If there is anything that we seem to fear most in this world, it is uncertainty.
The great unknown, the darkness that lies in the abyss.
Uncertainty about how the future will unfold is the source of many of our anxieties. This is because we desperately crave certainty. We dream of secure and orderly lives where everything goes according to the plan – the script that was laid out for us when we were born.
However, if we are honest about this inquiry, we will come to the realization that there are few things that we can actually be sure of in life. I don’t really know what the future holds for me, and what will happen in one, five or ten years from now. Seemingly random events outside of my control can occur at anytime and alter the course of my life for better or for worse.
So in spite of this fundamental human predicament, what is one to do?
How can we better navigate the uncertainties of life?
Let us explore some strategies passed down to us by some of the wisdom traditions of the past.
Focus on the Present Moment
Eastern traditions and philosophies such as Buddhism prioritize the importance of living in the present moment. If you have practiced mindfulness meditation, you are probably aware of how chaotic are minds really are. Trivial concerns and thoughts can ruminate in endless loops in our brain. We are always thinking about the past or anticipating and preparing for the future.
The practice of meditation trains us to constantly return back to the here and now. After all, that is all that really exists. The future, no matter how frightening it may be, is just a thought. A mere mental projection.
Why should we let a thought take precedence over our direct experience in the present moment?
At our convivence, we can always ground ourselves in the present by shifting our attention to bodily sensations or our breath.
This is can be our anchor while we navigate stormy seas.
Become a Hero
Joseph Campbell is famous for popularizing the archetypal narrative found in so many of the great mythologies and stories throughout history. The hero’s journey details how an individual plunges into the unknown to conquer their fears, ultimately achieving conquest and victory.
We see this story played out in many books and films in popular culture ranging from Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
Take for instance the narrative in Lord of the Rings. The protagonist Frodo ventures out of the secure comforts of the Shire to the unfamiliar depths of Middle Earth to destroy the one Ring (representing evil) and defeat the enemy Sauron.
On his quest, Frodo is constantly tested transcending constant trials and tribulations developing fortitude, strength and courage which leads to a transformation of his character and inner disposition.
The hero’s journey inspires us to overcome our fears to pursue something meaningful – something greater than ourselves. It provides a roadmap enabling us to rid ourselves of self-doubt, and actualize our full potential. Further, and most importantly, it offers us inspiration to face our inner demons head on.
In the final analysis, the world is constantly changing. It is in a state of continual flux. Uncertainty is a fact of life; however, we should not become consumed with worry.
We can cultivate strength and courage within. To do so we need to find meaning, purpose and a higher goal to live up to. Meaning provides us with direction and offers an overarching framework which can guide us through life.
This consequently allows us to transcend obstacles and the fear of uncertainty. All of our potential hardships are not in vain, but are a step forward. Meaning can provide inspiration and motivation to get through the most difficult situations.
Victor Frankl, who survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, reminds us in his book Man’s Search For Meaning that despite the circumstances we find ourselves in, one can always exercise freedom in their attitude towards life.
Uncertainty may not be able to be completely eliminated, but it can be dealt with and managed.
Our ‘why’ to live is our saving grace, our light in the midst of darkness granting us bravery and clearing our path forward.
If you are interested in learning more about the hero’s journey, I wrote an article on it for my personal blog here: The Hero Within – A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life
Till next week,