Learning to Live Gracefully with Change and Uncertainty

Quotations and commentary on the universal law of impermanence.

Posted Jan 20, 2017

Source: Pixabay

Because life is ever-changing, uncertainty about what’s to come next is always present for us. I hope these quotations and reflections will help you embrace change and uncertainty. When I’m able to do so, a feeling of peace comes over me, and that encourages me to keep trying to come to terms with this challenging aspect of the human condition.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. —Victor Frankl

Frankl’s words been a tremendous challenge for me since I became chronically ill in 2001. I often refer to these past years as a life upside down. I’ve been helpless to change the situation (as he put it), and so I’ve had to change myself. Preparing a piece like this is one of the ways I’ve changed myself in the sense that I now actively look for inspiration from others on how to live well despite the limitations imposed by my circumstances.

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have found in travelling in a stagecoach, it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. —Washington Irving

I understand what Irving is driving at. I can also find relief in change even when it “bruises me in a new place” (literally or metaphorically) because it reminds me that change is ever-present, and although it sometimes make things worse, it sometimes make things better.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart...Live in the question. —Rainer Maria Rilke

One of my favorite Buddhist teachers was a forest monk in Thailand. (Readers of my books will be familiar with Ajahn Chah) Once, when he was asked what the biggest obstacle to spiritual practice was, he replied, “Opinions.” To me, leaving things “unresolved” is being willing to live with uncertainty, which includes not needing to immediately form an opinion about everything and everybody.

It’s hard to be patient; we all know that. But rushing to judgment can lead to an unsatisfying—even a disastrous—outcome. More and more, I’m content to let things remain unsolved, as Rilke suggested. Life is here. I’m in it, with its joys and sorrows. Let that be enough.

The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next. —Ursula K. Le Guin

Harsh. But spot on.

Only I wasn't steering anything, not even myself. ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

I love this quotation. The idea of not steering anything can be scary to me, that’s for sure. It can also be freeing though, in the sense that sometimes I feel at peace when I’m not steering—that is, when I just let my life unfold day-to-day as it will.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. —Erich Fromm

I’ve been dabbling in watercolor lately because it’s something I can do from the bed or the living room lounger. I’ve discovered that the only time I feel truly creative with the brushes is when I let go of expecting a certain result.

Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer. Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. —Shunryu Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki was a well-known Zen monk and teacher in the San Francisco area. I don’t know whether by “perfect composure,” he was referring to enlightenment. I tend to avoid loaded words like that. But I have experienced what I call tastes of freedom, and they come when I’m able to accept, at a deep level, the truth of transience.

Don’t call it uncertainty; call it wonder. Don’t call it insecurity; call it freedom. —Osho

Osho was a spiritual teacher in India who lived from 1931-1990. Many of his quotations are inspiring to me. These particular words help me shift my perspective—from worry to wonder and from fear to freedom. I couldn’t ask for more from a quotation!

Finally, here’s what I say on the subject of change and uncertainty in my book, How to Wake Up: “Upon getting up each morning, we can reflect on how we can’t be certain if the day will unfold as we think it will and then resolve to greet it nonetheless with curiosity and kindness.”

I hope these quotations and reflections have helped you feel more comfortable living with change and uncertainty. I know it’s something I have to work on every day.

© 2017 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I’m the author of three books:

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (Second Edition) 2018

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.

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