Practicing with Uncertainty
We will all experience times when our personal emotional distress is particularly
powerful. As the saying goes, we’re all just one doctor’s visit away from falling through the thin
ice. When we’re struck with serious illness, chronic pain, a relationship crisis, or financial and
work reversals, it can seem as if meditation techniques like observing the mind, or feeling the
spaciousness of the breath, aren’t quite enough to deal with the churning anxiety that we’re
When it seems as if the future is dissolving right in front of us, we need to know
how to practice with the experience of uncertainty, or we’ll remain confused and anxious. As
well, we’ll continue to detour away from genuine equanimity into the artificial comfort of
distractions, busyness, or efforts to control our world.
When we experience the discomfort of uncertainty, and especially when we have the
feeling of panic when things go really awry, our little mind will naturally resist. It will tell us to
fix it right now, or to find a sense of ground or some escape. But practice asks us to see the
discomfort, even the panic, with a curiosity that’s willing to explore exactly what we’re feeling
in the present moment. Practice asks us to reframe our viewpoint so that we can see, and
perhaps even welcome, the discomfort as our path to becoming free. This is what it means to
say Yes – to simply want to know what our life is, whether it’s interesting or boring, pleasant or
unpleasant, joyful or painful.
What helps us open to, or more precisely, to surrender to, the experience of a life that
no longer fits our expectations – where safety, security, and certainty are no longer givens –
where what we counted on is gone, and where there may be little left for us to hold on to? To
surrender means to cease fighting – to give up our resistance, including our constant effort to
avoid discomfort. Surrender also requires that we give up our stories – such as our stories
about how life should be comfortable, or within our control, or our stories about how awful
things are. Surrender ultimately means to give ourselves up completely to what is. But the fact
is we can’t force ourselves to surrender. We can’t just drop our resistance and our stories
simply because we want to.
What we can do, however, is experience the totality of what we are in this very moment.
We can focus all of our attention on the exact truth of our own mental, emotional and physical
experience, which includes our resistance. The practice of surrender begins with feeling the
totality of this with an unwavering intensity, allowing the cocoon that protects us, the hard
shell that covers the heart, to begin to break open. When we can enter into this dark place
fully, something else emerges. The grace that can flow from consciously experiencing our pain
becomes a gift that transcends our imagined helplessness.
Ezra Bayda -The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free From Complacency and Fear