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The Upside of Uncertainty

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"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity." -- Gilda Radner

Lately, I've come across some interesting juxtapositions of words that make me scratch my head and think twice about their meaning. On first glance, you notice two words that appear to be polar opposites. Take the words, "uncivilized" and "elegance" for instance. If you put them together, you get "uncivilized elegance."

Don't you really wonder what uncivilized elegance might look like? Or is it just me who finds this seeming incongruity more than an interesting mental exercise and maybe a potential game changer?

In the case of uncivilized elegance, imagine a woman who is elegantly coiffed, made up and dressed. Now add a touch of "uncivility" to her. Maybe she's wearing a piece of wild jewelry, outrageous shoes, or has accessorized her outfit with an animal print. Maybe she's put something in her hair like a feather or is wearing a quirky hat that suggests she's something other than predictable and appropriate. She becomes uncivilized elegance. Much more interesting that plain old elegance, don't you think? A game changer, indeed.

Let's take two more words one ordinarily wouldn't think to put together. Like, oh I don't know, say "delicious" and "ambiguity". Put them together and you get "delicious ambiguity." Was Gilda Radner onto something? What did she see in these two seemingly opposite words?

Ambiguity is not something one ordinarily courts. In fact, most people, including corporations (as in, "corporations are people too, my friend") detest ambiguity. Ambiguity is akin to uncertainty, and we all know that uncertainty is fraught with danger. Or so we believe. In fact, we humans will go a long way to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty from our lives. We want to sweep the decks of anything that is undefined and vague. Stock markets do not rally on uncertainty. Neither do most people.

Except Gilda. Clearly, she knew something, or at least if she didn't start out knowing it, she learned it along the way. And that's the thing about uncertainty and perhaps the reason why it might serve us to hold it as "delicious." Because inside uncertainty, nothing has yet taken form and therefore, all things are possible. Who wouldn't find being in a field of infinite possibility a delicious experience?

Well think again, because you and I find ourselves in such a field every single moment, yet most of us tend to reject the notion that not knowing what's coming next can be a delicious experience. And why do we reject it?

Most of us are more like Goldilocks than Gilda, wanting life to come in be just the right portions, not be too hot or too cold, and have a happy ending. We don't want a life that feels so big we can't get our arms wrapped around it and end up feeling out of control. But neither do we want a life that's too small, that cramps our creativity or has too little stimulation or too few opportunities for growth.

We don't want surprises, like Papa Bear coming home unexpectedly and finding us with our hand in the cookie jar. Or like losing a job or a relationship, or even worse. We want certainty and predictability, and we want life to make sense. We want life to unfold in a linear fashion, so we know where we are in the story and can anticipate what's coming next.

Prior to 9/11, we Americans lived in the fantasy that we had control of our lives. Now, this was never completely true, but we preferred the narrative of control and certainty over the one of chaos and unpredictability. And then everything changed.

After 9/11 and the economic meltdown of 2008, all bets were off. We may still long for the "good old days" where at least we still had our illusions of certainty, but today, even the illusions are gone.

The truth is, life has always been uncertain. The only difference is that today we can no longer entertain the illusion that it's anything else. We've been initiated into the great cauldron of uncertainty and are challenged to learn how to swim in its waters. How are you doing?

Given this "new" reality -- not really new, except that our collective awareness has shifted and we're now beginning to get that the game has permanently changed -- how best to proceed from here? If there is no solid ground on which to stand, what kind of beings do we need to become in order to dwell in the land of uncertainty and learn to reap its potential rewards?

The Gilda theory of life gives us a clue. Start with changing your mind. What if your old way of thinking about uncertainty was not wrong but simply outdated and in need of a makeover? The newest discoveries in quantum physics are causing scientist to rethink nearly everything we once believed to be true. What if uncertainty could be viewed as a field of infinite possibilities and "delicious ambiguity" instead of scary and overwhelming? How would changing your mind change your receptivity about being with uncertainty? Which way of thinking would empower you to be most effective?

If you weren't frightened by uncertainty, but open to its possibilities, this one change potentially changes everything. And if you can change your mind about this, what other untruths held as truths could benefit from a makeover? What seemed to work for your life 20 or 30 years ago is probably due for an update.

Gilda advises that we make the best of each moment. Or, as author Gregg Braden says: "The happiest people don't have the best of everything. They make the best of everything they have."

This isn't anything new or revolutionary, granted. But do you actually put this into practice? Making the most of each moment requires that we show up for it as our fully awakened, aware selves. It requires that we not be attached to how the moment unfolds or the outcome, but be a willing participant in the here and now, meeting the moment as it is, open to surprise and unpredictability.

Gilda Radner's life did not have a happy ending. She died of ovarian cancer at age 43 after being misdiagnosed for 10 months, during which time she struggled with extreme pain and discomfort. She once quipped, "I joined a club I didn't want to belong to." Even Gilda was challenged to live by her own hard-earned wisdom. But then, aren't we all?

Here's a piece of wisdom from Alan Watts. See if it resonantes for you as it did for me:

"No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it.

It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives ... And if we are unduly absorbed in improving them, we may forget altogether to live them."

The one thing that's certain is this present moment. What are you bringing to this one, uncivilized, elegant moment of your life? How can you bring a sense of delicious presence to this ambiguous possibility called now? What old beliefs and untruths are due for a makeover?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and take on this topic. Pull up a chair and be a part of this discussion. And come pay a visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul.
And for personal contact, email me at judith@judithrich.com.

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Blessings on the path,
Judith

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