people stepping across stones in a river

The Gift of Uncertainty-Oh No! Not another learning experience.

by Judy Baxter, MA, Associate Clinical Professor, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, School of Medicine, Barbara Davis Center
[image source:]

How are you with uncertainty? In the last 2 months we, I think to a person, are staring deep into the well of uncertainty. It is filled with questions, unknowns and change not only for ourselves but for everyone close to us and in our community, our state, our country, our world. PANUNCERTAINTY

Though in focus now, the nature of living has this essential aspect of constant change and therefore uncertainty. To quote Pema Chodron:

“As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground—something predictable and safe to stand on—seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing whether we’re aware of it or not.” From Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, 2012.

Change and the accompanying uncertainty, often occurs at a micro level, where it is with hindsight we come to terms with what has changed. Yet we work really hard to ignore this fundamental element of life, to as Pema says, find solid ground. In times like this, when change and uncertainty are in our face and hard to ignore, the discomfort shows up in all kinds of ways–including but not limited to neurotic behaviors, anxiety, and habits from over drinking to over exercising. These reactions are a way of escaping, ignoring or denying the reality of an uncertain future. These auto responses, can frequently cause more problems than the uncertainty they were designed to keep at bay. There are other, more constructive responses to uncertainty though often we are less practiced with these.

tick figure with question marks over its head

So I will ask you again: How are you with uncertainty? How has your comfort/discomfort with uncertainty changed over the last 2 months? How does it show up in your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, relationships?

Sit with these questions and jot down some observations. Have a conversation with someone you trust about these observations.

When uncertainty comes into such clear focus as it is now, when it is unavoidable, it presents an opportunity for practicing the cultivation of mindfulness. An opportunity to bring your awareness to your underlying responses, to pause the cycle of reactivity and to bring your energy, focus and action to bear constructively to the present moment. This is an opportunity to develop our deeper capacity for mindful action.

This is the gift of uncertainty. If you take off the bow, open up the packaging and are willing to sit with where you are, you find it brings you into the moment, you can see where you are. It is not ignoring the discomfort with uncertainty, it is acknowledging it, looking at it without judgement. The understanding gained gives you agency to take action in the present moment. Maybe the action now is: acknowledging a past mistake and asking for forgiveness. Or maybe the action now is: acknowledging a worry/anxiety about how your team is going to be next month and asking them: how it’s going now and what do they need to work effectively now?

Oh yes! Another learning experience.

To read Judy’s bio.