The Wisdom of Uncertainty
The illusion of certainty is highly appealing
Posted Oct 01, 2013
Contrary to popular opinion, as human beings we really don't know very much at all. I'm aware that might cause the mind to bristle a little, perhaps even bring out a little righteous indignation in some, but when you look deeply, it's impossible to deny.
In an uncertain world, it is only natural that we should search for certainty. It provides a feeling of comfort, of safety, perhaps even a sense of purpose or belonging. In a world where everything is constantly changing, where people, places and situation and even our very own mind is in a constant state of flux, the illusion of certainty is highly appealing.
But it’s important to differentiate between what we know and what we believe, what we know and what we suspect and what we know and what we’ve been told. Because what we actually know is only what we experience, no more and no less. If we let go of everything we have ever read, have ever heard, or have ever told ourselves to be true, we are left with nothing but our experience. In fact even this is constantly changing, as each moment, each experience gives way to the next.
So we are left with nothing but the experience of the present moment, the certainty of now.
For some this type of reflection is a revelation, a cause for celebration, an opportunity to let go of old baggage and the vehicle to a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity in life. This is of course accompanied by the sound of collective consciousness breathing an enormous sigh of relief as each and every one of us realize that we no longer need to pretend to have all the answers. Phew.
For others, it is the cause of heart palpitations, rising blood pressure and sweaty palms. In short, an overwhelming desire to engage with thought, to side-step fear, to repeat a well-rehearsed opinion in the mind, to hang on to the remnants of belief and to sure up any illusion of certainty we might cling to. Anything, literally anything, to avoid peering into the chasm of uncertainty that is life itself.
But there is no shame in not knowing, there is only freedom. An uncertain mind is an open mind. It is a mind which is curious, interested, reflective and malleable. When we meet life with a genuine sense of uncertainty, we cease to project that which we think we know and instead begin to see life for what it really is. The same goes for the people around us. It is only in letting go of our preconceptions and opinions of others that we allow them to be who they truly are, to change and evolve from one moment to the next.
This is the wisdom of uncertainty.
It is not a rejection of the human intellect, it does not disrespect the opinion of others, nor does it negate or devalue the experience of others. If anything, it fosters the search for greater intellectual understanding, whilst embracing the ideas of others. In this way, it offers the opportunity for a calm and considered response to the events of life, resolution where there is conflict and peace where there is war.
But the wisdom of uncertainty nonetheless highlights the importance of experiential understanding. To think about contentment is one thing, to be content is quite another. It is not enough to simply believe, we need to discover, to find out for ourselves. It is not enough to suspect, we need to feel, to know it personally and intimately.
Just to be clear, this is not about thinking about uncertainty, which is no more than doubt and confusion. On the contrary, this is the direct experience of uncertainty itself, from moment to moment, free from thought, judgment, opinion or analysis. It is nothing less than naked awareness, the nature of mind, life itself, unfolding before our eyes.
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