Let me start by telling you a story.
Once upon a time, I thought that one day I would grow up, get everything sorted out, be thin and nice and beautiful, understand how the world worked, and finally be a complete human being.
One day, I thought, one day it will happen.
I started yoga at seventeen and was going through tough times – so far my hypothesis had not proved true. I was a teenager, but I was more confused than ever, and life only seemed to have gotten harder rather than reaching a point of perfection. But I still had a belief that one day, one day I would be perfect. Yoga, I was sure, would help with this.
One day, I would be a slim, graceful yogi filled with love and light and everything would be just great.
Two years later and I participated in an Off The Mat intensive because I was chasing purpose in my life. I was looking for something meaningful I could fight for, and pour my time and energy into. Once I found my ‘purpose’, I was sure that my life would be on track. I would know what I ‘wanted to do’. I would be fulfilled. I would be happy.
But turns out that (damn it!) it’s not quite that simple.
This year I have had a strong sense of purpose, I’ve had a cause I’m passionate about and a community to work with. I’ve been an activist and an active citizen, but life still has not (much to my frustration) been perfect.
As a result, I’ve been pondering uncertainty, and how many things can’t be pinned down. The more yoga I do, and the more I read and talk to people, the clearer it has become that nothing is really clear at all. The world is always shifting and changing, and my life is never going to reach some static stage of perfection.
A few weeks ago I became mildly obsessed with uncertainty and I found myself frequently declaring:
I’m confused, and I am always confused!
I thought that this was a massive step forward for me, and that declaring my confusion meant that I could embrace the mystery of life, stop looking for control and safety, and fully live.
But I started to feel uneasy about the whole confusion thing. The more I told myself I was confused, the more confused I felt. And feeling confused all the time was… confusing. I was feeling neither productive or efficient.
Then a friend said to me:
Why don’t you focus on what you are clear about? You’re not actually confused about everything!
In all my thinking about the confusion I had forgotten the things that I actually wasn’t confused about, and the power I had to make my own choices. Her suggestion suddenly gave me permission to look for a middle way, to walk the path between uncertainty (you can never know what will happen and life is a mystery) and agency (our capacity and power to act in the world and to make choices).
Because, although I am never going to be perfect and bulletproof, or have absolute certainty in my life, I can still make choices, I can positively impact the lives of others, and I can have clarity. And so can you.
Uncertainty is scary because it means that things are beyond our control. Embracing uncertainty means acknowledging that the world is not safe and predictable. That’s frightening. It means that no matter how big we build our houses they might still fall down, that we might fall in love with the person we least expect, we might win the lottery, we might die tomorrow.
Our lives are strange, unpredictable, and miraculous things. And to live them fully we have to be able to face the uncertainty that is an inextricable part of them.
Living with uncertainty doesn’t mean that you get to curl into a small ball of fear and hide away. Nor do you get to throw your hands up in the air, give yourself over to the chaos of life, and spend your time rolling in the mud.You acknowledge uncertainty and live a rich, full, and intentional life. You can still have action plans. You can tick boxes. You can be proactive, and get stuff done, and make a difference in the world.
All while accepting that life is uncertain and you don’t know (everything).
Here is my suggestion for embracing uncertainty and your own agency and power.
- Stay open and embrace mystery
- Be intentional but not prescriptive
- Don’t worry about what you can’t control
- Believe in your own completeness right now (not off in some distant future)
- Live and love fully, even though there are no guarantees and no promises of perfection
What are your views on walking the line between embracing uncertainty, and channelling agency? Do you think it can it be done?