I Don't Know
There are three words that scare the living daylights out of all of us. And they are (Griswold drumroll, please)... I don’t know.
In our overly busy and stressful lives, we grasp at one thing with a judo-like death grip: Certainty. The concept of certainty is like nectar from the Gods pouring over our insecure world. We look for people, products, gurus, strategies, superfoods, and certified experts to tell us how to fix our lives. But what if our lives aren’t actually broken to begin with?
I often have people come to my practice as a psychotherapist to tell them how to live, to answer big questions like “Should I get divorced?” or “Why can’t I stop yelling at my kids?” or “Why am I afraid of food?” My answer usually is “I don’t know.” (I imagine that makes many of my clients want to silently curse me and flip me the bird under their handbag.) But the honest answer is that I don’t know if someone else should do anything, how to stop suffering, or five steps to a normal relationship with food. What I do know is that we are all hungry for a simple answer. If such a thing existed, many of us would be one click away from a DIY, self-improvement YouTube video. These don’t exist do they?
We tend to run from the spaces and sometimes dark places of the unknown, of uncertainty, of insecurity. Life includes a wide range of emotions and experiences from joyful elation to downright sinking, gut-wrenching depression. All of these are normal. All of these are temporary. And all of these have the potential to be indicators of thinking patterns to be examined. Perhaps they are a signal waking us to our obsession with security.
The underlying issue when people are seeking certainty is often deep uneasiness and/or fear. Certainty can feel like the exit strategy from the messy, complicated, and perceived negative underbelly of human emotion. We are all seeking answers, dammit. We yearn for more beauty, more wealth, deeper meditations, and more stuff to help assuage our ambivalence. But instead of panicking and scrambling to reach for these elusive things that will only disappoint us in the end, perhaps we can simply pause. I don’t mean like pause in a buddhist-like, sacred pause-type of way where you beat on your gong. (Although that would also work.) I mean what if you simply stopped the moment you noticed the insecure (often childlike) part of yourself beginning to experience fear, and took a “pause” to notice that you might be more secure than you thought. Have you stopped to notice that the sun might be shining, or that your cute puppy might be slopping water all over the floor happily, or even that, without conscious thought, you were breathing? All might be viewed as signs of safety in our world. What if instead of fighting uncertainty, we all learned to embrace our insecurity, our not-knowingness? This pause can be a peaceful place to not know the answers, but to embrace asking the big questions. And asking the big questions is precisely how I can be of help.
“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.” -Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
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