Accepting Uncertainty and Groundlessness in an Apocalyptic 2020
September 17, 2020
This year has inspired some SERIOUS content for memes, Facebook articles, SNL skits, and vulnerable conversation. Sometimes (all the time), it feels like we are living our lives in a post-apocalyptic movie. It feels like we’ve seen it all. A global pandemic, raging wild/megafires, air we can’t breathe (inside, outside, or on any side), social/racial justice movements, riots, toilet paper shortages, elections, working/schooling from home, unemployment, and the general crumbling of everything & anything we think we’ve known. Not to mention all the personal struggles: canceled weddings, loss of loved ones, and regular life stuff (flat tires, loneliness, and technical difficulties… to mention a few).
Yeah, 2020 is getting a lot of shade. ALL the hate. “Worst year ever,” we say. But where is the context here?
2020 definitely deserves some of this bashing. It seriously feels like a sick joke that ALL the best holidays are on THE BEST DAYS OF THE WEEK, but we haven’t been able to FULLY enjoy them. Cinco de Mayo on a TUESDAY? Taco Tuesday from home just wasn’t the same as
pounding sipping classy margaritas at the local taco joint. Halloween on a SATURDAY?! How will the kiddos go trick-or-treating? Christmas and New Years Day are on Fridays. Easter was on Sunday (oh wait, it always is). Ugh… It just doesn’t seem FAIR!
Add to it that there’s all this OTHER unfair stuff going on in the world. Racism, educational systems, healthcare systems are all showing their weaknesses. It’s literally being shoved in our face. Like how mom used to shove broccoli in your face. “Eat your veggies, then you can have ice cream for dessert.” NO, I don’t want the yucky broccoli. I just want the good stuff. I just want to have FUN and forget about all this mess. I SCREAM for ice cream. As Veruca Salt
says demands, I want it NOW!
Yet… we can’t do that, can we? We can’t seem to escape these truths being revealed to us. We cannot avoid the grief, anger, and injustice surrounding us.
This year has highlighted how we weren’t ever really put together. We are falling apart and it is painful, raw, and incredibly uncomfortable.
I really feel this brokenness is helping us to see collective truths and challenging our willingness to see things as they are. We are here, experiencing groundlessness of our being.
When it feels like everything we’ve known and understood has been taken away from us, what are we left with?
Well, for one thing… Our whole situation has left us with constant inspiration for memes and TikTok routines. FOR REALS. Memes have been ON POINT this year. Even if I’m not buying into the whole “2020 is the worst year,” I WILL support continued humor:
In all seriousness, this year has been downright WEIRD. I’ve been through a range of emotions this year, beginning with a lot of anger rooted in misunderstanding. At the beginning of COVID-19 and the pandemic, I was instructed to cancel all my patients’ in-person clinic visits unless they were urgent. As a Pediatric Doctor of Physical Therapy, I could not begin to understand what this meant for my patients and families – let alone for myself. I would never have guessed that March would become April, May, June, July, August, September… and nearly October… before things would begin ‘going back to normal.’
The thing is, there is no real normal. Our normal is defined by someone telling us what it is. This brings us comfort because it’s familiar. It keep us at ease.
I think a lot of our discomfort during this uncertainty is that we are losing everything that is familiar. In other words, we are not fearful of what we don’t know. The uncertainty itself is not producing fear. It’s not our questions of “When will this end?” or “Who will win the 2020 election?” that keep us living in fear. Rather, we are fearful of losing everything we already know. On a basic level, we are living in a completely unfamiliar world. We don’t know a world where everyone wears masks, but now that’s what a lot of us are doing. Kids know how to go to school… and now a lot of them can’t do that. College kids party… and they can’t. We’ve lost the ability to live life the way we always have and, because of that, we are also unpacking some really painful stuff. And it’s not fun. It’s actually really yucky and uncomfortable.
The most difficult thing in the world is to listen, to see. We don’t want to see… We don’t want to look, because if we do, we may change…. If you look, you lose control of the life that you are so precariously holding together…
The one thing you need most of all is the readiness to learn something new. The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away. How much are you ready to take? How much of everything you’ve held dear are you ready to have shattered, without running away? How ready are you to think of something unfamiliar?
The first reaction is one of fear. It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known.
Anthony DeMello, ‘Awareness‘
We live in a world that is filled with information, but the thing is… a lot of this is misinformation. A lot of it is there to continue feeding us a narrative that we’ve always just… accepted. We’ve just complied.
What I’ve started to see happening (within me, around me) is less compliance and acceptance of information being fed to us.
I don’t mean the people who DENY reality, but I am talking about the people who seek a greater understanding. People who don’t just listen to a president ramble on and say “oh, he knows what he’s talking about!” People who don’t just look at a justice system and say “eh, it’s been that way for years… let it be!” There are people who have the courage to begin seeing the truth. These are the people who are asking for change, working towards change, and encouraging deeper understanding.
We are always looking for ground to stand on – for security. But what if the ground was never even there? What if it never WILL be? We are bound for constant uncertainty. Perhaps we are too limiting on our minds and our capacity for love, joy, pain, sadness.
Until we learn to accept everything just as it is, without judgement (of self and the world), we will not achieve true awareness or congruence with the world.
We continue to fall. Not just this year in 2020, but in life. Over and over and over again, we fall.
I think the frequency and intensity of falling in 2020 has allowed us to feel the hurt all at once. It’s kept us on the ground long enough that we’ve begun to look at the ground we have been standing on.
It’s as if we’ve spent our entire lives unaware of the ground we are walking on. We’ve been to preoccupied with work, the news/social media, and our personal struggles that we haven’t seen what’s actually going on in the world. Now that the world has begun to crumble around us and affect our personal bubble, we’re being forced to pay closer attention. We haven’t even realized that we’ve been walking on lies. We’ve been told our health, education, freedom, and equality matters. We’ve been told we have all we need, our nation is strong, we can endure all. We’ve believed this. We’ve been walking on an ornate, beautiful rug in a home filled with elaborate decor. Our entire reality has been constructed to distract us and we weren’t even aware.
What do I think happened in 2020? The rug was pulled out from under our feet and we were not left standing. This has not been a successful tablecloth trick like the Pope pulled:
Instead, it’s been a painful, hot mess. We think we’re standing, but then we get knocked down. Kind of like this:
I really feel the narratives being fed to us throughout our lives have worked to distract us from the truth. Even our OWN narratives distract us from our truths. They take us away from love and move us into fear. Now, we are awakening to this trickery.
We may begin seeing the ground beneath our feet is not actually there. It’s been placed there to make us feel a false sense of security.
Is there actually a ground for us to stand on? Is there anything we can be certain of? Many Buddhists and enlightened beings would argue there is NOT. The Sanskrit word “bodhichitta” (meaning “noble or awakened heart”) represents the soft spot in all of us and is representative of our capacity to love. When we connect with our tenderness (bodhichitta), we awaken to the fragility of our existence, our communal suffering, and the compassion & love that connects us all.
A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid.
Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior… we will find the tenderness of bodhichitta in sorrow and in gratitude, behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. In loneliness as well as kindness, we can uncover the soft spot of basic goodness. But bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this ‘I’ who wants to find security – who wants something to hold onto – will finally learn to grow up.
If we find ourselves in doubt that we’re up to being a warrior-in-training, we can contemplate this question: ‘Do I prefer to grow up and related to life directly, or do I choose to lie and die in fear?’
Pema Chödrön, ‘Comfortable with Uncertainty’
There is a resistance to this sense of groundlessness. It looks like anxiety, hope, fear, anger, addiction…
How quickly we wish to spring up from the ground when we fall! We want to brush the dirt off, walk away while cussing the ground for making us fall, judging our clumsiness, or a combination fo the two. Yet… what if we were to stay fallen a little longer? Look at the ground beneath us? Really see it? We may begin to see the cracks more clearly, see where there is room for new growth.
If we allow ourselves to stay fallen for long enough, we may find a new way to stand back up. We begin to accept some of the pain of the fall, the unavoidable suffering. This lets us unlearn our past conditioning. This helps us grow.
We shall stay steadfast in this journey towards a ‘new normal’ and learn to release fear of losing all we know. We NEED to lose what we know in order to move forward. We NEED to see parts of ourselves and the world around us fall apart so it can be built anew.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
Psalms 27:3, NIV
And so… though it’s hard… and the road has been long… I feel we must stay steadfast on our paths. We must move forward despite the loss, fear, and uncertainty of our futures.
We aren’t comfortable with what is, so we lean on hope. We wait for something better to come. We convince ourselves that a different reality must exist.
Yet… this is our reality. This is our situation. Our resistance to the situation is not going to make it go away. Its grip on us will only strengthen.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NIV
We are tired and weary, but our work is not done. We are ready for a new year, but the time has not come.
Hold fast to your freedom. Hold fast to your heart. Hold fast to the love that unites us, not the hate and fear that tears us apart.
We are the light of the world. Let’s be strong, be kind, and be brave as we move forward together.