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Negotiating uncertainty

Master Uman says, “Not knowing is the most intimate.”

Most spiritual traditions that I have rubbed shoulders with have advocated embracing the unknown as part of the mystery, as part of a necessary surrender, as part of understanding the limits of our capacity for control.

Still and all, I admit with some embarrassment that I’ve been trying with very limited success, to nail down the future ever since I realized I might actually have one. I was thirty-six years of age when I found I myself thrown out of Eden, a spiritual community I had lived in for thirteen years, with a suitcase in one hand and a beloved son in the other. The notion of embracing the mystery of the unknown was not that appealing I must admit. Simply terrifying was closer to the truth.

Most parents who love their kids and want the best for them tend to have a notion of the trajectory of a good life. A prescribed sequence, which in Western cultures looks something like; school, higher education, career, retirement with a family merging into the main track at some point, or various points.

For some reason, call it my social dyslexia or stubborn insecurity, I didn’t connect the dots in a way that my parents were able to sign off on. It never quite registered that having a degree in hand was a passport into meaningful sustaining work in the world. To my mind, the degree was my passport to wander the world, not settle down in it.

Instead of additional education and apprenticeship, I ventured east to India where I sat at the feet of higher wisdom, raising my kid in a spiritual community where ‘the moment’ was the queen of measurement. We were encouraged to burn our university degrees, our papers, anything that pulled us back into a life, other than the one immediately before us. I did not in fact do this.

Those early years translated to a postdoc in subjects outside the curriculum of any existing accredited university. But the RIMU (Rajneesh International Meditation University) was no regular university. We were spiritual cowboys. My course of study, which later became the courses I taught, was bioenergetics, rebirthing, encounter groups, body awareness, group dynamics and Tantra.

The shock and dismay of finding myself back in the regular world when our Shangri-La community disbanded, leaving so many of us with no material resources to fall back on as we ventured forth to forge new lives, left an indelible vulnerability. I really got then that ‘living in the moment’ had its serious downsides.

I woke slowly and reluctantly from my trauma freeze state, which morphed into a frenetic work-a-thon which lasted decades. It involved planning and scheming how best to provide the basics of a good, stable and domestic life for myself and my son, quickly.

One of the most vivid memories of that time was a trip to Target on the cusp of moving into our first very own apartment. I spent $247.00 on a set of crockery, cutlery, and a set of sheets. Bless Target, I have had a soft spot for that store ever since, even though you would not do so well these days. I was mortified by how much I had spent and what still was needed to cover rent and food. And who knew that I would remember that exact amount thirty-four years later.

From that time onwards, securing the future became more alive and of value than living the moment. Any material gratifications that fell outside of immediate needs were relegated to deferment or ‘the plan’. Pleasures were of the ‘free variety’. The great Colorado outdoors provided more than enough compensation from the rigors of frugal living.

I considered myself very fortunate, since with time, work and family help, we eventually moved into our very own home. The main floor for us to live in, the lower level to rent, to pay the mortgage. Our lives unfolded. Day to day financial considerations were replaced by week to week, then in time month to month, year to year.

I got habituated to future thinking and planning for a more secure tomorrow. However, all my preparations were based on the planet, economy, social structures, weather patterns and health issues being somewhat stable. It was based on the future being assured. Today none of these assumptions hold weight or merit.

The carefree younger adult I had once been was someone I hardly knew or remembered. She was the one who didn’t worry, the one who wasn’t that concerned as to where the next meal would come from, because it always did. Yet it is her, precisely her, that I need again now.

I need her to guide me, to whisper ‘trust’ in my ear at this time of global uncertainly, at this time of climate crisis, potential social and financial collapse. I need her now at this time of the Coronavirus which has the whole world gripped in panic and fear. I don’t expect her to tell me that all will be well, that Covid-19 will just go away, but she might remind me of the folly of trying to nail down a secure future. It is she who could take me by the hand and say, ‘Hey, we are on the cusp of a dynamic time in earth’s history and maybe the most unsettling time in human history, let’s really pay attention.’ Let’s enjoy what we have, embrace and celebrate it, let’s go with care but loosen our fears since the world as we know it is rapidly altering beyond repair and beyond being a sustainable ecosystem for the likes of us and her other creatures.

Reading books like The Uninhabitable Earth, and others of that ilk, is yet another wake up to the utter unpredictability of what tomorrow may bring. Waking up each morning to the news of what this virus is bringing on a day to day basis is a different kind of waking up. Unlike my personal terror of thirty-four years ago when charting an apparently safe course that was daunting but doable, it’s almost impossible now to prepare for a future about which we know almost nothing except that it will not be as it was. How to prepare inwardly, or outwardly to meet such an unknown future which will destabilize the very ground we all stand and rely upon. How to prepare for a future when we really don’t even know when it’s safe to hug our neighbors and grandchildren again in greeting.

In Jungian work there is a wonderful concept called ‘the transcendent function’. It goes something like this; when faced with two opposite forces or aspects of self, if you sit in the discomfort of the opposing pulls, in the tension of those opposites, a third option may arise which includes both, but is broader than either and doesn’t involve the compromise of either.

My first thirty-six years were spent with little regard beyond the present. The next thirty-four years were spent attempting to build a security for all time so that I would never be that scared again.

Given what is coming down the climate road, the viral path, I can only wish that this last period of my life, however long or short it may be, be a blend which includes both, co-existing in some sort of creative harmony. Show up in the present, (which by necessity contains all past), be alert and attentive to the future. Stay fluid with both. Love and be ever grateful to what is here now, family, friends, trees, flowers, sunshine, animals, hot water, any water, clean sheets, hot meals, food of all kinds, kindness, birds, rain and of course, beauty in all her multitudinous manifestations.

May it be so.