Each day that we are lucky enough to wake up, we face the uncertainty of what will happen.
But most of us don’t really think of the day’s arrival as being a package of uncertainty. We may think we’ll get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, take a hot shower, make some fresh coffee, and drive to work. We expect to spend the day in meetings and work on our computer, then drive home and have dinner with our loved ones, or by ourselves, with some Nora Jones music in the background.
Dzigar Kongrul Rinpoche, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, says that . . .
“All of us, whether we want to or not, live in a bubble. This is our own version of reality, created by our ego, which is always turning away from the open-ended nature of how things are and trying to maintain the familiar. Most of the time, we are able to keep this sense of familiarity intact. Everything in our bubble is fairly predictable and seems to make sense. Even if we’re going through a hard time, at some level we’re able to hold it all together.
We get up in the morning, we enter a familiar world, we go through our day with many familiar routines. How we prepare our food, how we have our coffee, how we relate to particular people in particular ways—it’s all pretty unsurprising. This isn’t something we consciously choose to do. Whatever kind of life we have, we have our own version of a bubble. It’s our default way of being, and most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing it.”
We don’t consider the possibility that we won’t be able to walk to the refrigerator. Or to see. Or that the coffeemaker won’t work. Or the toilet won’t flush. Or there will be a serious accident on the way to work and we’ll be part of it. We don’t consider that we might end up in the hospital instead of an afternoon meeting. We don’t consider that someone we love may unexpectedly die. Or that we may die.
Everyone’s life today started on a particular page and we never really know what’s on the next page until the page is turned. Then we see the only reality that offers us certainty. The reality of this very moment. This sentence, the word you are reading right now.
It’s often a moment that we miss, because our mind is thinking, or worried, about the future. What’s going to happen five pages from now?
We’re currently faced with a situation, a global pandemic, which reminds us how uncertain life really is. We never really know what will happen on the next page, but often we live as if we do know. The circumstances that surround us are like a poster which says, “You don’t really know what’s going to happen.” Another poster says, “You are not in control.”
Yikes! We don’t know. We don’t have control. It’s terrifying, even though it’s the way things have always been.
So what do we do? How do we cope?
Do we simply ignore reality, ignore the growing number of people who are sick and those who are dying? Ignore the suggestion to wash our hands frequently or to get our prescriptions refilled?
Or do we run away? Find a small cabin in the mountains, miles from any human beings and just settle in with three months’ worth of supplies and a box of good books.
What about our savings? What about our loved ones? What about our travel plans? Pandemics bring great inconvenience. Pandemics threaten bubbles.
We’re challenged to make choices with unreliable information. We’re challenged to take risks, because there are risks regardless of which path we choose. We’re challenged to maintain our sanity as we are inundated with ideas, guidance, statistics, news and more news.
So what do you do now? How do you make choices?
You open the menu and here are the specials:
Uncertainty, Anxiety, Fear, Lack of Control, Confusion, Agitation and Depression.
May I take your order?
You can run out of the building and find another restaurant, but the menu will be the same.
Here’s a possibility — have whatever is on the menu. You don’t want any of it, but you need to learn to get comfortable with it – to coexist with it. You need to learn to accept what is being offered.
Is it possible to be faced with a situation that is unacceptable and accept it? Is it possible to eat something that you really, really don’t like?
When I was in Costa Rica I was offered an opportunity to eat a termite. It’s not something I would order off the menu. But I tried it. I declined seconds. If I had to eat termites to survive, to keep from dying, I think I could do it. Possibly.
For many of us, our bubble is disintegrating. We think of bubbles as bursting, but this is a slower process and, in many ways, more challenging.
Right now, we need to reach deep within ourselves and find capabilities that may have been sleeping for a long time.
We need to wake up our faith.
We need to practice working with our attention to keep from being overwhelmed by news and endless information.
We need to sharpen our skill at reflecting on ourselves and noticing how our conduct impacts on others.
We need to learn how to recognize the blessings that we encounter throughout the day so we don’t feel like life is nothing more than suffering, tragedy and disappointment.
We need to act constructively and compassionately in the face of fear and anxiety and develop a sense of empowerment by taking action rather than just reading about suffering.
We need to find something purposeful and meaningful to live for each day and not let our feelings carry us off into a dungeon of depression or hopelessness.
We are capable of all this and more.
We are capable of rising to the occasion. It is what we need to do.
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......