Patience is not learned in safety. – Pema Chodron
I remember when I first came across the word ‘equanimity’. I was a little bamboozled by the concept, despite having worked in the self-help field for 6 years.
The term ‘equanimity’ can be described as being okay with things the way they are. On the surface, this appears to be a simple concept but as I was to discover, it’s far more difficult to put into practise.
To my dismay, each and every one of these philosophies had one thing in common; they failed to make me feel safe. How I envied those who had found a path that they absolutely believed would protect them from insecurity and suffering.
Life Doesn’t Owe Us Anything
Most of us spend our whole lives dancing around the fact that the only thing we can be certain of is death and taxes.
We grasp and tangle with our existence, changing and rearranging our circumstances, clinging for dear life to the illusion that we have some control over our lives.
We push away uncertainty as if it a cruel joke that is only supposed to be played on other people when Mother Nature’s only promise to us is that everything changes.
The unpredictability of life isn’t the problem of course. It’s the fact that we refuse to accept it. We grasp at pleasant experiences and feel cheated when bad things happen to us or those we love. Most of all we believe something is ‘wrong’ when uncertainty knocks at our door.
The Worldly Winds of Change
The need to feel safe is a deeply conditioned response that is embedded in our DNA. It’s a survival instinct and it’s impossible to avoid.
It’s even more confusing because our consumer society brainwashes us to believe that we absolutely can have complete control over our lives, provided we buy this or that product.
The problem with this concept is that when life actually does throw us a curve ball we have no idea how to deal with it.
When we see others dealing with loss, pain and tragedy we somehow kid ourselves that we are different; that these things only happen to other people that we don’t know.
Invite the Dragon In
What if instead of working tirelessly to hold onto something when there is nothing to hold onto, we could learn to surf the waves of life?
Instead of trying to fix our environment and make unpleasant feelings ’go away’, we could instead lean into those feelings of vulnerability with the knowledge that we’re not alone, that this is the human condition, and that eventually, all feelings (both good and bad) pass.
Uncertainty is like a dragon. The more you try to push it away the hotter the fire it breathes at you. So what if the next time your dragon comes knocking at your door, instead of shutting the curtains and barricading the doors, you could instead invite it in?
Say ‘Welcome, uncertainty! Come in and make yourself at home’. When you do this you weaken the dragon’s power. The unpleasant emotions have no fuel to feed off and eventually they subside on their own.
Time To Pay The Piper
Several years ago one of the key advertising strategies that I use to get clients was temporarily suspended. I relied on this platform for 95% of my business so being without it crippled me in a big way.
Immediately I went into panic mode, imagining all kinds of disastrous scenarios and ultimately envisioning myself as jobless, homeless and having lost everything that was important to me. I was so far in an imagined future that I didn’t know if I would ever wake up from this dream.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep for a week. All the material I had read, all the talks I had listened to and all of my so-called knowledge about equanimity, mindfulness and ‘being in the now’ flew right out the window along with my imagined monthly earnings.
Worse still, these were concepts and strategies that I had taught my clients! I felt like a complete fraud. At that point I knew I had two choices. I could fall in a heap or I could start practising what I preached.
The first step was to force me to get out of the future and come right back to the present moment. Each time I let my mind drag me off into another horror story about my bleak and lifeless future, I brought myself back to the present by saying:
I have clients booked in this week and next week;
There will be food on the table tonight;
I have a roof over my head;
I am safe right now
The message I was giving myself was not a platitude or a weak attempt at an affirmation. I wasn’t saying ‘everything will be okay’. The subconscious mind is too smart for that. When we say ‘everything will be okay, our subconscious says ‘yeah …..right’.
On the contrary, my message to myself was: ‘everything is okay right now’. And truth be told, it was. It really was.
In the fullness of time, the suspension was lifted and, although my business took a wobble, everything eventually returned to normal. That experience, while harrowing and incredibly difficult, taught me two things:
I can handle unpleasant emotions and come out the other end;
Hardship is one of the greatest teachers.
I took away several valuable lessons from that experience. Negative experiences come into your life to teach you something about yourself. Until you learn that lesson you will be presented with it over and over again.
How to Navigate Fear and Uncertainty
You can’t avoid those primal feelings of fear and vulnerability. Everybody experiences them and no-one is immune (no matter what you read).
What can you do is hold those feelings up to the light and ask yourself ‘do I really need to feel this way, or is my primal reptilian brain working in overdrive? ‘
These are my favourite tips for making friends with your fear:
Get out of the future, Stop believing the stories your mind is telling you. Ask yourself ‘is that really true’? Thoughts are not real, but when we’re afraid we treat them as though they are;
Stop trying to push the feelings of vulnerability away or to think your way out of the situation. Sometimes there’s nothing to be done but to just wait. Allow yourself to feel those feelings without making them wrong;
Say the words ‘Everything is okay right now’. This takes you out of the future and back to the present moment. It wakes you up from the trance of fear that has been created by your monkey-mind;
Be compassionate with yourself. Say: ‘This is really hard. I’m feeling really unsafe right now. I’m going to take care of myself during this difficult moment.’
Uncertainty is a fact of life. It is neither good nor bad; it just is. But you can learn to work it by refusing to believe the stories your mind is telling you.
Let it be okay that you don’t know what is going to happen next. As you accept the way things are you automatically free up space in your mind to find a solution to your problem if there is one to be found.
If a solution can’t be found you can trust that no matter what happens you will deal with it in a powerful and positive way.