Make yourself at home with doubt and ambiguity
Self-knowledge is empowering. The discovery of how our mind works can set us free. It won’t solve all our problems in a snap, but the awareness of how we are and tend to be can bring a sense of clarity and space—to breathe, to choose, to be free.
Over three decades of life in this body-mind. (When you put it that way, it sounds like a puny amount of time. Humbling.) I am still learning so much about what it means to be here, what it’s like to be navigating it all through the instrument of this mind and this body, and how I want to spend this mysterious existence.
Although I can never know for sure, it seems we all have different minds and filters as we move through the world. Getting to know the colour and texture and flavour of my own filter—through contemplation, meditation, therapy, etc.—has been a path to understanding that has softened the edges of this life. (And this softening will continue until, I suspect, and I hope, for the rest of my life—each hour and day and year allowing me to flow with more harmony and ease through the winds and waters.)
Mine is a mind that is not easily contented. It hasn’t historically come naturally to me to relax and have fun, or to see the bright side. Mine is a mind that is always on the lookout for trouble—is anticipating all possible outcomes, especially the bad ones. My mind overthinks and overcomplicates. It tends to be anxious. It questions and doubts everything. Sometimes, it hurts.
I could sit and envy the minds of others (and I have). (There are rumours of people who don’t overthink, who go with the flow, and are easily satisfied, though I have met few of them.) Instead, I am deciding to appreciate the gifts that come with a mind like mine: constantly seeking possibilities, asking how I can make this the best possible life, designing rich experiences and reaching out for deeper connections.
As I grow older, I clumsily inch toward more acceptance. Anxiety will always be a familiar companion. As will doubt. (So much doubt!) I will always be questioning my decisions, my path. Ambiguity will be a life-long friend.
The key is, viewing them as friendly companions, who really want to keep me safe and want me to live life to the fullest. They are not necessarily a problem. And when they arise, I don’t have to see it as a sign of anything being wrong, or an indication to move to a new city, or change jobs, or walk away from a relationship. (I’ll know when it’s time to take any of these actions. It won’t be because of a passing feeling or thought.)
The secret is knowing myself, the tendencies of my mind, noticing the familiar flavours of doubt (or fill-in-blank mental content that brings you discontent), and allowing them to be, and to pass.
Maybe even coming to recognize the voices (not my voices, not me, or mine—just voices, coming and going on their own) and giggling affectionately and finding comedy in their familiar refrain (“classic Parisa”). Our own inside joke.
We can practice allowing doubt and the questions to arise, without the need for immediate answers or action. We can become more comfortable with uncertainty, and free ourselves from the grip of thoughts and feelings.
We can practice trust.
The poet and writer Rilke tried to teach us long ago:
“…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."
He goes on to say,
“Your doubt may become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become critical. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perplexed and embarrassed perhaps, or perhaps rebellious. But don’t give in, insist on arguments and act this way, watchful and consistent, every single time, and the day will arrive when from a destroyer it will become one of your best workers — perhaps the cleverest of all that are building at your life.”
Thank you to all the teachers that have come before us, and bothered to share their insights. May we listen. May we be free.