“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear and superstition.” ~ Bernard Becket
If I had to describe my life, it would be with a single word: “fast.” In high school, I was one of the fastest runners who weren’t on the track team. In college, I was always trying to get things done as fast as possible – usually homework. After I graduated, I was hired as a newspaper reporter covering crime, court, and fire. It was nonstop – a house on fire here, a murder there; I rushed to and from.
Then, I moved to Idaho when my wife was offered a new job. Compared to California, Idaho is slow. There wasn’t the same rush. My life stagnated. With three years of professional writing at a newspaper, I assumed I would have a job within a month or two.
“Faith means living with uncertainty – feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark.” ~ Dan Millman
It took me nearly 10 months to find a new, steady job. During that time, I was a ball of pent-up worry and stress, fearing our finances would totally drain. My life was at a complete stop, and I had no control over it. I feared the future, that life was going to continue like this, that I wouldn’t get a job, that I couldn’t provide anything for my wife – who on a teacher’s salary, couldn’t sustain both of us for long. One day about six months in, fed up with how my life was going,
5 Things to Help You Make Peace with Uncertainty
I decided to embrace my new, slow speed and take life as it comes, to live more holistically. Now, I’m going to pass on to you tips of how I slowed down and learned to make peace with uncertainty.
1. Start meditating
If you have ever been to Los Angeles or New York, you have seen the mad rush to get somewhere – often ending in a massive traffic jam. It’s neverending. In Idaho, everything is slower. Sure, they go 80 mph when the speed limit says they can, but they aren’t in a hurry. Being a native Californian, I’m trying to take a page from their book. There’s no sense rushing around when, even in hindsight, it just causes me more stress. Instead, I take a few minutes out of my day to meditate. It doesn’t take long – just five or 10 minutes. Now that we’ve moved into our house, I like to sit near a window facing the mountains, relax, and let my mind go blank.
I’m a huge nerd. I use the Litany of Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune as my mantra: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
I have a fear of failure and a fear of uncertainty. With rejection after rejection and no actual job prospects on the horizon, life was a waking nightmare. I realized that there’s no sense in those fears – what will happen, will happen. I have very little effect on what happens in the long run. After so many job rejection letters filling my real and virtual inboxes, and so much time passing without a steady income, I learned to simply let go of the fear. Now that I have a job, I can take a few minutes at my desk to relax, repeat the mantra, and make peace with uncertainty.
2. Flowing water soothes the mind
Speaking of stress, one of the things I discovered while I had no job was the sound of a small waterfall or flowing water can ease your mind. It suddenly occurred to me why I loved living on the beach. While I was in college in Monterey for two years, I could see the beach from my dorm room. I could be on the beach, listening to the waves, within 10 minutes of even thinking about it. I’m going to replicate this by buying a small water feature for my desk at home. After a hard day at work, I can sit at my desk and relax, flex my creative muscles while the calming sound of water washes the workday troubles away.
3. Eat breakfast almost every morning
I hate breakfast. I always forget – I forgot to eat the muffin I planned to eat earlier – and it takes time out of my morning. Time I could instead use to finish getting dressed or start writing. All through college and three years working at a newspaper, I could count the number of times I ate breakfast each month on one hand. Now, I try to start my day with something healthy, something that will give me energy for the day ahead. Plus, eating gives me a chance to focus on the food itself, the motion of chewing, the taste, the texture of what I’m eating. It’s surprisingly calming and helps to bring me in the moment, to ready myself for the day.
4. Stones and gems
I tend to err on the side of science, but sometimes I go with a different mantra: “It can’t hurt.” My grandparents, especially since they retired, focused on art. While both painted, my grandfather used to make jewelry, primarily with turquoise, until his hands simply wouldn’t let me. He made his own bolo tie with a turquoise centerpiece and sent me a watch band with turquoise in it. As it turns out, turquoise is said to promote happiness, health and good luck. My grandparents have always been happy people, and despite some recent health problems, are still alive at 92 years old. It can’t hurt to switch out my old metal watch band with the leather one my grandpa studded with turquoise. I can always use happiness, health, and good luck, so why not?
5. Start exercising
With a fast-paced sport, you focus more on your body and the game than whatever else is stressing you. You have to be aware of the field and the other players. The Mayo Clinic calls exercise “meditation in motion.” Exercising releases endorphins, the chemical in your brain that triggers happy emotions. Your anxiety floats away while exercising – or at least pushes you to do more – which is something I desperately needed while searching for a job for the majority of a year. Hopping on an elliptical, I can focus on the cyclic motion of my legs – very much like meditating, or like above, focusing on the motion of chewing food. Or, I can take a walk around the neighborhood with my wife after dinner, with the absolutely incredible Idaho sunsets as a backdrop to our neighborhood sojourn.
Starting to meditate and live a bit more holistically and mindfully reminds me of a famous quote from noted scientist and one of my personal heroes, Carl Sagan. When the Voyager 1 spacecraft took a photo of the Earth in 1990, 3.7 billion miles from home, our planet was barely more than a tenth of a pixel in size. “Look again at that dot,” he said. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” The quote goes one, but it’s basically every person, good or bad, happy or sad, lives on that “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Whenever I feel the crushing weight of extreme stress, I remember Sagan’s words. It makes me feel incredibly small but in a good way. If I’m small compared to the universe, then my problems and worries are small. I can start letting go of the little things and stop being a nervous ball of energy, worry, stress, and fear.
“There will be very few occasions when you are absolutely certain about anything. You will consistently be called upon to make decisions with limited information. That being the case, your goal should not be to eliminate uncertainty. Instead, you must develop the art of being clear in the face of uncertainty.” ~ Andy Stanley