Embracing Uncertainty

The things that make life worthy and magical: love, wisdom, creativity + spirit – they all spin on an axis of uncertainty.

But for many of us, uncertainty can be an uncomfortable and unwanted experience.
The desire for certainty is strong, and feeling in control is like an anchor in uncertain waters – but it is an illusion and it does not last.

Life is supposed to unfold with some mystery isn’t it? Are we really supposed to have all the answers all of the time? Are we really adrift if the plan or the path ahead is unclear?

When we try to avoid or fight uncertainty, we risk an existence that is devoid of colour, deeper meaning and connection – and indeed, more painful.

In my journey from desperately seeking certainty to a new openness to the unknown – I have felt inner peace, re-awakened my creativity, more connected relationships and lasting joy.

Here are my stories and my five lessons on embracing uncertainty.

It’s December 2015 and my mother will die next week. My soul suffers, but I hear its call for me to finally embrace uncertainty.

I hold a new vision for living more boldly.

I know that uncertainty is inevitable and necessary.
I quit my safe job and start my braver life.

It scares some people, this shaking of the status quo. But it inspires others.
Me? I’m equal parts inspired and terrified, but at least I know I am living.

I learn that the most devastating uncertainty can be a source for our greatest growth.

I learn that uncertainty calls us inward to create what we need most.

The lesson is to be creative and curious.

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It wasn’t always this way for me, embracing uncertainty – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been referred to affectionately or less so, as a control freak.

It’s 1992. I’m 12 years old. I’m deeply certain of two things: Firstly, when I grow up, I will marry Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.

And secondly, when I grow up, I know exactly what I want to do for a job - a Music Therapist. I read about it on a careers day, and I feel it instantly, the knowing, this is what I am meant to do. This is who I am.

From then on, I know exactly what is required of me. There is a clear plan. I study hard, I practise my instruments, I do work experience, I even change schools to be in the right music program. I am certain this is my path.

And so it is. I am accepted into the course, graduate four years later and my career is rewarding.

In 2004, Joey McIntyre and I move to the country.

Oh wait, no not Joey McIntyre. That didn’t work out. Despite my pre-teen certainty!

In 2004, my partner Shaun and I move to the country. And that’s when everything changes.

Music therapy jobs in the country are not falling off trees. He leaves every day for his fulfilling new career and I sit at home, waiting and watching a lot of uninspiring TV. I don’t try anything new because it does not fit with my plan or my tightly wound image of who I am and what I do.  I realise that I have made my career such a big part of my own identity that without it, I feel lost, unimportant and uncertain.

It’s only my growing frustration and time that move me to the next thing. A job in an unrelated field. I rally and resist because it does not fit with my plan, but I do it anyway. It takes me half an hour each way but the country scenery is breathtaking. As I drive, I sing Joni Mitchell’s entire Blue album. The people are good and I learn well beyond the world I have so far inhabited – about culverts, potholes, grazing permits, grants for the tennis club and resilience. Being in flow in this new chapter creates space for openness and curiosity which allows me to realise what’s possible.

I learn that releasing the grip on control allows something new to emerge if we are open to it.

I learn that hankering for the past steals us from living in the now.

The lesson is to be present and curious.
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It’s October 2015. I see her and my knees feel weak. She looks old and in pain, but she wears a defiant smile. My suspicions about the cause of her pain are finally confirmed. Yes, it is, she says and stretches up from her wheelchair to hug me.

I ask How Long? But she doesn’t want to know. Only God knows, darling, not the doctors.

The TYPE A in me is raging. I want answers, I want more tests, I want explanations, I want treatment, I want control.

But there are no answers and no control. And there sure as hell isn’t any certainty.

I wait until I’m in the hospital lift before googling ‘adenoid carcinoma.’

The bottom drops out and I’m floating. There is nothing for me to hold except my breath.

My dear Mum shows me how to surrender and how to accept– even on the very worst day and on all the very worst days that are yet to come.

I learn that I must keep breathing even when it hurts, especially when it hurts.

The lesson is to be accepting.

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It’s 2009 and I’m in hospital. I’m sore, beaten and bruised but here I am, singing and dancing.

My new baby is in my arms. She doesn’t sleep, I fear she will never sleep. But I’m determined not to press that call button. The midwives told me to not hesitate if I need help, but they’re just saying that. They have to say that. I won’t press the button. I’m not weak, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this.

She cries now. She’s still crying. I’m rocking, I’m singing. She’s still crying. Maybe she doesn’t like my version of Mockingbird. I look at the buzzer and then quickly look away – I’ve got this. She still cries – louder now. I sing louder – thank god for a private room. She cries. I cry. I don’t have this. I still don’t press the buzzer.

For a control freak like me, becoming a parent is rife with uncertainty. Gone is any sense of control about my body, sleep, time or interior decorating (I never thought I would need to clean honey from my dog’s fur. Yes, when you hear “MUUMMMM….he’s honeyed the dog! – it means exactly that).

I feel huge uncertainty when they are sick, when I am sleep deprived + in my ridiculous quest to be a “perfect” mother.

Yet they teach me more about life than any other relationship, Zen Master or text book. When I finally admit that these experiences are difficult and I am not a mythical superwoman, I show myself greater self-compassion.

I learn that when we seek to control our environment in attempts to preserve self-image, we miss out on opportunities for support and growth.

I learn that rewards of sharing vulnerability and uncertainty with those we trust outweighs the risk.

The lesson is to be forgiving of ourselves.

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 So, to revisit: here my 5 lessons on embracing uncertainty:

Lesson 1. Be creative

I don’t want to hear you say you’re not creative. You are, simply by being human. The way you think, speak, live, love, work and create is unique. No-one else is like you. Be creative with your language. Notice the words you use. Are you saying: This is awful! When will this end? When will I know? I hate surprises! I hate uncertainty!

Your mind and heart are always listening. Experiment. Use language such as “This is interesting, this is a chance for growth, I can handle this, I can learn to handle this.”

Being creative is also about becoming more comfortable with living outside black and white, right and wrong. There is beauty and growth in the grey. Experiment with your own creative voice – journalling, painting, writing song lyrics, dancing, making a vision board, redecorating your room, planting a garden – find ways to tap into your creative spirit and express yourself.

Creating boosts your well-being and resilience, making you someone who can better thrive in uncertainty.

Lesson 2. Be present

Uncertainty makes us want to run away, either back to the past or into the future, anywhere but now. Yet it’s right NOW that is our only real thing. Learn to be present. Be aware of your senses, notice what you can hear, see, smell, taste and touch. This helps you ground into the present moment. Be deliberate in your daily tasks. Being present and mindful is about paying attention without judgement. Simply observe.

Lesson 3. Be curious

It helps to ask questions. What can uncertainty teach me? How might it feel to loosen my grip on certainty and control? What other things could I be doing if I wasn’t wasting all my time and energy on trying to control everything?

Lesson 4. Be accepting

You don’t have to love uncertainty, but it’s time to drop the fight + create room for it.  Pay attention to where you feel uncertainty in your body. For me, it’s my stomach. Breathe deeply into that space and imagine making even more room for uncertainty to stay. Accepting it doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you can make room for it.

Lesson 5. Be forgiving

Learning to embrace uncertainty isn’t going to be easy. So make a committed ongoing practice. Show compassion for yourself. Celebrate even the smallest steps you make toward living more wholeheartedly with uncertainty.

By embracing uncertainty, we are saying yes. Yes to risk and reward. Yes to love, wisdom + spirit: within ourselves, our relationships, our work, our creativity and our communities.

Uncertainty is inviting you to let go and lean in.

Go and dance with its magic.

You have one life, embrace it all – even the uncertain, ESPECIALLY the uncertain - and be in bloom.       

© Naomi Morrow, 2016.

**THIS post was first presented at the speaking event, On The Rise, Melbourne, December 2016.