I was traveling last week, something I haven’t done without my kids in 7 years. I’d perfectly engineered the school drop-off and transfer to the nanny, filled the fridge with food, done all the laundry, and even unloaded the dishwasher. I thought I had everything well in-hand.
But then I got to the airport and all my planning fell like a stack of cards. My flight was delayed. My transportation to the hotel changed so I needed a last minute rental car. I took a wrong turn and had to back up in a strange car on a dark road. I didn’t know how to navigate New Jersey turnpike tolls and was guessing. I got to the hotel so late that they were no longer serving food so I ended up eating the cup-of-soup noodles you get by pouring hot water over and they are only marginally less chewy than styrofoam. Then as I gave up and just tried to sleep, I could hear a very faint security beep if I lay on my left side so I had to only lie on my right. Anytime I forgot and turned over, I woke up.
I was tired, pissy, disappointed and completely spent.
More than that – I was surprised. My congenital optimism as described in Rose-Colored Glasses had predicted none of this. When a couple of days later I talked this over with my friend who is a self-proclaimed pessimist, I asked if optimists and pessimists suffer the same amount: optimists from disappointment and pessimists from catastrophizing.
My friend asked something like, “Why can’t you set your expectations differently?” Well, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get that right either. I could imagine how things would go wrong but I doubt I’d be any closer to reality.
“People who wonder if the glass is half empty or full miss the point. The glass is refillable.” – unknownTweet
Refillable – yes! But first I have to empty it of all the bubbly stuff I put in there to begin with. What works for me is to get up every morning and meditate to make friends with uncertainty. That practice of mindfulness helps me to embrace that I have no idea how things are going to unfold, no matter how much I’ve planned…or maybe even more poignantly, how much I’ve dreamed.
Whether we come at it from a perspective that everything is going to be great or that nothing is going to work, the truth remains that we don’t know. Even the people that I’ve met who identify as realists don’t know how something will unfold. Being optimists, pessimists or realists might set the tone of how we feel about the day before us but the mystery of life remains that we can’t predict how life will turn before us.
This brings to me something I heard Franciscan Priest Father Richard Rohr say about certitude.
“The thing called certitude is a product of the enlightenment, and it did so many good things for us, science and medicine but it made us feel that we have a right to something that we really don’t. Our ancient ancestors grew up without expecting that. So they were much more easily able to hold on to mystery in general, God in particular. Whereas we worship workability, predictability, answers – we like answers.
We think we have a right to certitude.”Father Richard Rohr
With the help of meditation, I come back to knowing that I don’t know and then I feel more able to improvise. When I touch uncertainty, I let go of my plans. When I empty my head and hands of the vision of me being in charge, I more readily accept the mystery unfolding before me.
As my friend and I talked through the sides of optimism/pessimism, he suggested that perhaps pessimists hold on to what goes wrong longer. As Andrew wrote in his The Science of Mindfulness post, there is preliminary evidence that mindfulness helps counter our negativity bias too.
The glass is refillable. Indeed it is. I concede that it might be my optimism that gets me up and ready to practice refilling it. But whatever it is, I have to work at it every day, meditating in order to make friends with uncertainty in a practice to embrace the mystery again and again.
Meditating on uncertainty on my recent trip helped me enjoy the experience: it wasn’t as I had expected but it had lots of twists and turns that fed me in significant way. That interpretation might sound optimistic but its much deeper than that – its meaningful. And isn’t that part of what we ultimately want from life?
What do you think about certitude? Has meditation made a difference from you in the ups and downs of life?
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(featured photo from Pexels)