Uncertainty and Freedom

It’s the very beginning of spring here. Crocuses are blooming, daffodils are coming  up.  The anticipation of the end of winter is high.  Lots of excitement.  I was out yesterday in just a shirt cleaning up a bit from the winter and tying all the branches that broke from the past three storms.

However, Michigan weather is never predictable. This afternoon, we’re supposed to get a ‘wintry mix’ and possibly a snowstorm on the weekend.  So this fits with my topic: Uncertainty.

I personally am not fond of uncertainty. I like to know things, be clear about things, be they relationships, the future, even what I’m having for dinner sometimes. Kind of to prepare my stomach for what’s coming. I’m not particularly in favor of change though I love novelty, something different, new. That’s kind of a contradiction, isn’t it.

Uncertainty feels like shifting sands, like the very ground is moving and I don’t know when it will settle or how.  I try to make it stop, to find some solid ground under my feet.  I analyze, plan, problem solve, prepare, and if all else fails, I distract myself. 

My stomach clenches with uncertainty.  I feel anxious, tense, angry, my breath catches.  I even feel tears behind my eyes if I stay with feeling vulnerable for very long.  And that’s what it is.  I feel vulnerable.  

What do I expect?  That life is full of certainty????  I know better than that but I still look for it.  Isn’t one of the foundational teachings on impermanence? Someone told me that: ‘Doubt is an unpleasant condition…but certainty is absurd!”

If I look at the world situation, there is definitely no certainty.  How can it be any other way?  How much can we really count on?  The sun rising in the east, setting in the west?  Ok, that’s two.  What else? Oh right, taxes?

What makes it so hard to be in that uncertain place?   We’re certainly hardwired to fear the unknown.  The world is uncertain and we fear it. We’re so vulnerable physically, emotionally, psychologically, so it’s not surprising that we don’t like uncertainty.  We’d rather stay with the familiar even when it causes us pain.

There is another side to uncertainty besides fear and vulnerability and that is the possibilities that open to us in that moment of uncertainty.  They can hold growth, new ideas, potential.  So I need to remind myself of both sides: the fear and vulnerability and the potential, the possibilities, the unexpected consequences that are positive.  There is freedom in not knowing; a chance to be curious.  

So then what? How can our practice help us?

Our practice encourages curiosity with our experience. It takes practice to stay curious with uncertainty. Each time I sit with it I’m hoping I’m building tolerance for that uncomfortable mind state.  

I’m trying to get comfortable with saying ‘I don’t know’ more often.  When I ask my teacher a question and she say’s ‘I don’t know’ I’m surprised. What do you mean, you don’t know?  You’re the teacher!  But when I say ‘I don’t know’ and I feel ok about it, there’s a lightness in me, a sense of freedom.  Now I can look for an answer or answers or a direction or directions or just be more relaxed about ‘not knowing’.

Stephen Batchelor said: Celebrate uncertainty! This is a part of practice.  Avoid settling for answers. Keep yourself open to other ideas. What is it like to be uncertain?  How do you hold uncertainty?  Nothing is certain—ideas, beliefs, practices, dogma.  Teachers sound certain sometimes—(and he says) beware.  The real challenge is to see how we embody this uncertainty and how to open ourselves up to more than what is professed.  Certainty leads to rigidity and lifelessness.  Too much uncertainty can lead to chaos.  How do we hold uncertainty within our ethics and values?

We can’t change the nature of living in an uncertain world.  Things will always be uncertain.  Can we develop some comfort with things being that way? Can we become more familiar with it? Can we adapt to uncertainty?  In not knowing?  Can we have a greater understanding of my vulnerability; and feel some compassion for me who is that vulnerable person.  

So how are you with uncertainty?

What it all comes down to is: Does it really matter?  Uncertainty is still there.

I’d like to leave you with a poem by Tammy Armstrong.  I like it because it’s kind of silly and fun. This is for the person who likes certainty.

Can you count the times you’ve crossed me
And divide it by the times you disrespected me
Then multiply that by the times you hurt me
And come up with a figure?

Relatively speaking it’s a simple equation
Resulting in a drastic re-calculation 
Of the outcome.

Can you give me the square root of the problem
That started this whole conundrum in the first place.

And tally up the results and give me a statistical
Analysis comparing the amount of times you
Left me wondering why I’m on this earth
Or if I’m not worthy of trust?

I’m sure the answer would be skewed resulting
In the necessity to rethink the control group.

I believe the right course of action would be to
Figure out the base and the height of the
Love triangle.  You thought I wouldn’t notice,
And in case you didn’t know
It, I’m pretty good at trigonometry.

Cause for me, who came into
This problem with total devotion
And a faithful trust, this doesn’t

Add up.

Photo by he zhu on Unsplash

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About Erica Dutton

Erica Dutton is an experienced teacher and practitioner of Reflective Meditation. She has dedicated herself to sharing this practice so others can succeed in meditation, see their experience as important and valuable, and realize the benefits.


  1. Hey Erica- really enjoyed your post. You write so well in a naturally flowing way. And you add just the right amount of personal experience and the way you reveal it is so human and relatable.

  2. Dianne Coons ..Canada

    Yes, Erica. Your writing is so easy to relate to, so thoughtful and leaves me reflecting.
    So good to hear from you, here in Canada.
    Have a lot of uncertainty in my life these days. Will look forward to hearing more and reading more of your wisdom .

  3. Great to hear from you Erica. Hope you enjoyed your Winter. We snowbirded down in Florida and talk about uncertainty and being vulnerable…going with the flow takes courage vs. staying isolated within familiar walls with the heat on. Thank you for sharing your adventures in breathing in the moment during all of it. Happy Spring.

    • Thanks for keeping in touch. Yes, we loved being in Florida. We got back just in time for the 1st of the heavy wet snowfalls. Had some damage to our trees but not terrible. I think we’ll see more changes in weather and uncertainty will be with us in big ways in the future. Thank heavens for my meditation practice.

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