Happiness while not knowing

Happiness While Not Knowing

Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”
–Emily Dickinson

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many clients have shared their fears and anxiety about living in a state of not knowing. Will we and our loved ones stay safe? How long must we continue with all the restrictions and safety measures? When will work, play, and life in general go back to normal—if ever? These concerns are especially relevant for active older people who may wonder if their lives will ever be full again. Is it possible to be happy while not knowing what will happen?

We are born not knowing—and we are quite content in this state, as long as our basic needs are met.  But as life unfolds around us, we begin to learn that certain conditions have to be met—by ourselves and others around us. Still, our young minds remain curious and we have a sense of wonder as we discover new things, like what’s around the corner—in spite of being told “no.” As we grow older, we learn that to make it in life we need a plan, and we are highly rewarded when the plan results in success. But many plans fail and alternatives must be found. I have personally had to abort or revise many a project, goal, or dream—and have been much better off with the way things turned out.

“Happiness is the absence of resistance to what is.”—Rupert Spira

Not knowing: fork in the roadCertainty and change

Our brains feel rewarded when we make choices, and it doesn’t matter if the choice will actually be rewarding. It may seem strange that we would choose something unrewarding but certain, over uncertainty. But when we fail to decide or are uncertain, our brain conjures up negative scenarios that generate doubt and fear. We distrust uncertainty and ambiguity. Not knowing makes us feel vulnerable. The more we ruminate over uncertainty, the worse we feel. In contrast, when we know the answer or have a plan, we feel both safe and in control. Having a sense of certainty, we feel lighter, freer, and more content—even happy.

Being safe and in control, however, is ephemeral at best, as change is inevitable. But giving up certainty requires us to examine the beliefs that define us. These are the stories we hold to be true about ourselves and our world that have helped us feel stable and secure. We may try to hold on to our stories about the way things have been and yearn for the fruition of long-held dreams. In doing so, we not only risk wasting the precious life we’ve been given, but also miss what we most desire. Letting go of resistance to what is may enable us to discover our true self—and, as a consequence, happiness. That is authentic security!

Declaration: Pursuit of happinessFrom pursuit to acceptance

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. Unfortunately, the meaning of that right is often misconstrued. Much of our culture is geared toward seeking happiness in the form of experiences, relationships, and the acquisition of things. We seek to make it big financially so we can live the good life. We’ll be happy once things turn out a certain way: we land a better job with better pay so we can afford better clothes, fancier cars, and lavish vacations; or we retire early and live the good life. When we do finally obtain such material trappings, our sense of happiness is likely to be short-lived and we become possessed by a desire for something else.

Happiness eludes us when we spend our time longing for things to be better—or at least back to so-called normal. When we allow not knowing to continue to gnaw at us, this uncertainty becomes a form of suffering, according to Rupert Spira, the author of many books on spirituality. In The Art of Peace and Happiness he defines suffering as resistance to the current situation and searching for an alternative future. Learning to accept things as they are, as opposed to resisting them, opens us to our true nature and the knowing of our own being, which unfolds as happiness. Rupert says, this is pure meditation and the highest spiritual practice.

“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial
for answers to come to you.” –Eckhart Tolle

Uncertainty as helpfulUncertainty as helpful

While uncertainty may seem to dominate our lives right now, the core of our faith and spiritual traditions has always been cloaked in mystery. How can we knowingly grasp our place in the universe and the nature of all things? Yet research has revealed that most Americans believe in God or a higher power, even though this belief transcends reason.

Not knowing often makes us feel like we’re on shaky ground. How then can we feel grounded? Since the brain likes to be in control—and be rewarded for it—we can teach it to accept uncertainty about the future and actually be rewarded. Not knowing creates space for possibilities and opportunities to be revealed and for answers to be found. Remember when not knowing made us curious and we looked at the world with wonder and delight? Shifting our perspective can help us overcome our fears associated with uncertainty.

“To live in not knowing, or unknowing,
is to live in the joy of pure potentiality.”—Linda Hubbard

Walking in natureAcceptance

With simple practices like prayer, meditation, or walking in nature, we begin to appreciate uncertainty. The goal of embracing not knowing is exemplified by the Taoist practice of meandering meditation, which is simply following one’s thoughts without seeking a path. In all of these practices, acceptance can unfold into a kind of inner knowing where answers to our most pressing challenges can be revealed.

peace and happiness found in the most challenging circumstancesIn Spira’s view, not resisting not knowing leads to happiness, which he describes as “the simple knowing of our own being as it essentially is, that is not dependent on the conditions of the body, mind or world. It is our ever-present nature that lies shining quietly in the background of all experience and, when it is recognized, overflows into the foreground, pervading all experience with its qualities.” He says that peace and happiness are essentially the same—and can be found even in the most challenging circumstances and trying times, like those that all of us currently face.

beginnings from endings

Beginnings from Endings: Hope for Something Better

Every ending creates space for a new beginning to emerge—a seedbed of potentiality and hope for something better. It’s a law of nature that life continually seeks places to germinate. Beginnings from endings can be an exciting time for us with opportunities for change. A time to establish a new habit, relationship, city, or a completely new way of life. But it also means saying good-bye to what we have known, loved, or lost.Continue reading

keywords

What Are Your Keywords?

Have you ever noticed the highlighted words in an Internet article or blog? These are known as keywords, terms that are used to classify or organize digital content or to facilitate an online search for information. Prior to digital technology, on which we all depend these days, keyword referred to a significant or memorable term in the title, abstract, or text of a print document used as the index entry. Keyword is also widely used to mean a word or concept of great significance.

Continue reading

Are You Riding the Sea Change?

Does the news of the day get you down—global violence, economic and social unrest, and environmental disasters? Do you fear what the future will hold for you and your loved ones? Do you long for things to be better, yet feel helpless? There may just be another landscape with hope for a better world.

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second chance

Second Chances

“The should road…the could road…the one day road… the someday road…
should only ever be taken in moderation, and on your way to the MUST road.”

Elle Luna, from The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion

 Life circumstances rarely happen by chance, and in some of our endeavors the first go-around may be riddled with misfortune, making a second chance seem impossible. Yet all first acts contain seeds of second, third, and even a multitude of chances to try again—to grow, change, and transform throughout one’s life journey. However, like in any garden, in order to blossom or bear fruit, these seeds need to be cultivated with proper soil, water, and nutrients, or they lie dormant. Continue reading

Your core motivation

Discover Your Core Motivation

If you were a frog thrown into a pot of boiling water, you’d leap right out, wouldn’t you? But if you were a frog placed in a pot of cool water that was very slowly heated, you would be more likely to become lethargic, unaware that you were gradually and languidly moving towards your demise. This metaphor can serve to remind us that we’re not always motivated to make changes even though our lives are finite. Have you ever inquired into your core motivation? Read on. Continue reading

moccasins

Empathy’s Transformative Power

As a child, I heard the Native American proverb “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” How does one walk in another person’s shoes? How can we know what they’ve experienced or how they feel? Why does it matter? It matters because we matter. You and I inhabit this world along with billions of other people, many of whom have difficulty getting along with one another. Empathy is the key component, and it is very powerful.Continue reading

what's next in your life

What is Your Life Trying to Do With You?

There are special times in our lives when we can truly benefit from reflection and introspection. This may be at the beginning of a new year, following a loss of a relationship or job, or simply when we are feeling stuck or blocked from moving forward in our lives. During these times it’s easy to beat ourselves up for what we could have or should have done differently. We certainly can learn from the past, but putting ourselves down serves no purpose, except to hold us back from moving forward. So, we need to ask, what’s next in my life?

As the years move swiftly by, I find myself more and more aware of the finiteness of my life. I ponder questions like, when it’s all over what are the things I will be most proud of? Did I engage with the best of who I am? Did I love enough, laugh enough, give enough? Did I dance enough to my own music, or only follow someone else’s lead?

I do this review from the perspective of this moment forward. In other words, what is done is done. I can’t change the past. Nor can I program the future. But I can have a lot of influence on what’s ahead of me. I begin by asking what I really want, what it is that I most desire for my life.

Clearing the path

Mae & Jacqui When I recently – very unexpectedly – lost my 94 year-old friend Mae I’d been caring for, a wise friend said to me, “we are never prepared for the inevitable.” How true. When things are going along well we get set in our routines with the assumption that things will continue on for a good while longer. And then we are caught off guard. Sometimes this may be a dramatic change that didn’t even seem inevitable at the time, such as a relationship, job or financial loss. Whatever the circumstance a period of grieving and reflecting inward allows for the process of letting go, just as nature does, to provide space for new seeds to be planted and nurtured for future growth to blossom and allow for an opening of the pathway to what’s next for our lives.

I’ve recently been drawn to the word “vocation,” which comes from a Latin word meaning “to be called,” or “a calling.” This word may convey many things: an occupation or profession, a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career, a divine call to service, or the vocation of marriage and parenting.

While in the process of letting go of the old and starting anew it’s helpful to ask yourself what is your calling. What are you being called to do in this precious life you are living? How are you using, or how can you better express your gifts and talents?  Your deepest identity can be reflected in your calling. This can be revealed in what you desire most in life, what you care about, what moves you, touches you and what you are drawn to. This is not a selfish desire, but one that is filled with possibility, joy and delight.

There is a still small voice of our true self deep within that is constantly calling for our attention asking us to live from the fullness of our being. Clearing the channels to hear this voice requires us to uncover and move through barriers such as fear or heartbreak that hold us back from hearing this message.

Life doing you

Parker Palmer, an author, educator and activist, shares that a sure sign of a vocation is something so compelling that you “can’t not do it.” Rather than asking what you’re supposed to do with your life, he suggests asking, “What is your life trying to do with you?” This resonates with me, as I often have succumbed to callings I never guessed I would be engaged in – and later reflected on how it enriched my life or prepared me for something else.

Meditative and contemplative practices can be invaluable in helping us uncover our true reality and calling. Palmer suggests that contemplation can be anything we do that can penetrate beneath the ego and programming of our life and help us touch reality. This can be experienced in everyday life: anything that can help us become more awake, aware and alive, and help you notice when feelings of joy, love and compassion or empathy are present.

As I let go of one of my callings of caring for my beloved Mae and prepare to welcome in what’s next, I plan to listen more to that small voice inside and focus more on the things I “can’t not do.” How about you?

I invite you to attend my free iRest meditations on Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon.