Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Patience in the Face of Uncertainty

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self."   -Aristotle

"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” –Marcel Paghol

There are two forces I am very present to this week. Patience and Uncertainty.
On Patience: I am really developing a whole new muscle of patience right now. I am humbled by how impatient I seem to be about everything! The urgency I have to figure out my life and how it aligns with the rest of the world. My typical response to change in my life is this: “Be Proactive and DO SOMETHING! Otherwise, everything is going to turn out all wrong.” This incites a certain panic within me day to day that motivates but also exhausts me. I have discovered true patience however cannot live under that panicked assumption- so I am learning to embrace a new level of accepting the unknown.
Patience is absolutely a skill and a way of thinking. It is a confidence that life will work out for the best if you are not in control of all the moving parts. Patience is the inclusion of a higher power, bigger forces than you at work. Patience opens a person to new discovery. My favorite quote on patience that I discovered on an English professors door at Olaf several years ago follows:
“...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
–Rainer Maria Wilke
So this encapsulates the act of being patient. But there is another half- what am I waiting on? What should I be looking for?  I am left to ask myself what I am being patient for. Herein enters uncertainty.

On Uncertainty: Uncertainty is not knowing or fathoming what is in store for you. It is realizing a week, month, year from now life could look totally different. It is acknowledging the people, situations, hobbies, career, daily habits all could change and are in flux. The people who are dearest to you might disappear. Those who love you might change. You may lose or gain fortunes. You may have failed or succeeded more. You will think differently, notice different things, and maybe even live in a different place.
I think the easiest and maybe the worst thing to do in this situation is to look backwards. To turn around and say: “That is my past and it was good and comfortable. I should put my hope in that reoccuring.” This I have found just sets me up for totally missing the point. I lose my openness to a plan that is not mine, and become disappointed as the present and future hardly ever match up with my fantasies of the past.
When I discover myself doing this- hoping for things to be where they were, I really need to shake myself. To remember I am committed to following God and the future he has in store for me. To be ok and willing to sit in the face of uncertainty. To Admit to myself: “I currently do not know where the future is leading me.” I can pray for and dream of certain outcomes and futures: such as wanting to have a flourishing career, the opportunity to make the difference in the lives of others, an unwavering romance. I can set goals such as prepping to go to grad school and continue to work hard at the things I am committed to now such as World Bridge. But I start to lose myself as soon as I say: “God, I want the future and I want it this specific way.” And ultimately I have to let go of the certainty that just because I dream and plan does not mean I am in control or have any sense of security in the outcome. And in fact I need to be open to my plan shifting, being affected by forces bigger than myself. I can really only trust and have security in the fact that there is a brighter future ahead of me. Here is a quote I have written in the front of my small journal I carry with me everywhere which speaks to the above:
 “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –Joseph Campbell
So here I am left with the questions of how long am I patient and waiting? How do I balance being proactive and receptive to something new? First is admitting I do not have the answers. Then maybe the appropriate response is that of Active Listening and Open-minded searching. My new approach to patience and uncertainty is something akin to the yoga practice I have partaken in recently. In yoga, as I flow from one posture to the other, the instructor shared that it is not about how someone preforms the final stance, but rather how gracefully they transition from one to the next. Therefore, my new mindset is to ‘flow’ through life in partnership with God. Pausing when necessary, transitioning as gracefully as possible- minimizing the struggle and panic.
Another Yoga lesson unlocks how to approach life with flow, faith and patience. The lesson distinguishes the difference between reacting and responding to life and general circumstances.
Reacting involves a mind-heavy and emotional approach. It is an automatic, volatile and ultimately draining way of approaching events. Reacting is impulsive and often defensive. Reactions are dictated and controlled by what you are reacting to.
Responding involves a confident and centered approach to events. It comes from the deeper self in tune with the world. It is meditative, conscientious and ultimately energy giving. Responding is an independent choice of how to powerfully handle a specific set of circumstances.
So in my commitment of patience and gracefully living into the unknown future, I strive to respond rather than react. I strive to breathe and pray rather than panic. I strive to be open to pleasant surprises, turns in the road and strive to assume as little as possible. I strive to be curious. And most importantly, I strive to keep God close through the process. I will close with a enchanting poem from Rainer which captures for me a richness of the human experience in relation to the inexplicable and unknown.

Fear of the Inexplicable

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
the existence of the individual; the relationship between
one human being and another has also been cramped by it,
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone
that is responsible for human relationships repeating
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident
that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a
place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and
down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous
insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in
Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us.
Rainer Maria Rilke


  1. I am thinking of Shiva Nataraja dancing in the ring of fire; destruction and creation are part of the dance of life. We move forward into the unknown, saying goodbye to many good things as the present unfolds inexorably before us.
    In the midst of uncertainty, the bedrock of an unchanging God of love sustains me. This takes trust, and a belief that the everlasting arms are always underneath, come what may.
    "I will not fear, for You are with me always" (Deuteronomy 31:8).

  2. We all have this idea, deep down, as how our life should be and how it should unfold. And we often find out that God has different plans. We want to trust Him, but our idea of how life should be remains. Surrendering control, the serenity prayer, is so hard but with practice does become easier. We change what we can, we accept what we cannot, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference. Praying for wisdom and strength for you, Kelsie. So fun to have you join us last weekend!