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Learning to Live in Uncertainty


It was an ultimate experience of uncertainty. Tim O’Brien, best-selling author of “The Things They Carried,” wrote about being a veteran of the Vietnam War. Like many others in their twenties during that era, he was drafted into the armed services. He shared that when he arrived in Vietnam, he stepped into a situation in which he didn’t know if he would live from one moment to the next. During his tour in Vietnam, O’Brien noted that 85% to 90% of the casualties involving the men around him came not from gunfire, but landmines. Many of his fellow soldiers who were more athletic, more suited for war, and tougher than he was, ended up not surviving.

As good as they were at being soldiers, O’Brien concluded that it came down to luck and following his inner guidance. As his fellow soldiers in front of him and behind him stepped on landmines causing their death and/or loss of limbs, Tim O’Brien tapped into his inner guidance. That experience taught him to let go of absolute certainty, while at the same time opening up to being led by his inner guidance system.

Fortunately, most of us do not have to deal with uncertainties that have the life and death consequences that Tim faced. However, nearly all of us encounter uncertainty at some point in our lives. When I was in my early twenties, I worked for a couple of years to save up money for law school. I had accumulated enough to cover most of my costs to attend. However, two months before I was scheduled to enroll, my father died unexpectedly. Because my family needed money to get through some tough times after my dad’s death, I decided to use most of the money I’d saved to help out. I believed, at least for that period of time, that my vision of going to law school was over. I didn’t know quite what to do.


While it wasn’t a life or death decision for me, that feeling of not knowing led to a lot of anxiety. Eventually I embraced the uncertainty, calmed my mind and listened for guidance. I was guided to pack my belongings in my car, drive up to the law school and enroll anyway. Needless to say, I had no idea what the outcome would be once I arrived. I had very little money and, at the moment, few prospects coming my way.

As it turned out, when I went to the school and spoke to folks in the administration, we were able to work out the finances so I could enroll. This happened despite the fact that my previous calls for support were rebuffed by the department head. I believe the key to successfully navigating through this experience was letting go of my need for certainty and following my guidance to enroll in law school anyway.

I believe that the idea of letting go of uncertainty is best summed up by Brene’ Brown in her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She notes that if we are to live our lives from a place of worthiness, we must believe without seeing. Brown offers three tips to help us navigate those uncertain experiences that inevitably show up in our lives:

1. Get deliberate and become very quiet and still so you can hear the still small voice within you.

2. Get inspired by claiming your spiritual essence. One way to activate that inspiration is to read inspiring work that reminds you of the power of your faith faculty and the ability to believe in that which you cannot see.

3. Get going by doing something that calms your need for certainty. One effective tool is to embody the Serenity Prayer which says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Peace and Blessings,


James

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