Posted: 5 May 2023
Inspiration: Conversations with Natalia Rodriguez
"The fear of uncertainty is our basic trouble. Uncertainty is the very nature of meaning and the very nature of being, for meaning is always contextdependent. We do not know the context that might come, and this is why we can never be certain that our meanings will be correct and give us security. So if you cannot live with this fact of uncertainty, some distortion is taking place already."
In April, I started a two-month sabbatical. I arrived to my computer on the first weekday morning flush with ideas for how I might get started and clear about what I’d like to finish the sabbatical feeling and having done.
This combination of clear expectations[i] and uncertainty about which of the viable paths to pursue summed into me becoming stuck: indecisive, jumping from idea to idea, asking myself a set of of unanswerable questions about each to assess their viability as a starting point.
"What now? What idea is likely to make this time meaningful and valuable? If I start with “this” idea or “that” idea, what’s the outcome likely to be? Would that outcome align with what I see for this sabbatical?"
To dislodge this stuckness, historically, I’ve noticed asking myself questions like the above. Questions that amount to me trying to anticipate and predict the outcomes of moving forward with the range of “moves” I can see in my mind.
Although last week, recognizing myself as being stuck, I took a break and a question emerged:
"What might I learn from the questions I’ve reflexively been trying to answer?"
Asking this surfaced a potential answer: "Maybe I’m trying to conjure up some sense of certainty, a reference point, something to 'push off from' and 'return back to' as I step into a space that I'm not yet able perceive or conjure up a mental image of."
In naming certainty as a need, another question emerged:
"What if rather than looking for certainty in the unknown space out in front of you (an inherently uncertain space), you look for it within you? E.g. the choices and actions that have led you to this moment."
This second question unblocked me and I’d like to try to sketch out what its effectiveness might reveal about how I'd been thinking when interfacing with uncertainty, the limitations of this historical approach, and how I might remind myself to default to this new one when I find myself in a similar situation in the future.
First, a metaphor to help my future self recognize when the forces of uncertainty are acting on me:
Imagine yourself standing on a stone in the middle of a river. Ideas emerge for potential steps you could take to get to the other side. You scrutinize each one without pursuing any of them, comforted by the stability of the stone you’re standing on. You are aware that out in the distance is an eventual need to find a way from where you currently are, so you think about another move or revisit one you’d previously decided not to pursue.
Still no steps. More mental movement without corresponding action.
You’re looking for something certain you can propel your body forward from and refer back to. Although, when you sense yourself getting ready to push off and step, all you find is air, thought, conjecture, fear, worry.
You do not find something stable to push off of and move from. Stuck you stay, more tired than when you started.
I'm coming to think the approach I defaulted to was borne out of mistrust and fear.
Me not trusting that I'd be able to meet my needs in a situation I did not anticipate and me being afraid for how my future self might treat my past self for having gotten "itself" into a situation where my needs aren't being met.
I think "underneath" this approach is the assumption that through thinking alone you can learn and know. Although, I think the faultiness of this approach reveals itself through the movement the approach fails to inspire.
I accept that I need certainty to proceed. I also recognize that creating certainty is expensive (broadly defined). Even more so when you seek it externally, where the environment is more variable, dynamic, and allergic to control.
Therefore, it seems wise to allocate the limited resources available to you to create certainty by nourishing the internal capacities and relationships you can depend on to heal, repair, and make sense of the unvertainty you will invariably confront if you continue being moved to live an unscripted life.
i. “Clear” in this context to the extent that I could intuitively sense whether an outcome aligned with what I was hoping for/working towards.