We are programmed to look for certainty in an uncertain world.
We live in an uncertain world. Much of what lies ahead in life is unpredictable, whether it has to do with a pandemic, the economy, or your money, health, and family. However, we humans crave certainty. We desire a sense of security and control over our lives and wellbeing. We experience tension, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness about the course of our lives as we live in fear and uncertainty. It could drain us emotionally and keep us stuck in a downward spiral of "what-ifs" and worst-case scenarios about what the future might hold.
The degree of uncertainty that each of us can handle in life varies. While some people appear to relish taking chances and leading uncertain lives, others find the arbitrary nature of life to be incredibly upsetting. We all, however, have a limit. If you feel paralyzed by doubt and anxiety, it's important to know that you're not alone; many people feel the same way.
Each of our births was uncertain because none of us chose to be born. Yet, we are born. We did not choose our parents. Neither did they choose us. We did not choose the country, the color, the gender, or the family that we were born into. We did not choose our siblings or many other things in our lives for that matter. It is all a chance.
We drive to work or school on the same roads and in the same cars every day, but we see new people, vehicles, and accidents.We decide to go to work or school, but what happens on the way is not in our control. We decide to go to a restaurant, but who we will meet there is not in our control. We have pleasant circumstances at times and unpleasant ones at others.Life is nothing more than a game of chance, full of surprises.Yet in those limitless probabilities, we crave certainty.
When we are uncertain, we become anxious, frustrated, and scared. Where did all these emotions come from? Swami said fear comes from attachment. Fear comes from the thought of losing the thing that we are attached to. Having been born, we get attached to external things. We become so attached to them that our identity itself, many times, is determined by the things that we are attached to.
Once we are attached, we fear losing them. We confuse attachment with love and start thinking that it is the right thing to do. We want everything that we are attached to be permanent and never change. Because change for us means uncertainty. Yet, we let go of our infancy when we became toddlers. The toddler is lost in adolescence. The adolescent disappeared into a teenage life. Teenage morphed into youth. Youth was lost in adulthood. And adulthood will be lost in old age. Old age will be lost in death.
It is not just us, but things that we all get attached to also change all the time. Some of them change faster than others. But everything is sure to change. Anything that changes is not permanent. By attaching ourselves to the temporary, are we not programming our lives to be a continuous cycle of unhappiness, disappointment, and fear?
Swami says, "Today, we are building the mansion of our life on a water bubble. We do not know at what moment it will burst. Human nature should rest upon the eternal truth, not on a momentary thing like the water bubble. Human life is becoming more and more uncertain today. Adi Sankara described the same point thus: "Oh! Man! Do not take pride in wealth, family, friends, and youthful vigour; time will destroy everything in a trice." Nothing is permanent in this world. Therefore, why should we rely on such impermanent things?""
So, how do we find certainty?Because certitude makes us feel secure. Swami gives a beautiful example. He says. "You must have watched a bird sitting on a branch that waves in the wind. It is unafraid, because it has more confidence in its wings than in the branch; it knows that any moment, it can take to its wings and leave off the perch, the uncertain perch. The branch is the objective world (prakrithi) and the wings are the grace of the Lord. Develop the strength of your wings and sit on any tree. You won't come to harm. But, if you trust the objective world and rely only upon the protection it gives, you fall."
How do we develop this confidence that Swami is talking about? We cannot get this confidence instantly. We need to practice every day and every moment. We have to be patient. Here are a few steps that we can all consider in our spiritual practice:
- Chant the name of the Lord constantly
- Love everything without expecting anything in return
- Open your heart to all possibilities
- Surrender every thought, word, and deed to Him
- Accept every outcome with equanimity and do not resist
- Trust that Swami has your best interest in His heart
- Render selfless service
Want to contribute or discuss this topic in more detail? Please join us in our Study Circle session this week at our center. You can join in person or online using Zoom. To get the Zoom link, please email email@example.com.