Radical Uncertainty

Of all human cravings perhaps the strongest is our craving for certainty. The mind is always planning, contriving, trying to “figures things out” in an attempt create a feeling of certainty. This craving for certainty arises from fear: the fear of being hurt, the fear of being alone, the fear of being helpless or vulnerable. It may seem quite natural to seek a sense certainty in our lives. A sense of certainty gives us the feeling of safety. As children, a certain level of safety and security is needed for healthy psychological development.

Children are inherently vulnerable and dependent so at a very early age we develop a strategy for feeling safe and for getting what we want. We learn to employ this strategy in an attempt to make life as predictable as possible.

This strategy then becomes the core of the personality: the sense of “me.” When identified with this personality we are imprisoned by its strategy… whether it works or not!

When identified with the personality we feel separate and vulnerable and believe that this strategy is needed for our survival. Without this internal map we experience ourselves as helpless and vulnerable. Thus, when identified with the personality we are addicted to the desire for certainty.

And yet uncertainty is the reality of our lives; certainty is an illusion. We live in an uncertain and impermanent universe. We will never succeed in our quest for certainty.

The craving for certainty creates endless suffering. This suffering is fueled by the delusion that certainty is possible. Suffering separates us from the realization our true nature, which is what we most want.

In realizing true nature we become free from suffering. We are free regardless of conditions of apparent certainty or uncertainty; we realize that conditions are not the true cause of suffering or happiness. The experience of suffering or happiness depends primarily upon the way we live our life in each moment.

The practice of radical uncertainty frees us from the addiction to certainty. The practice involves living in the present moment and noticing whenever fear of the future arises. When it does, we open up to the fear; we embrace the experience of uncertainty rather than push it away or distract ourselves. Uncertainty itself is not a problem.

Uncertainty is at the beginning of every new venture. Fear arises when life takes us to a new place--a place that is beyond our present comfort zone; and perhaps even beyond our present sense of self and reality. Old boundaries are challenged or perhaps destroyed. Our world is being radically expanded. Embracing our fear of the unknown can take us to a new and profound experience of freedom.

And yet a pertinent question needs to be considered: “When is fear a signal for me to take action to prevent future problems for myself or others?”

The answer: “If you can take action in the present moment to avoid a future problem then do whatever you can to achieve that end. But, once you have done all that you can do, notice if the fear still remains; if it does then it’s time to engage the practice of radical uncertainty.”

Another aspect of this practice is to notice our assumptions and expectations of the future and to be willing to loosen our mental grip on them--allowing ourselves to live in “not knowing.” Much suffering comes from thwarted expectations; the fewer our expectations the less we suffer!

Impermanence is the nature of our universe and all that’s in it. Impermanence brings uncertainty. Uncertainty can trigger fear. Met unwisely, fear can cause great suffering. Met wisely, it can lead to us great freedom.