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By Katie Marshall
I am not 100% certain of anything.
I do not know if I will leave the office today and get into a car accident. I do not know that when I go to my next meeting, instead of sitting through a PowerPoint, there won’t be a basket of puppies that need to be played with and cuddled for the rest of the day. I have no idea if I will win the lottery next Thursday or if I will land my dream job two weeks from now. I don’t. I really don’t.
I heard once that only the idiot is certain. This idea brings me peace.
I could see how it would seem negative, even nihilistic. You may be thinking that I’m not certain whether the people in my life love me and how that might make me feel lonely. You may be thinking that because I can’t say for sure whether I’ll change the world for the better that I do not have strong aspirations. If I don’t know for sure that I will “Make It” then what was the point of buying The Secret off of Amazon?
We value certainty. Certainty keeps us safe. We promise each other forever, in relationships and friendships, but forever is neither a real nor tangible thing. You can’t give it to someone. You can’t receive it.
“Everything compressed is ephemeral,” said the Buddha in the first part of his last words, which is to say that everything in this beautiful life of ours comes to an end eventually.
Lastly, he said, “Desperately seek salvation.”
Part of how I seek my salvation is accepting that there is so much out there that I do not know for certain. There are things that have no guarantee, no matter how hard I work, no matter how much energy I put into creating them or how much time I spend meditating, or more likely, worrying. I can’t guarantee that because I got my flu shot, I won’t get sick this season. The odds are better, and my past experiences point toward my health, but I’m not certain.
I base a lot of my future predictions on my past. I believe that certain roads will congest at certain times of day because they were full of traffic in the past. I believe that a friend loves me because their actions align with those of others who said they loved me before. We use our past as a map to the future. While reflection is vital to future success and inward examination of who you are is necessary to become who you want to be, this only really tells you how you operate now, in this moment, without any outside influence. It cannot determine who you will become.
Past performance only predicts future performance in the same role. If I procrastinated my homework and rushed it at the last minute as a student in high school, I will most likely operate the same way as a student in college (this one I can confirm as true, at least for me). However, the fact that I was an average soccer player has no impact on how I operate as a Martial Artist because they are two different roles in different worlds. Analyzing our future based on our past provides a very low reading on what might actually happen. What could happen is based entirely on uncertainty.
Anything can happen. The possibilities are endless.
Let’s do an experiment. For 20 seconds, list out everything that could happen to you this evening.
Okay, so maybe there were things like car accidents, dinner burning, your house being broken into. It would make sense if you went to the negative side of things first. Humans are survival creatures, and one of the best ways to survive is to predict and protect yourself from possible causes of harm. Then maybe you went to pretty cool things, like your favorite movie coming on at just the right time, you’re crush asking you to drinks, your boss acknowledging your good work with a bonus, raise, or standing desk. You’re warming up. Then, in your last five seconds, maybe you let yourself think big – winning the lottery, finding a free plane voucher to anywhere in the world, being picked up by an agency at the grocery store to be a model. Time’s up, and you’ve run the gamut: bad things to protect yourself from, pretty good things that have happened to you or a friend, and wildly amazing things that you’ve seen on television or heard about through social media or books.
The value of uncertainty is that there are things that could happen that you literally cannot fathom. There are things that could happen to you that you have never even dreamed of. The universe is a playful thing and life is a beautiful mystery. Think about all the times you have been taken by surprise in either heartbreaking or heart-mending ways. You didn’t even see them coming.
What an amazing thing to think.
You can assume that life will continue in a certain way because it did in the past. You can read people and predict exactly how they will behave because you’ve seen the type or you’ve heard stories or you’ve met their friends. Sometimes, you’ll be right. But sometimes, you’ll be wrong. And that is the true magic of living. You might know some things. But you do not know everything. You don’t even know everything about the things you know well.
What could happen when you allow yourself to accept that you do not know everything? How might your life change if you accepted that there are things you do not know, and the knowing of which can change everything? Who could you be if you did not owe anything to the person you were?
Allow yourself to be uncertain. Let the energy of knowing that there are amazing consequences to every action, small, big, and everywhere in between flow through you.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” We have no way to calculate exactly what happens next. But we do know that there is something ahead; the experiencing of which can change everything.