The Glass Is Refillable

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.” – unknown

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)

44 thoughts on “The Glass Is Refillable

  1. Oh, how I love the phrase “making friends with uncertainty.” That could be patented, Wynne! (I think you can patent phrases?)🤔 When thinking of resiliency, that’s key!

    Also, I hadn’t heard the phrase about the glass being refillable, but it’s great!!

  2. I think both pessimism and optimism involve comparisons. With a 100 mL glass, half empty compares the current volume to 100 mL, while half full compares the current volume to 0 mL. To me, realism is seeing that the glass currently holds 50 mL, regardless of whether or not 0 and 100 are the lower and upper bounds, and what I can work with is that 50 mL.

  3. There’s nothing I love more than my comforting cloak of certitude…especially when planning a trip. However…I’ve learned. No amount of prep actually PREPARES me for the real-time unfolding. 😉 As you said, some of the best ‘refills’ occur when you encounter (and conquer!) those unexpected twists and turns. Those pockets of insight pop for me during meditative moments…conjuring a smile. A dear friend once observed me, in mid-practice, and wondered about my grin. Just me, I said, working through my sticky-Vicki stuff. All good. Thanks for your post, Wynne!

  4. I consider myself a pessimist 75% of the time, realist the other 25%. I take that 25% as my control mechanism to save me from myself. That little jolt tends to kick in when I start to allow myself to spiral into overthinking and over planning for multiple catastrophes! I suspect that reaching a point of balance will be an ongoing journey.

  5. I think pessimism a optimism is just names we give to our own expectations. What I have learned is Life owes us nothing. So, just take what you get with a smile!

  6. I have the hardest time with wanting everything planned out just so and I too have learned that sometimes the path of uncertainty can take us down the most amazing roads of all. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  7. What I have found and tried to pass along amounts to asking oneself questions about what one’s own history tells us about our resilience and any tendency to think the day will always be sunny or cloudy. As a wise investment advisor told me when I was much younger, “If you ask me the direction of the market directly ahead, the only thing one can say with certainty is that it will fluctuate.

    1. Ah, that’s a good investment advisor – one that isn’t trying to convince you that they know! And I really appreciate your comment about being aware of our tendencies — whichever way they go. That is wonderful wisdom, Dr. Stein!

  8. I landed on the line “make friends with uncertainty” and had to pause for a moment. Yes. This is exactly what I’ve been realizing in my life. After having several unexpected life events leave all my plans and carefulness in ruins, I had to accept that I can’t will my way through everything and that no amount of caution or planning can prevent me or my children from experiencing hardship. There’s something terrifying and freeing about that. What a beautiful post. Thank you.

    1. Oh, I really like your accepting that you can’t will your way through everything, Bridgette. Wow, I suffer from that notion a lot! And the truth you state that no amount of caution of planning can prevent hardship for ourselves or loved ones. You are so right – terrifying and freeing! Thanks for reading and this great comment!

  9. I don’t know why we crave certainty so much. A movie is much more enjoyable when you don’t what’s going to happen – when you expect the unexpected. Of course, we all have our limits. Rolling with the punches isn’t always easy to do. Meditation certainly helps with that. Wonderful pose Wynne 🙂🙏

    1. Thanks, AP2! Such a great point you make about movies — or sports for that matter. Maybe it’s a risk thing that makes us crave certainty? Thanks for a great comment!

  10. As a mild pessimist myself, I agree that we hold on to what’s wrong longer. For me that’s because I’m looking to improve what’s wrong- and I’m hopeful that I/we can do that. I think that makes me an optimistic pessimist, but my wife just thinks I need to chill out 😂

  11. I spent most of my life chasing certitude, to be disappointed that it seemed to be always just out of my reach. I despaired, for I wrongly thought that some people had managed to nail it down, but that was all an illusion they projected, as part of their mission to display their superior life skills. Alas, I realized, perhaps certitude just isn’t for me, for if I had it, would I be happy with the monotony of knowing how things would turn out?

    I learned to see life as an adventure we’re all on, and choosing to be happy or not is our choice, even when we feel powerless over our emotions. I’m currently in a job that is very unstable, drama abounds around every corner, backstabbing and subterfuge are played expertly by some players, while the rest of us avoid it and just strive to do our jobs in an environment that each day brings another sometimes very unpleasant surprise.

    I could be rocked by all the constant drama, or choose to glide over and around it all, leaving the other players to play their games amongst themselves. This current job has shown me that I can still choose to hold onto my inner peace in spite of the rocky seas around me. Perhaps life isn’t about seeking certitude, but the grace to navigate it all without breaking down mentally!

    1. Wow, Tamara – I love your “I learned to see life as an adventure we are all on” and “perhaps life isn’t about seeking certitude, but the grace to navigate it all without breaking down mentally.” Amazing sentiments!! Yes yes yes!

      I’m sorry that your job is so drama-filled right now. But it also sounds like a wonderful training ground for you to show others how to navigate choppy waters and bring your best. Beautiful and inspirational!

  12. I am a natural planner, I rely on my organizational skills a lot and when something unplanned happens I take it easy. It’s what life wants to teach me in that present moment. And I think that it’s definitely thanks to meditation that I have this kind of approach/attitude towards uncertitude.

    1. I love how you say that you take it easy when something unplanned happens. It’s like taking a step back to observe and learn and what a beautiful way to take it all in. Very inspirational, Cristiana!

  13. I got so caught up in your experience of having to back up on an unknown road in an unfamiliar car in the dark, and having to negotiate the scary NJ turnpike and it’s tollbooths that I nearly forgot about the meditation question. It’s probably the cumulative benefit of those years of meditation that allowed you to get out alive and live to tell the tale. Kudos to you, brave soul. My meditation practice is sketchy at best, but even so, I am aware of the incredible benefits. Imagine how much greater they would be if I I were more faithful. Hmm. Let that be a lesson to me…..

    1. Oh my goodness, Julia. Now you have me appreciating that I got out of there too! I don’t know about your meditation practice but your regular practice of looking for and finding the light seems to be incredibly healthy and inspiring. Perhaps you have exactly the right practice for you!

      1. As I was drifting off to sleep last night thinking about meditation, I thought of you and how your dedication to it is the fuel that feeds the fire of your vast well of inspiration. Your inspiration inspires me to want to do better. Thank you!

  14. wow that word about making friends with uncertainty is amazing, I like to indulge in that, because this is what faith lies, this is what future lies, we have to fight the fear of uncertainty with strong that we way we uncover many mysteries that lies unknown. Very good thought indeed and thanks for sharing.

  15. I’m calling myself an optimist-realist, but that usually ends up in me being disappointed nonetheless, so thank you for sharing this way to help “ground” myself each day. I’ll definitely try it out!

  16. I love this: the glass is refillable! So simple but it is just really resonating with me right now. And I have to say whether pessimist or optimistic, you don’t need much analysis to understand why you were feeling bothered – you had worked so hard doing all the extra jobs to help both your trip and life in your absence go smoothly, and then that blimming plane set off a chain reaction of annoyances. I’m sure most people would feel disappointed/ frustrated etc. But then you could slip into this always happens to me /life is unfair / it’s all someone else’s fault / it’s all my fault etc. Instead you did something even more impressive than the the super organised drop-off/ laundry/ fridge magic and refilled the glass! 💜

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