“This cup is already broken” writes Jack Kornfield remembering the words of Ajahn Chah who holding up a beautiful china cup used the image to teach that we cannot control, that we cannot be certain of any outcome, that we live with uncertainty. [https://jackkornfield.com/the-wisdom-of-insecurity/]
Uncertainty is a big concept. Most of us spend much time and energy trying to negate it and control the outcomes of our projects and careers, our children, our spouses, our friends, our own lives. “If only this. If only that,” we lament. We suffer as we watch, in spite of our best efforts, loved ones fall ill, our children fall on hard times, our projects or careers that we have poured our hearts and money into fall to pieces.
Planting my first cherry trees in my orchard last week, I was full of what-ifs. I worried that the clay soil would impede their survival, that the deer would jump the fence and nibble away their fragile leaves, or that disease would attack before the they were established enough to combat it. And, then I just let go. Taking a deep breath and allowing my exhalation to fully express itself, I surveyed my work knowing that I had done my best. I had bought hearty trees, planted to instructions, and fenced them in as recommended. I will continue to tend to them and when something goes wrong, as it surely will, I’ll deal with it.
Uncertainty, it turns out, is at the very quick of life. In particle physics the uncertainty principle “tells us that there is a fuzziness in nature,” writes Alok Jha [What Is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Guardian.com, 10 November 2013]. This principle says the more we are certain of the position of a particle, the less certain we can be of its momentum and vice versa. We cannot be certain of both at the same time.
Uncertainty is the stuff of life. We strive so hard to know both the position and momentum of every particle of our lives, to no avail. Just when we think we have control, the universe intervenes and fuzziness breaks loose. Fuzziness is our aliveness. When we focus on the outcome and things fall apart or go wrong, we suffer. So why do we keep trying?
At the heart of our desire to control is our need for safety.
To feel safe, we can shift our perspective. Rather than focus on outcome, focus on process. When we deal with what comes in measured and thoughtful ways, when we make reasonable plans and act on them, when we focus on what is in the moment, what is here right now, our endless worry subsides. The churning go-round of “what ifs” dissipates and in its place a calm and curious energy arises allowing us to respond creatively and meaningfully.
This change in perspective allows us enormous freedom. No longer tied to an outcome we cannot control, we are free to find ways to enrich our experience and relieve suffering in the moment, no matter what comes. We cannot make our runaway daughter come home, but we can find services and professionals to assist her. We cannot make our friend’s cancer go away, but we can find health resources for her and make our time with her caring and supportive. Living on a flood plain, we cannot stop the flood that ravishes our home but we can prepare with sandbags, insurance, and stocks of necessary provisions. It is our plans and actions and our ability to shift these without holding on that provides safety. Paradoxically it is in our letting go that we find safety and freedom.