Tuesday, July 23, 2019 -
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The art of living with uncertainty

When we are young we live with certainty. We have that wonderful feeling of waking up in the morning and having a force of certaintly. We pretty much know what the day will bring. Waking up, breakfast, the school bus or carpool, school and teachers, back home for homework and snacks, playing with friends, bath time, bed time. That is pretty much how it goes.

As we get older things begin to feel a bit more uncertain. But we to want to hold onto that feeling of certainty. We may think we can sometimes manipulate circumstances to our advantage — but with time we learn that the future always reveals itself in its own time.

As we mature we become more conscious of the impermanence of life, of how we can’t be sure of anything — and we begin to see things from different angles. We are no longer as certain about things as we were when we were younger. We begin shedding that smug sense of knowing, and enter a more humble zone of life.

Many of us have seen that famous black and white drawing — depending on how you view it, you can see an old lady or a young girl. We want to know how to perceive a given situation in a predictable way. But as life goes on, we internalize how unprepared we are for unexpected outcomes.

We prepare for so many circumstances, which often don’t come through. Murphy’s law.

This is what makes us who we are. It is a no-brainer to prepare for a situation and have a manual of behaviors and reactions stored away. It is totally different to be caught off guard, yet try to rise to the occasion. To a large degree, we are molded into the people we are precisely by the events of our lives that are impossible to prepare for. For good or for bad — news of illness or loss, or of extraordinary blessing.

As much as we may crave life to be tied up neatly into an organized package, it is often just a myth. When we begin losing that sense of certainty, as a consequence of the unexpected, we tend to try to hold on even more tightly to our plan, our vision of what we think ought to be. Then the weight of it all can simply immobilize us.

No one likes the feeling of not knowing, of one’s life hanging in the balance. We need to develop a mature certainty, the kind of certainty that strengthens us by being prepared for the unknown.

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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