Living in uncertainty is difficult. We are all experiencing that in high definition. Do you know what you feel in your body when uncertainty steps forward? I do. I feel it in my torso- from my upper chest down to my lower belly and I don't like it at all. It feels tight, restless, unwavering and thick. It makes me wish I could step away from my insides and walk around empty.
My daily meditation practice helps me with these uncertainty sensations more than anything else I have tried. Nevertheless, there are days when meditation feels inadequate and I have to tolerate the sensations in my body and the thoughts in my mind.
Uncertainty can arise as an outcome of a variety of situations. Sometimes things happen that we have absolutely no part of; we don't cause it or encourage it. COVID-19 is a good example of this. Other times we may make a choice that directly leads us to a place of uncertainty. Either way, we all will find ourselves facing it at some point and we may not be able to control how long it stops to visit with us.
My family and I are currently in an interesting situation of uncertainty which is indirectly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, during a run I was feeling particularly restless about it. Earlier someone had encouraged me to, "have faith." As I was winding through the trails I was curious about what this meant. What is faith? What do I do to have faith? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? Will it make me feel better? Several ideas began to emerge as I pondered these questions. Here's where I landed:
1. For me, faith means I don't quit pursuing my values just because I feel the weight and discomfort of uncertainty. One of the definitions I found of faith was, "complete trust or confidence in someone or something." This does not match my experience of having faith. If I could rewrite it I would define it as, "continuing to choose to trust someone or something because it matches your values."
2.. With that definition in mind, perhaps faith is a mindset that I have to keep choosing, similar to choosing a value to pursue. I may not get there and stay there. And maybe even if I choose faith I will still feel uncomfortable. This might mean having faith is making choices which align with my values despite the feelings I have from not knowing where those choices might take me. For me, the bottom line that I must grapple with is that having faith does not equal feeling better.
3. Having faith doesn't always mean that things will go well or get better. It does mean that I am open to learning from the consequences that arise as a result of the choices I make and that I value these consequences even if they are undesirable.
This is a big shift for me. My parents taught me that most questions or situations had a right and wrong answer and it was critical to choose the right answer. Though my own belief about this idea has changed, those old stories still whisper loudly in my ear. My younger self, who will always want to please her parents, still tries to convince me that if I choose the wrong answer things are going to be catastrophic and my parents will be disappointed in me. I have to care for my younger self, comfort her and let her know that all choices have complex outcomes, that choosing faith is brave and beautiful and that my adult self can manage whatever comes.
I found this idea very comforting; no matter what happens, I can manage it, and even evolve because of it. Whether it's something that happens to me, or due to a choice I make (even a choice that I, myself, feel a little iffy about), it's going to be okay.
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Elizabeth Wade is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Ames, IA. More importantly, she's a regular human being struggling through this crisis, just like you.