Uncertainty, Not Knowing and Anxiety - August 2018

Our brains are designed to "figure things out."  Our hearts beat blood. Our lungs take in oxygen. Our brains "figure." But what if you just can't know?  Like there's no way to figure something out?  Maybe it's something you might know in the future, but not now. And what if it's something really big and life-changing?  Like if you got into med school, or if the surgery to remove your father's brain tumor will be successful, or if your wife is pregnant after months of trying? You just have to wait.  Excrutiating! 

So what do you do.... What to do, to do, to do...  I can even feel a little impatience and nervous energy arising just writing this sentence! A few years ago, my dad had some strange physical symptoms that he went to the doctor for. He never goes to the doctor. They must've been bad.  The first doctor said, "Let's get an MRI to see what's in your gut.  Something's not right."  The MRI showed a lump. Surgery was immediately scheduled.  At this point, I FREAKED OUT.  

Interestingly, my mom was super "in-the-moment."  Taking it one step at a time. I, on the other hand, having been meditating for over a decade, immediately jumped to, "Will I have to move home to help care for him?" "What have I not said that I wish I had?"  "What am I going to do without my dad?"  The what-if's were excrutiating and intrusive. I had a hard time concentrating on anything and was overwhelmed by powerlessness. 

We've all been in this situation at some point, and some of us grapple with much worse.  Where is the peace and solace?  I think in my best moments, for me in this situation and in others, it's where it's always been - in clear, unwavering acceptance of the moment as it is.  I've found that THINKING always makes my anxiety and fear worse.  Not knowing what you're dealing with means you really can't plan ahead.  So planning to move home, or imagining life without my dad - thinking and planning and imagining -  which our brains do so naturally, is the exact wrong thing to do when you don't really know what's going on. I spent so much time unnecessarily (and unintentionally) acting as if my dad were already gone, even if only in my head. I caused myself so much unecessary suffering. If my dad had cancer, and it was inoperable, then I was going to be devastated and grief-stricken no matter how much my brain rehearsed this possbility.  There is no way to avoid these painful emotions. Which is, by the way, exactly what our well-intentioned, but slightly one-trick-pony minds are trying to do.

But, we can say, "Thank you, Brain, you dear friend, you.  But right now I need you to go on home so I can spend some time with Body."  And this is what I've found - moving toward the immediate sensations of panic, terror, uncertainty, and frustration as they show up moment to moment is ironically where solace, even if only momentarily, resides.  It does not change any circumstance on the outside.  But you couldn't change that anyway!  You are completely powerless in these moments of not knowing what's going to happen.  So the best anyone can do is to let go into that, and just feel, without thinking, what you feel. 

I felt waves of grief, at times tension and edginess, tears and the pit of fear in my stomach.  I had to sit in my car before going into work, or meeting a friend for dinner, and cry.  Then it was over and I could attend to whatever was actually happening in that moment.  I could even call my dad, who was in fact at that moment, still alive and feeling relatively well.  If I let my mind run away with me, and lead me into "unreal" possible future worlds, the emotions amplify exponentially. 

It absolutely and utterly sucks to not know. To not know if something bad is going to happen. Or to not know if something good is going to happen, and to have to suffer the pain of wanting so bad, and having no control over whether what you want with all your being is going to happen. Both are horribly hard.  And yet, we can be humbled and stripped of the illusion that we are in control in our little bubble. And I can tell you, life outside the bubble is so much more vivid, beautiful and raw.  Don't think.  Just take a deep breath and dive into the moment, again and again.