allow ourselves to be a little uncomfortable as we equally support both new perspectives and a space of not knowing on this life journey ? How do we swim in uncertainty without feeling like we are drowning in it?
I don’t know……but I am learning……