Uncertainty keeps coming up. Recently I was at a closing weekend for a meditation program I’ve been doing over the last year and they asked. ‘how do you view your future self?’My reaction was appropriate for the state of things: ‘I can’t see it.’ Even with the lead up discussion about how the changes we’ve noticed, how our current self informs who we turn out to be in the future, I could not see it. I felt blinded by the cloud of uncertainty. The only future I feel most readily is bleak, even though much can happen before these tumors wreck further havoc on my life.

Any new physical or emotional sensation sets up alarms.The unanswered questions, poor communication, muddled answers, and changing minds, often leaves me in a state of paralyzing unknowing. I’m what in the medical community call a zebra, one with a rare problem with no standard treatment and few options available to me. Even the scans don’t reassure as much as cast doubt on my own telling of a problem or the interpretation of this story or the image itself. It’s all murky.

I scoffed at those who pride themselves in solutions and ‘returns in investment.’ In fact, these offers are really just more painful. To quote a cancer surviving friend after I retold a frustrating encounter, in my case ‘there are no solutions.’ He gets it. Is this despair? Eh, folks keep bring up that they’ve been noticing it. I call it reality. There are skills here and there to make everyday life bearable from hanging out with friends, eating well, good sleep habits, the routine of work, and exercise. The moments in between are tough. Sometimes the moments in the thick of ‘taking care of myself’ are tough.

I poked around for some wise words on this thing known as uncertainty. I came across this talk by Gil Fronsdal that made me wonder if this uncertainty is actually confusion and doubt in disguise. He writes:

The practice of not-knowing needs to be distinguished from confusion and debilitating doubt. Confusion is not a virtue: the confused person is somewhat lost and removed from life. With doubt, the mind is agitated or contracted with hesitation and indecision. These mind states tend to obscure rather than clarify. Furthermore, confusion and doubt are generally involuntary. Not-knowing, as a practice, is a choice meant to bring greater peace.

But lest we take the not-knowing practice too far, Suzuki Roshi said, “Not-knowing does not mean you don’t know.” It doesn’t require us to forget everything we have known or to suspend all interpretations of a situation. Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.

As a Buddhist practice, not-knowing leads to more than an intimacy and open mind. It can be used as a sword to cut through all the ways that the mind clings. If we can wield this sword until the mind lets go of itself and finally knows ultimate freedom, then-not knowing has served its ultimate purpose.

-Gil  Fronsdal

What I’ve been having a hard time grasping is “not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.” I’ve done so much giving providers the benefit of the doubt..only for my knee-jerk concerns and assumptions be confirmed.  The worst is when it’s neither confirmed or denied with continued murky and unresolved questions. I can see how confusion and doubt fill the void of not knowing. There is a solid nature to confusion and doubt, a tight grip on the ego. When it comes to not knowing, it seems to be a release from the ego an all that I identify as the Self.

I can see how it’s a practice, but how can it be practiced everyday? The periodic escape from reality is nothing much but exactly what it is, an escape. It doesn’t solve the day to day realities of living. It’s a constant push and pull.  I guess that will mean more sitting and definitely more homework on making the connections between the mind, body, and the spiritual because I can’t seem to crack this nut.


Vulnerability and Gratitude

During one of my meditation groups last week, we discussed gratitude and being thankful. While the teacher mused on the snicker of her kids, but the profound statements that would come out of their mouths, I thought about why we tend to minimize gratitude and being thankful.

Expressing gratitude, I think, is a vulnerable act. Aside from my musings on fear of sugarcoating, there is how it reminds us of impermanence. A quick search revealed, that I wasn’t the only one who made this connection. Brene Brown actually alludes to this very idea:

“As someone who studies shame and scarcity and fear, if you asked me, ‘What is the most terrifying, difficult emotion we experience as humans?,’ I would say joy,” says Brown. “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. So what we do in moments of joyfulness is we try to beat vulnerability to the punch … We try to dress-rehearse tragedy.” –Brene Brown

But while she discusses the fear of when the other shoe will drop, I suggest that there is something more going on that feeds into this fear of losing something held so dear.

To really feel and experience gratitude, is to be truly present in the moment. It isn’t complaining about what was lost or incomplete nor fearing what may come down the road, it’s recognizing and really taking in what is available during that moment. It is the vulnerability of being open to receiving and expressing the gift of gratitude.

That, I think, is where the real fear of impermanence and of scarcity begins. To the untrained, the one who doesn’t often consider gratitude much until those unexpected moments where that light turns on and wakes up to the moment, it can be frightening to think that said awakenings are few and far between instead of something that can be cultivated and experienced all the time.