12/02/2014 04:53 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

The Legacy of Confusion


I recently stepped up to be the speaker at an Al-Anon meeting when the assigned speaker didn't show up. What better topic than "confusion" which I was feeling at that moment and from my experience just days before.

I had been invited to a gathering in which each of the 15 persons attending was asked to share their confusion and pain about a topic. We went around the circle - I was the 6th person to speak. All who preceded me began their two minutes with, "I'm not confused, but I feel pain about..." I'd felt confused when I sat down, but now I was further confused by the others' certainty about a complex reality.

I looked up 'confusion' in my trusty Al-Anon book, Courage to Change, and found the following: "Confusion can be a gift from God... I feel serenity slipping from me while a war is waged within my mind and loud voices urge me to take one path or another... Today I will remember that uncertainty is not a fault but an opportunity."

"There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds." -- Alfred Lord Tennyson

The passage of time with its inherent loss of roles and demand for new ones (think becoming a mother or an empty-nester, graduating from high school or retiring from a career) is confusing. The transition from one role to another may take weeks, months, or years. And how do we care for ourselves, what do we do, until a new role becomes clear?

"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd." -- Voltaire

"Too many choices. They get easily confused." says the protagonist in Christina Nichols' novel, Waiting for the Electricity. That reminded me of when I returned from the Peace Corps in Tunisia, a third world country, going to shopping for a much needed raincoat. The choices were overwhelming: khaki, black, white, plaid, print, single-breasted, double-breasted, chino, shiny patent-leather, silky-poly, breathable polyester, trench coat, lined, unlined, with buttons, with snaps, with waterproof zippers, full-length, three-quarter length, jackets, with inside pockets, with zippered pockets, with hood, without hood, ultra-light-packable, reversible, washable, dry cleanable only, inexpensive, moderately expensive. I was beginning to understand "culture-shock." Confused and barely able to breathe, I left the store without making a purchase.

Perhaps it is only aging that has brought me to this new place: confusion, uncertainty, and doubt. I am finding it easier, more honest, more authentic, these days than earlier when I thought I was supposed to know, that to be worthwhile I must be certain, to hold onto my opinion no matter the evidence, to be right, that it was a sign of impotence or ignorance to be unsure. And today I'm beginning to welcome confusion and uncertainty -- they give me space to observe and learn.

Suggestions for Action:

1. Make a list of three to 10 things you are sure or certain about in your life. Then make a list of three to 10 things that you feel confused, doubtful, unsure about in your life.

2. Choose one from each list. Reflect and write a paragraph about each for the purpose of understanding how each feels inside you, how each is a pattern of how you make your way in the world (note if it seems to be in flux), how you think you are perceived by others about your certainty and uncertainty, and whether you experience one or the other as more acceptable, understandable, and preferable to the other.

3. Reflect about (or meditate on) how you experience yourself when confused or in doubt. Do your best to articulate your feelings (and body sensations) in words.

4. Write a legacy letter to a close friend, sibling, or adult child to share your learning about confusion. If you have snippets of story, examples you can share, do. Close your letter with a blessing to them that takes into account what you've learned about certainty and uncertainty.

5. Explore ways to give yourself permission, space, and time to further explore confusion and uncertainty.

May you have the courage
to explore your confusion.
(remember it may be a gift from God)
May this exercise teach you something of value
to communicate and preserve
for the generations that will come after you.
-- Rachael Freed

NEW: Your Legacy Matters is now available everywhere. 2012 editions also available of Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman, Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. (All legacy books are also available as pdf's on Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker and adult educator. She provides programs, workshops, and training for financial, health, and religious organizations focused on legacy principles and practices. She has eight grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.

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