Finding Joy in Times of Groundlessness…

On the brink of 2020, the one thing we can be sure of, is that aside from the countless blessings and the magic moments that lies ahead, there will also be changes, uncertainties and challenges… Sigh…

Obviously, it is normal, even common, for most people to be a bit uncomfortable with uncertainty. Although, according to research, people vary in their ability to tolerate uncertainty. That is, some people are okay with having a lot of uncertainty in their lives, and other people cannot stand even a small amount of uncertainty. If you ever did the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, and you are a “J”, you may understand this a bit better.

I learned a lot about dealing with uncertainty in one of FSIM’s CPD Workshops, presented by Prof Stephen Walker from the University of the Free State: Intolerance of Uncertainty (IOU). As uncertainty is frightening for most of us, we spend all our energy trying to remove or avoid all uncertainty in daily life situations. One thing we often do is to worry. We may even think that worrying is a way of preparing ourselves for the worst – getting us ready for anything that might happen. Worrying is seen as a way of attempting to predict life so that there are no nasty surprises. We believe it is our only strategy for making things in life more certain and more predictable – it helps us believe that we have more control. But, has our worrying ever made anything more certain or more predictable? By worrying, does it change the outcome of what will happen? Isn’t life still as uncertain and unpredictable as it ever was?

Some other behaviors we repeatedly try without success, are seeking excessive reassurance from others when having to make decisions; making long and detailed “to do” lists; double checking e.g. if our loved ones are okay; we procrastinate or try distractions. This can get to be exhausting, time consuming and unsatisfying. And unfortunately, none of these works. Unless we can see the future, we need to learn to accept that we will always be uncertain about some things.

Saki Santorelli, director and professor in Preventative and Behavioral Medicine at the Mindfulness Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, calls these times of uncertainty, “groundlessness”. We are all seeking solid ground. But, needing to be certain about everything can often take the fun out of life. We might miss out on a lot of good opportunities in life simply because of a dislike of uncertainty.

In times of groundlessness, we need to become the inner inventor of our own joy. The groundedness you need is not in the space around you, but in the space within you. Start just here. Tune into your heart. That is where love, wisdom, grace, and compassion reside. With loving attention, feel into what matters most to you. “The true seeker needs to become a pharmacist of bliss”… in the words of Rumi. We need to step out of the worries, overthinking, automatic habits and unhealthy distraction and find enough peace within to learn the wisdom of our inner pharmacist. To do this, we need to acknowledge that we are in such a place, with grace and kindness. As Santorelli puts it, we need “ … a willingness to step into open, unbounded space one moment after the next, dancing at the edge of chaos while catching to the tendency to stray, to revert to old habits, to fill in the open spaces…”

To step into this unbounded space within you, you can do the following mindfulness exercise:

1. Just where you are, become aware of the present moment. Feel your feet touching your shoes, or your body making contact with the chair you sit on, or the bed you are lying on.

2. Then, become aware of your breathing. Notice your bodily sensations as you breathe normally.

3. Next, become aware of all your unsettling, unpleasant feelings. Notice the feelings of frustration, hopelessness, overwhelment or confusion. Just acknowledge them, without judging them or trying to change them. Become aware of your need of certainty. Sit for a while with all the worrying thoughts… all the plans of getting rid of the uncertainty, without reacting on them.

4. As you breathe in, tell yourself: “I am learning to accept that uncertainty is just part of life” As you breathe out, tell yourself: “I am learning to let go of everything that is not mine to carry”…. “uncertainty is part of life”… “letting go”… “it’s part of life”… “let go”…

5. While you are breathing in loving awareness, visualize your need for certainty floating past you like clouds in the sky.

6. Whenever your mind wanders back to needing certainty, because that is what minds do, just notice that with no judgment, and return to your breathing.

7. See if you can become aware of a willingness to trust the journey.

The Team of the Free State Institute for Mindfulness wish you a joyful, mindful 2020!

Mariki Smith (PhD Psychology)

Free State Institute for Mindfulness (FSIM)