Sooner or later, we get to live intimately with “I don’t know.” Perhaps you are in one of those situations right now:
* You don’t know where you will be living next month.
* Finances teeter between prosperity and disaster. It could go either way.
* You have debilitating symptoms, and no diagnosis.
Periods of uncertainty can last for days, weeks, months, or years:
* The one you love is gravely ill…but they might get better.
* You are enduring an ordeal, with no end in sight.
* You are waiting for your court date. Waiting for justice.
I am not talking about situations where resolution is around the corner. I am talking about not knowing what will happen, not knowing what to do, not having enough information, day after day:
* Maybe your old vocation has fallen away, and no new one has emerged.
* Your body is covered in mysterious bites for weeks.
* Or your consciousness has changed in lovely and frightening ways: you no longer recognize, cannot even locate your “self.”
Here’s you, in limbo.
Certainly there are actions you can take to give you a focus. But you still must wait. You wait, fearful or bored, empty or peaceful.
I don’t know about you, but I do not tolerant uncertainty well. I always want to know, “What is happening? and, “When is it going to be over?!?”
Well let’s assume, dear reader, that “You Are Here.” Standing at “I don’t know.”
How to be with this? Of course, you will do whatever you do, and time will pass. Things will change. You can look back later and tell yourself, “This is how I got through.”
But what about right now?
It can be helpful to realize you have entered a new reality. Prolonged uncertainty initiates us into a realm of paradox and contradiction.
Mystics, poets, artists and physicists are the best guides through this realm.
So I am going to share some of their resources that helped me navigate those endless dark nights.
When there is nothing to cling to, we can still cling to poems, songs, our breath, our bones, the wind on our skin, sunlight on water.
Maybe a couple of these offerings will speak to your situation.
The Dark Night (St. John of the Cross)
One dark night, fired with love’s longings—ah, the sheer grace!–I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised,- ah, the sheer grace! – in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled. On that glad night in secret, for no one saw me, nor did I look at anything, with no other light or guide than the One that burned in my heart.
“And when I’m in a certain mood I search the halls and look. One night I found these magic words In a magic book. . . Throw it away! Throw it away. Give your life, give your love, Each and every day. And keep your hand wide open. Let the sun shine through. ‘Cause you can never lose a thing If it belongs to you…“
We’re Only Getting Started (Buffy Sainte-Marie)
Thumb-hand, human band
Out among the far locations that the
Music’s Heaven-sent we can
Fly on instruments
Beyond our isolation and
No it’s not the way it could be but
Here and now it’s how it is and
It’s pretty good for kindergarten and
Come on, we’re only getting started
Tore Down a la Rimbaud (Van Morrison)
Showed me pictures in the gallery
Showed me novels on the shelf
Put my hands across the table
Gave me knowledge of myself.
Showed me visions, showed me nightmares
Gave me dreams that never end
Showed me light out of the tunnel
When there was darkness all around instead.
Tore down a la Rimbaud
And I wish my message would come
Tore down a la Rimbaud, you know it’s hard some time
You know it’s hard some time.
Answer Me (Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings)
Hour Follows Hour (Ani Difranco)
Pacing the Cage (Bruce Cockburn)
The Gospel According to Thomas (Gnostic Christianity)
“Jesus said: He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds; and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he is troubled he will be amazed, and he will reign over the All.”
Machig Lapdron’s Chod Practice (Nyingma Buddhism):
“I the fearless yogini who practices, in order to unify nirvana and samsara…Understanding the true condition, I commit myself to go beyond hope and fear.”
This breathing practice helps the body digest paradox and contradiction:
Bones Meditations can be reassuring:
I hope you found something helpful here…
Maybe reading this has reminded you of songs, stories or practices that have helped you through your own periods of “I don’t know.”
If you would like to share them with me, I will post them next month.
As more of us learn to relax within–or at least tolerate–“I don’t know,” we increase the collective creativity that our times call for.
We members of this “thumb-hand human band” as Buffy Sainte-Marie calls us, are living in prolonged uncertainty.
Here we are in this vast desert of unknowing, watching the planetary and human climates heat up, ignite, perhaps to spiral out of control…
Many people have pointed out that we now need completely new solutions and paradigms. We need all the metaphoric wisdom we can get.
Perhaps your journey into the unknown is, even now, unearthing blessings for us all.
Much gratitude to my clients and students, who have shared their vulnerable stories of immersion in uncertainty.
Many thanks to those fellow travelers whose writings and songs about their own dark nights have kept me going through mine.