Have you ever experienced a time in your life when a lot of unknowns kept popping up? New opportunities presenting themselves is exciting, but that doesn’t change this very real fact:
The unknown, for many, is not something we enjoy.
But it’s an exciting thing, right? Mystery, magic, possibility — all the buzz words saturating our Instagram feeds. We should be having fun entertaining all these new, enticing scenarios.
This is what I try to tell myself, when really all I want to do when encountering uncontrollable unknowns is curl up in the fetal position.
I like knowing. I like certainty. I like a sure thing. Much to my chagrin, the older I get the more I realize certainty doesn’t exist. Certainty is an illusion. The only constant thing in this life is change.
As time passes, I more willingly admit, I really don’t know anything. I wanted to share a memory that forever opened my eyes to this new state of awareness.
Back in my twenties I was training for my first marathon. At the time, I was studying in Italy. This meant the Tuscan countryside was my training ground (gross, I know). I would run through vineyards encircled by olive and cypress trees. I’d pass stunning Roman architecture, dodge little fiats and make pit stops in cafés, ordering cups of water with my very sad attempts at Italian.
One day, I was on a long training run. It felt extra long because, as romantic as the countryside was, it was also very hilly. I was hoofing it up a rather large hill, panting, sweating, and questioning my life choice to run long distances instead of getting blissfully chubby in a Florentine cafe.
But that view!
A stunning view of the entire city of Florence lay at the top of that hill. The Duomo was glistening in the sun. The Arno river was weaving its way through an unforgettable, breathtaking scene. The hillsides were a soft, hazy green and gold. A gentle wave of cool autumnal air was rolling down the hill, settling into the valley.
I felt like I should feel a huge swell of emotion, a wave of inspiration, a surge of insight. But I didn’t. This unnerved me. So I tried to force the emotion. I tried to project joy, excitement, some kind of grand sensation into the moment. Something worthy of its grandeur. The lack of results from these efforts was frustration.
"The older I get the more I realize certainty doesn’t exist."
(Photo by Vladislav Babienko)
In retrospect, I understand why. Although exciting, it was a very uncertain time in my life. My university career was about to end. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Who I was kept changing everyday as I discovered new things about myself during my travels. All the possibilities on the horizon weren’t a comfort. They were an overwhelming, terrifying swell of the unknown.
So I stopped trying to force the feeling. I stood still, looking out at that life changing view and spoke into the wind,
“I don’t know.”
That felt good. So I yelled it,
“I DON’T KNOW!!!”
That felt even better.
I probably yelled it a good four or five times, out into the Universe, to no one in particular. I didn’t know how I felt. I didn’t know what to expect over the next few years. I didn’t even fully know myself in my tumultuous twenties. Who really does?
Over the next decade my relationship with the unknown slowly changed. I became more accepting of it. I learned to enjoy how it allowed me to ask questions. I learned to love the space these three words created for mystery and ambiguity.
One of my favourite yoga teachers, Annie Carpenter, encapsulates this search perfectly in a wonderfully simple quote:
"The great Sadhana is being comfortable in the question."
Sadhana is the daily spiritual practice of finding out who you are and your purpose in this life. Everyday, I am challenged to be okay with the questions, with the unknowns, with the constant flux and changes life brings my way.
And it is a practice.
Saying “I don’t know” isn’t a failing. I believe it is the most freeing phrase in the human language. We let go of the silly burden we put on ourselves to feel like we should know. We now have the chance to go forth, search and find out.
Think of a moment in your day or an aspect of your life where you start to mull over the “what ifs”, the unknowns, the things you don’t understand or wish you could control. Notice when you’ve begun spiraling into assumptions and stop this train of thoughts by saying “I don’t know” aloud. Even more to the point, think of a scenario where you assume you know all the facts and apply the phrase “I don’t know”. It’s an interesting, mind bending, and potentially peace inducing personal practice.
The trick? Learning to sit with the feelings of uncertainty, ambiguity and unsettled sensations that sometimes arise. Not attaching to them. Watching them pass and observing the sense of headspace that usually follows. Embracing the mystery of the unknown.
By being willing to admit we don’t have all the answers – and in fact, can’t truly ever know what’s to come — we place ourselves in a position to receive answers that may very well surprise us. Or maybe not. I don’t know…
(Header image by Artem Kovalev)