Friday, April 20, 2012

Embracing Uncertainty

Chinese symbols for uncertainty (yahoo image).

In San Miguel I  browsed through the old books left behind by guests at the Jardin de Don Quijote B&B.  I read a couple of well-worn mysteries and then, at the bottom of the pile, saw a self-help book that jumped out at me: “Embracing Uncertainty” (2003) by Susan Jeffers.  

Ah, just what I need.  I liked the title.  "Embracing uncertainty” was the essence of my Peace Corps experience.  PC friends joked that “we were in the dark for two years.”   We were in a foreign country whose language was difficult; I didn’t understand what was going on most of the time; I was uncertain all the time.  I was invited to meetings and events at the last minute, then sat through them not knowing what they were about.  I spent many a meal trying to understand the social flow of strange words, and then just giving up.  I kept going, one day at a time; accomplished some things, plunged ahead.  I was beyond my comfort zone, and the challenges were abundant and difficult. But I did it, we did it, me and the almost 50 others in my Ukraine group 36.  The sense of achievement in the embrace of uncertainty was earned!

So the book’s title interested me.  Unfortunately, I can’t say as much for the book itself, which focuses on letting go, living in the now, accepting life as it happens, accepting death when it happens. It’s a lot of words for the wisdom readily available through any 12-step program.

Jeffers ends with discussion of embracing ‘the ultimate uncertainty,’ which is death.  She talks about the spiritual passage of the soul departing the body, reaching toward a radiant light.

I’m a glutton for this kind of discussion because I want to believe my brother’s soul is nearby, and only his body is gone.  But I still don’t know, and this rather pedestrian book didn’t convince me. 

However, I did like a quote Jeffers used to illustrate the so-called “spiritual passage.”  A friend asked John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the US, just a few days before he died, how he was doing.  Adams replied:

“John Quincy Adams is well, but the house in which he lives at the present time is becoming dilapidated.  It’s tottering on its foundations.  Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are shattered and tremble with every wind.  I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it pretty soon.  But he, himself, is quite well, thank you.”

It’s a comforting way to view death.  It’s how my brother talked about it: a moving out and a moving on.  I have my doubts, but the idea of “embracing uncertainty” resonates.  In real time, in the now, it’s a great challenge and an equally great opportunity, for adventure and spiritual growth if nothing else.  Would we be where we are today if we hadn't embraced uncertainty? 
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