Accepting or “being with” Uncertainty

So we are all hearing about ‘Mindfulness’ and how beneficial the practice is for the creation of health and wellbeing. Bu-uut, it is not so easy to actually do when push comes to shove.

Am I wrong? What say you?

The first stumbling block in the practice of Mindfulness is the ‘being with’ rather than ‘reacting to’ occupational challenge. A big obstacle to ‘being with’ happens to be accepting feelings of uncertainty. And ye-es feeling uncertain for most of us is excruciatingly uncomfortable mostly because we are not used to it and “we don’t likes it!”

The practice of Mindfulness requires sitting with experiences and adopting the witness or observer position to assist us. This means we become as curious as possible about what we are noticing, what we are experiencing. We choose to feel, sense, experience rather than react or judge.

The practice of Mindfulness is derived from the principles of Buddhism where suffering is understood to be associated, even caused by attachments the Mind has to control situations, people, outcomes, emotions. The key, therefore to transforming suffering, is releasing or letting go of attachments.

Psychology understands attachments to be things such as attitudes, beliefs, judgements, even behaviours or habits in some situations. Many people have an attitude towards the experience of uncertainty that amounts to a ZERO TOLERANCE policy, that is, “we don’t likes it” – at all! We have views, plenty of opinions and lots of reactions to the idea that uncertainty is happening. Where as, interestingly, the practice of Mindfulness concerns itself with none of this – only the quality of the experience.

A ZERO TOLERANCE attitude towards ‘uncertainty’ approaches the experience of unpredictability or doubt as being highly undesirable to the point of being horrible, detestable, painful. Feeling uncertainty inspires a range of escape behaviours and patterns of thought.

The long and the short of it is – ‘uncertainty’ must be avoided! At all costs!

The inability to tolerate uncertainty is an attitude many people have towards life.
Holding this attitude generally means that uncertainty, unpredictability and doubt are seen as awful experiences that must be avoided at all costs. This attitude to ‘uncertainty’ is understandable, however there is a high price to pay viewing the experience of ‘uncertainty’ in this way.

For example,the behaviour of worrying starts to become appealing to some degree if you hold a negative attitude towards ‘uncertainty’. Worry may seem to be a useful way to pass the time. Worrying provides you with an illusion of control because you may begin to believe that worrying is an effective way for you to prepare yourself for ‘the worst’, that is, no doubt on its way. Worrying kind of – gets you ready – for whatever may come.

In spite of all this negative press I am presenting, worrying does, oddly, temporarily reduce your experience of uncertainty and unpredictability. It creates a kind of frenetic fantasy and an illusion of control over the future. By engaging in worrying, you have pushed away your experience of uncertainty. So the emotional experience associated with whatever it is that concerns you is briefly and temporarily abated.

But then, life has a pesky habit of reminding you of that ‘something’ is not quite dealt with, whatever it is, will trigger your original concern and you will need to go through the whole process of worrying yourself in to a temporary state of exhaustion to put the brakes on. So not the most ideal solution but worrying does help you believe that you have more control and certainty in life than you actually – do.

Lots of people worry, many of them arrive in my counselling rooms in a state of extreme distress. By this time, the worrying has become a psychological malady, a source of extreme suffering and a kind of paralysis. So before you get to this stage, let me ask you a couple of question to help you clarify your own beliefs about ‘worrying’.

Has your worrying made anything, in reality, more certain or more predictable?

Does worrying have any impact on the outcome of what will happen in the future?

Many of us struggle with the demands of the Adult World. Said another way, the responsibilities we have in the Adult World, those same things that provide us with freedoms and choices, are not always easy to meet or manage. Sometimes there are too many challenges coming against us, other times for a variety of reasons – we just don’t have the skills, we don’t know how to do it, we don’t have the resources needed. Do what? Could be anything. Be a parent, manage money, get a job, create a healthy relationship, handle anger, repair … the air conditioner! Or whatever else needs a bit of maintenance or T.L.C.

Some of us are good managers of life and life’s happenings. Being a good manager of your responsibilities and the needs of living can make you feel like you are in control, for a while. You might even develop a bit of an attitude or a core belief about this … but then, unexpectedly – the wheels fall off! How rude! When happenings conflict with expectations – we are not usually thrilled about this, we encounter frustration, even anger. We have what the Zen Monks would call an attachment and our attachment tethers our mind, our attention and we are no longer – free to be in the present moment.

The truth – if I can be so bold and presumptuous to claim such knowing – is, that life is unpredictable. None of use know exactly what the next moment will bring. We are creatures of habit and are wired to create habits that help us survive but the truth is – the business of living and life is not predictable. We live in a technological world that gives us the illusion of predictability. Sometimes life throws us curve balls and we are challenged to step up to the plate, engage with the experience, break a few thinking and behaving habits – and learn something new.

Life is at its essence an experience we can, at best, be with but we will never be able to completely control. But we still need to do the best we can to manage our lives or “the wheels fall off” – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes, lets be honest, the wheels actually fall off.

So – if worrying doesn’t work and is a great waste of time, what do we do instead? Fear not intrepid pursuers of the Authentic Life. The antidote is at hand and I have two strategies designed to Accept Uncertainty and therefore Reduce the Worrying.

1. First Up – Eyeballing our Attachment to or Intolerance of “Uncertainty” – No hiding!

This is a bit of a paper and pencil moment. Friends we are going to look these terrifying questions in the eye.

FIRST QUESTION
Can we be certain about everything in Life? … What can we be certain about?

SECOND QUESTION
What are the good things about insisting on certainty?
What are the not so good things about insisting on certainty?

THIRD QUESTION
Do you … truth now … predict negative outcomes BECAUSE the outcome is uncertain?
Does this make sense to you?
Truth now … what is the chance that the outcome will be either positive or just neutral?

FOURTH QUESTION
Truth … how like is your predicted outcome to happen? What makes you say this?

So … low outcome yeah? Because you are not completely sentient, self aware or psychic. Given this, Can you live with the small chance that something negative or undesirable will occur?

FIFTH QUESTION
Not all uncertainties are equal, you can … interestingly live with some uncertainties. How do you pull this off?

Any chance you could do the same thing … for those other uncertainties that do trigger worrying?

SIXTH QUESTION
Do you know somebody who doesn’t worry or doesn’t seem to? How do they do this?

2. Embracing Acceptance – Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness, at its essence, is about bringing your attention to the present moment and learning to do this – moment by moment. Being intolerance of uncertainty indicates that your attention or your mind is focused on the future. This is, just quietly, a sure recipe for distress and so the antidote is gently and persistently refocusing your attention on the present moment.

HOW? – One, Two, Three …
Antidote to this style of thinking is to practice becoming more present focused and accepting of your current experience. That is, more mindful. The steps to being more accepting and mindful are explained in the infosheets What is Mindfulness? and

FIRSTLY – BE AWARE- OF YOURSELF, OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Be present, notice, be curious about what is happening in your thinking and feeling body experiences. The simplest way to stay with this information is to follow the movement of your breath in and out of your lungs. Breathing is an involuntary process, managed by the unconscious mind or the autonomic nervous system. Just happens. You can choose to BE WITH THIS PROCESS. Let your attention follow the inspiration of the air in to your lungs, the expansion of your lungs just like the ocean tide washing upon the beach and then withdrawing. Breathing is a natural, rhythmic, trustworthy process upon which – you can depend and following your breath will keep your mind in the moment.

Now that you know how to use your breathing to stay in the present moment, move your attention in to the observer or witness consciousness position and notice everything that is happening in your body. What are you noticing when you are present to the experience of needing certainty? Notice these thoughts. Notice these feelings. Be with them then let them pass on.

SECONDLY – LET GO

The next challenge in the practice of Mindfulness is to release any attachments you may have to the thoughts and feelings you have noticed and in particular to the ‘outcome’ of the situation in which you currently find yourself.

Letting go is a skill that improves with practice but an interesting an curious way to process is to “go more deeply” in to the sense you have detected whilst at the same time anchoring your attention to the present moment by following the flow of oxygen in to and out of your lungs.

Notice repeating thoughts or feelings that keep representing themselves. You might say something to yourself like, “Isn’t it interesting how strongly I desire to control the outcome”, then deliberately let it go, let the urge pass through your perception.

THIRDLY – ADOPT A NON-JUDGEMENT POSITION

Nothing is good. Nothing is bad. Everything is interesting and then it passes. Embrace a position of gentle curiosity to the thoughts and feelings that float through your mind. Choose to notice and be curious rather than react. You can assist yourself do this by noticing and tuning your senses in to the sounds, smells and sensations happening around you. Just like using your breath to be in the moment, you can relate to your environment and the thoughts and feelings triggered by signals in the environment by observing or noticing your mind absorb and process the information your senses pick up from the world around you.

Remember – nothing is good or bad, it is just curious and interesting. This assists you relinquish attachments to the future or the past and dwell in the present moment. If you can begin to reorient your relationship to time, and be more in the present moment – your ability to master yourself and the world will increase exponentially.

Peace. Out.

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