Why Are We Always Looking For Certainty In Our Lives?

Paper ball forming a lightbulb, white background

When sharing his secret to happiness, the great philosopher Jiddhu Krishnamurkti said, “Do you want to know what my secret is? I don’t mind what happens.”  I think many of us reading this quote can understand why this state of mind leads to freedom and happiness.  If we don’t mind what will happen next in our lives, we would have no reason to be stressed and worried today.  Although this sounds like a ticket to emotional freedom, most of us cannot help but care what happens next in our lives.  We care about keeping our jobs, having enough money, our children being healthy, and a slew of other crucial aspects of our lives. We want to make sure that the things we want to happen actually do happen and that is exactly where our need for certainty begins. We want to know what will happen next so we can rest in the moment knowing everything will be okay. Yet we can’t control everything and life is filled with twists and turns; sometimes our efforts to secure certainty leave us far from the life that we desire. And we mind.

Our “need to know” can become the foundation or priority for every choice that we make.  In fact, our search for certainty affects how we face life, approach work, maintain relationships and even how we parent.  At work we may lean towards a particular job with a “certain” future or pay grade or we may analyze a problem with a limited view of all possibilities.  We choose relationships that feel secure and engage in activities we know and with which we are comfortable.  We make choices for our children that seem like the most prudent paths to success. Sometimes these decisions work out great.  But often we are ignoring new opportunities, stifling creativity and true desires for the sake of certainty. And let’s not forget that nothing is certain, and even choices that seem prudent at the time can change when the unexpected wind blows our way.

If we can find the courage to face the unknown, we can “mind” our futures more gently. We can examine new ideas, go places we never expected to go, or develop a relationship with someone that is different from us.  We can let our children quit the soccer team if they want to spend more time with friends or pursue a new interest.  Mindfully releasing our need for certainty also creates more tolerance and patience as we give up our view or our path as the only way.  This in turn can open us up to the blossoming of a life filled with wonder and maybe even happiness.  It is amazing that the very thing we avoid can be the catalyst for creating the life that we really want.

So how can we start to release our need for certainty? Here are a few suggestions to start to change how you make the choices in your life in the face of the unknown.

1.   Let some Maybe into your life.  The idea of Maybe reminds us that life unfolds more than one way.  Just because we don’t know the answer or we are unfamiliar with a problem, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work out to our satisfaction.  Maybe what we are experiencing is good, Maybe it will get better, or Maybe we can find a new way to handle the situation and still be okay.  Maybe we can take a risk, Maybe we can just peek at some new possibilities and see how it feels.  Maybe is an invitation to view life differently.  It doesn’t demand it.  Instead Maybe is supportive and allows us to realize that the unknown has gifts and benefits. Sometimes this little word can become the platform for making new choices in life because it shows us uncertainty is filled with hope and dreams that have yet to manifest.

2.   I know people talk a lot about gratitude and it seems too simple and basic to tackle our relationship with the unknown.  However, the mindset of gratitude is a wonderful and strong platform to launch into something new in your life.  Sometimes we are so afraid of the unknown, we become fixed on what we don’t have, what never works and what can’t change.  When we start listing what we are grateful for, we start to see the things that have worked out.  Sometimes we recognize risks that we took that we didn’t realize or beautiful aspects of our lives that manifested and blossomed from a place we could have never imagined.  It gives us some support and hope that life can work out and we have good things in our lives supporting us on the journey.

3.   We also can increase our awareness in our decision making process.  Sometimes we can’t even get to a Maybe or a gratitude mindset because we don’t realize we are choosing certainty over another possibility in our lives.  A great way to create awareness is to review various choices you made throughout the day or week.  Ask yourself did I make this decision for certainty? Did I make this decision to feel more secure or to pursue my goals? Does this decision make me feel joyous or dreadful? Do I think it will lead to new opportunities and experiences? What if I wasn’t afraid of the unknown, would I have made this decision?  If you find you are making more “certainty” choices than ones that align with your true desires, MAYBE you can rethink your decisions using the steps above.

These are just a few ways we can start to reduce our need for certainty.  Be gentle with yourself and see if you can build some resilience to face the unknown road ahead.  The more expansive we can be, the more likely we will find new opportunities and possibilities because we are willing to shift our perspective to a larger playing field.  Over time, we begin to understand we can either try to avoid the unknown and play it safe or embrace what we don’t know and expand our lives beyond our imagination.

Maybe facing uncertainty is the beginning of a new life filled with more joy, less stress and new opportunities!

Originally published in Psychology Today

 

Be Kind Whenever Possible. It Is Always Possible

White and pink flowers on light blue chair

Be Kind Whenever Possible.  It is always Possible.  Dalai Lama

A few days ago I bought an apple pie at Whole Foods. There was a sticker on it that said vegan (no dairy) so I bought it for my husband who is lactose intolerant. After he started to eat the pie he looked closely at the label and read the ingredients.  Sure enough, it had butter in it. The vegan sticker had been incorrectly placed on the pie and he was sick for days. I called Whole Foods immediately. I was most concerned that they pull the other mislabeled pies off the floor so others who can’t eat dairy would not get sick. They called me back a few hours later and offered me a refund and a gift card but still had not pulled the pies off the shelves. Yesterday morning I went to the store and there was no record of my call and no gift card even though I had been assured the matter was very serious to them. Maybe because the pie had made my husband so sick, I felt really sensitive about the fact that there was no record of the incident and no satisfying acknowledgment of the situation. After waiting for 20 minutes, I got the refund and a $25 gift card for my trouble. I realize that this is a small matter in the large perspective but there was something about how the store handled it that really stung my heart.

It reminded me of when you go to a doctor and you don’t feel well and the doctor is very busy and a bit aloof to you. She or he is helping you but you feel so vulnerable and need some warmth to make you feel better. Or when you need a doctor’s office to call you back because your child is sick and no one calls for hours. Or the phone company doesn’t show up after you have waited for them for half a day. Or a customer service representative is unhelpful when you have a problem with a bill or product. There is something about all of these incidents that can make us all feel terribly lonely and not cared for when we need help the most.

But we all have a choice. We can let these moments close our hearts and nurture anger because the world does not care more for us, or we can choose to open more to the kindness that we wish to feel.  In fact, when I left the store I was so careful and deliberate about how I treated everyone I came in contact with all day. For me, the store’s lack of care and sensitivity about the incident made me more aware of those around me who were suffering because I understood the perspective of not feeling cared for. Even if I didn’t understand what exactly the person in front of me was feeling, I was able to pause and smile and care with an open heart. I did not solve everyone’s problems that day, but at least I tried to give each person I met the warmth of my love instead of leaving them feeling lost and alone when they were most vulnerable.

So today when you have a chance, maybe call a friend who is having a tough time or hug your children a little longer if they are struggling at school. Ask the woman at the local store how she is doing and try to react with kindness even when someone is not kind to you. And Maybe as we offer this warmth to the world, we might just find the coldness of others fade and the warmth of light will shine from within us.

Have a great day!!!

 

 

Choosing Love

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Scarlett Lewis Meeting the Dalai Lama

Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December in Newtown, Connecticut. One might expect that Scarlett would talk about gun control and new legislation, but instead she spoke about love and forgiveness. Scarlett said that the enormity of the Sandy Hook tragedy began with an angry thought that Adam Lanza, the shooter, had as a child and that thought could have been changed to a loving one had he possessed the tools and ability to make another choice. She asks everyone to honor her son by taking one angry thought each day and turning it into a loving one. Scarlett believes that over time that one loving thought will change the world and it will become a better and safer place for our children.

Scarlett has also started the Jesse Lewis Foundation to create awareness in our children and communities so that all of us can choose love over anger, gratitude over entitlement and forgiveness and compassion over bitterness. Part of this initiative will be creating curricula in schools to give children the tools to choose love. Scarlett has also written a book entitled Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, which will be released by Hay House this week. Although the book has religious undertones and might not resonate with every reader, Scarlett’s choice in choosing love over anger is an astonishing lesson for us all.

So how can we apply this to our own lives? Can we really just wake up and say today I forgive my boss for being nasty and treating me unfairly or my husband for taking his bad mood out on me or my neighbor for being inconsiderate and loud? Can it be that easy? Maybe for some, but for most of us letting go of anger and choosing love is a process. This is how I’m doing it in my own life, and I hope it helps you.

First, I make the decision to choose love over anger. It is a purposeful decision. Sometimes it takes me a while to recognize I am angry and I must catch myself and think, “I choose love over anger.” Does the anger then go away immediately? Most of the time NO, but it creates an awareness of my anger and a mindfulness about the situation. It creates an avenue to let it go and that becomes an opening for me to move out of my anger and into love over time.

The second thing that I do is “cook” my anger. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a great book about this called Anger, in which he teaches the reader to breathe and stay with your anger until you can cool your mind and your heart of rage.  This becomes easier with mindfulness and although it can take up to twenty minutes, if you only have a minute or two it will still help. Other people use techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique, (you can read about it online) which I also find effective. It consists of tapping certain meridian points on the body while you are connecting with the emotion that is causing you pain.  After learning about this technique, I have definitely felt more calm and clear-minded in anger challenging moments. You can use this one or find another that works for you.

Third, once my mind is cleared, I’m able to start thinking about where the other person is coming from. Maybe they were struggling or suffering in that moment or something terrible happened to them in the past that made them act in the way that hurt me and made me angry. This doesn’t mean that they are not responsible for their behavior, but it nurtures compassion in me and the ability to keep anger from taking up more space in my head.

Sometimes I do all of the above things and the anger passes and other times I still feel the anger but it will be different. For me it becomes softer and not as all-encompassing. I may need to confront the person who made me angry but I am able to do it from a place of compassion and avoid generating more anger.  Other times, more space from the incident helps me let go of the anger that remains.

When I am successful in choosing love over anger and I can really process it, I feel more peaceful and joyful about life and all of my relationships. More and more I find that what I am angry about is not that big of a deal.  I teach these methods to my children and I hope they will carry it throughout their lives so their hearts can be free and filled with joy and not the darkness that anger breeds within.

And I stand with Scarlett Lewis; her choice to choose love over anger in the most heartbreaking circumstances should inspire us all to take one angry thought today and turn it into LOVE for all of us!

Living Before You Die

My client Caroline retired a few years ago and since then she has been very worried about her money and whether it will last for the rest of her life.  Her money is placed in what she believes to be conservative investments and she sticks to a budget the best that she can. However, her stress about not having enough money for the future persists and keeps her up at night.  She told me that she wants to enjoy her life but the fear of what may happen frightens her and keeps her from it.

During a recent meeting, I handed her the quote above from an interview with the Dalai Lama.  After reading it, tears began to roll down Caroline’s cheeks.  I asked her why she was crying and she told me, “I feel so relieved.  On some level I’ve been feeling that I have no right to be happy because my finances are not what they should be.  I should have saved more money and invested better and now I have less than all of my friends.  I am always afraid that one day I may have trouble paying my bills.  The stress and worry is also making me feel sick. But this quote jolted a realization in me that I am just wasting time.  I am wasting time worrying when I could be laughing with my grandchildren or playing cards with my friends.  I am acting like I am never going to die and I have been careless with the time I have left.   My circumstances are what they are and I don’t want to give up another day or my health worrying about a future that may never arrive.  There is so much I want to do and my fears of the future are holding me back.  I am still going to keep my investments and stay on my budget.  The difference now is that I am going to start living!”

I should have paid her for the session!