Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gratitude 9/19/07 - Living with Uncertainty

Today I am grateful for uncertainty. This is something that has been a challenge for me in my life. I like to have answers and explanations. One of my subpersonalities, Apollo, really likes to be certain about everything, and he tends to be one of my primary managers, who takes over when anxiety comes up.

Apollo forms quick opinions, often based on a solid foundation of knowledge, but he is very reticent to change his mind about things. But when he is certain about things, he is closed to new information -- and a closed system cannot evolve.

Anxiety can be part of being uncertain, but only when we need to know the answers. If we can become comfortable with uncertainty, there is very little anxiety. I'm still trying to learn this in my cells.

A couple of month's ago, I reread Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. This is the classic quote that most of us know from that book:

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

I've read that quote a dozen times, but it seems I am only now starting to "get it" in any real sense. I am reminded of the opening lines from Dante's Inferno:

In the middle of our life's way
I found myself in a wood so dark
That I couldn't tell where the straight path lay.

Oh how hard a thing it is to embark
Upon the story of that savage wood,
For the memory shudders me with fear so stark

That death itself is hardly a more bitter food;
Yet whatever I observed there I'll convey,
In order to tell what I found that was good.

This isn't a great translation, but it conveys the sense that we sometimes wake up to our lives to find ourselves someplace we would never have imagined, but having found ourselves there, we realize that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. I find myself in a place in my life that I would never have imagined had I planned out my life. It's not a bad thing.

Many years ago I read a book called Living Without a Goal. James Ogilvy talks in that book about how to live without a grand goal for our lives, how to allow an openness that can lead in surprising directions. When I was in my twenties, it was easy for me to live my life this way -- and it worked for me.

As I have aged, I have gotten bogged down in having to know who I am and what I am supposed to do. But it feels limiting. When I meet people they ask, "What do you do?" I like to have an answer that sounds respectable, which is a whole other sub acting up.

But when we "know" who we are, how open are we to evolving? I generally think I know who I am, and part of that identity revolves around growth and evolving as a person. Certainly, pardon the pun, this is true. But I am a whole mess of other things, too.

And it's the mess that I am learning to be comfortable with. I've grown weary of defining myself to myself or to others. Can I just allow myself to live with beginner's mind, open to whatever comes my way?

That's what I am working on these days -- learning to live with uncertainty, openness, beginner's mind.

It means giving up expectations and some beliefs -- but when I can do it, I feel more free. I think that is a good clue that I am working on something useful.

What are you grateful for today?

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