Many days this past week, I have woken up with an unfamiliar tightness in my chest. I’m in good health – this was anxiety. My morning routine has become a bit jumbled. Sometimes I make coffee and breakfast in the wrong order, and I’ve taken to carrying my phone from room to room like a high tech security blanket. I count my many, MANY blessings every day: a comfortable home, mild weather, food, money, art supplies, books, the internet.
I’m sure you have your own version of this story. In addition to diving into my work (I don’t stress eat, I stress work), I’ve been contemplating what seems to be the root of my aforementioned morning anxiety: uncertainty. In Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron writes:
“The central question of a warrior’s training is not how to avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort… When the flag goes up, we have an opportunity: we can stay with our painful emotion instead of spinning out… Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears.”
“Relax in the midst of chaos?” That sounds like a superpower worth cultivating. My own humble practice right now looks like a morning breath meditation, before I get out of bed, while I’m also feeling profound gratitude for my nest of blankets and warmth. I breathe and I focus on the weight of my body, the softness of the sheets. Sometimes the tightness in my chest releases, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I choose to accept it.
I also choose my own narrative for this moment, a story in which we’ve all been called to unite as warriors: warriors of all kinds, some spiritual and some material. In shamanistic traditions, this period might be interpreted as a rite of initiation that sparks transformation and new vision. In psychological terms, an analogy can be made to the grieving process, which ends in acceptance and individual meaning-making.
Whatever your path through this edgy time, I name you a fellow warrior in my tale. Here are three ideas to help you step into the role, if you so choose, and remain present with uncertainty:
1. Embrace Paradox
Like the proverbial yin and yang, all things in this world arise simultaneously in two complementary forms. This is where the cloud with a silver lining image comes from, and the dark before the dawn. Our nervous systems are wired for crisis, so we almost always see that first. But we can learn to see its mirror at the same time: clarity, humor, creativity.
To embrace the paradox is simply to allow two things to be true at once, even though they appear to contradict one another. In a dancing couple, the leader has control but the follower has freedom. These two qualities may seem to cancel one another out, but in fact, they permit one another to exist. Strange, but true.
Look for the paradox of this moment. If you feel afraid, where do you also feel joy? If you feel alone, how are you also feeling connected? If you feel hopeless, where do you see evidence of a new possibility? I promise, the other side is there if you look for it.
2. Redefine Freedom
Physical confinement is unavoidable right now, but emotional and psychological confinement is optional. Remember that when we sleep, our bodies naturally disable our ability to move to keep us safe. While immobilized, we heal, and we dream. We may not be able to move as we like right now. We cannot gather, hike, or travel, but we are still wildly free to think and feel, and to dream while awake.
Boldly activate the freedom of your mind and heart. Accept any and all of your own thoughts and feelings, and get curious about them, at least for a few moments. Express them carefully and compassionately, perhaps with new words. Talk and write, rest your body and stretch your imagination.
3. Choose Perspective
On Thursday, Isaac and I went on an urban hike to the highest point in Long Beach. When we got to the top, we saw with breathtaking clarity what a 40% reduction in emissions does in only one week. It was astonishing, as though I been handed a new pair of prescription glasses. To the north, we saw details in the buildings of downtown LA, over 30 miles away. To the south, we saw the textured edge of waves against yellow sand.
The shattering nature of this situation makes uncertainty impossible to avoid. But we are never passive victims of our circumstances. Even on this steep cliff-edge, we get to choose our perspective. We can look down and fear the fall, or we can look out and see the view.
From your metaphoric vantage point, what do you see right now with more striking clarity than ever before? What’s important? What fills you with purpose?