We’ve likely all heard the phrase, ‘The only things certain in life are death and taxes.’
And change. Death is itself a type of change. I don’t know about taxes – there may yet come a day when that is no longer a part of our social construct. But we can all count on the constant, ever-shifting ebb and flow of change.
What is it about change that brings up such feelings of uncertainty, even outright fear, in most of us? The unknown, for many of us, is akin to stepping into a dark alley alone at night; there may be all kinds of scary monsters lurking there.
We could even edit the phrase above to get straight to the point:
‘The only thing certain in life is uncertainty.’
So how do we learn to make peace with change and uncertainty in our lives? Can we make friends with the unknown, even welcome it? How do we cultivate trust in the workings of our lives, the Universe, and the unfolding of the present moment?
Once we have cultivated some sense of trust that the Universe – life – has our best interests at heart, we can move into a more comfortable relationship with uncertainty. We do this by noticing and paying attention to the outcomes of change.
Change is not always pleasant, and is often downright painful, but if one looks with eyes of curiosity and a willingness to be surprised, one discovers that there is always some good that comes to us as a result of any leap into the unknown.
It may not be obvious. It may not arrive for what seems like an eternity. It may be as subtle as a growing awareness of one’s strength and ability to weather any storm. But trusting there will always be something of value in every event and circumstance of our lives means we can begin to lean in to uncertainty.
According to Dr. Lissa Rankin, a mind-body medicine physician, we are each somewhere on a spectrum from fear to surrender in our relationship to the unknown, and our journeys through life will take many of us through each of these phases as we evolve and grow.
Where are you on your journey from fear to freedom?
Phase 1: Unconsciously Fearful
We all know people for whom uncertainty is absolutely terrifying. These are the people who remain tightly and safely confined within their very small comfort zone and rarely, if ever, take risks. These individuals aim to carefully construct and control the circumstances and details of their day to day lives, thereby minimizing change and keeping uncertainty at bay. Their fear of the unknown is so deep that they may not even recognize it as the source of their need for control and safety.
How to journey through Phase 1: Notice how much your need for certainty and comfort limits your choices in life. Ask yourself if the self-imposed limits of your comfort zone are actually protecting you, and what you might be missing out on by not taking risks.
Phase 2: Consciously Fearful
This is the phase during which individuals might still be staying well within their comfort zone, rarely taking risks, but they are more aware of their fear of the unknown. The uncertainty of the new and unknown still sparks anxiety and worry, but these people are aware that their fear is holding them back from new adventures and growth.
How to journey through Phase 2: Be kind to yourself as you navigate the new and unknown, instead of berating yourself for not being brave enough. Stay vigilant of the possibilities inherent in taking risks and stretching your comfort zone, even if you feel unable to go there.
Phase 3: On the Uncertainty Fence
In this phase, one may still be quite uncomfortable with uncertainty, but the possibility for growth, adventure, and freedom from fear is becoming more appealing. An individual in this phase may not actively seek out the unknown, but nor does he or she outright avoid it.
How to journey through Phase 3: Try to remain open and curious about everything. Seek comfort and peace in ways that do not create artificial certainty and control, and learn to live with any discomfort you still feel with the unknown. Explore the limits of your comfort zone.
Phase 4: Flirting with Uncertainty
In this phase, a person has had a taste of the excitement and discovery that comes from leaning into uncertainty, and of moving past the artificial boundaries of their comfort zone. The unknown is no longer scary, and in fact it has begun to feel seductive. The person is becoming an adventurer into the unknown, but may on occasion lack discernment, engaging in reckless behavior.
How to journey through Phase 4: Practice discernment when feeling the temptation to leap blindly into the unknown. Approaching uncertainty with discriminating decision-making that is guided by intuition rather than by fear is the way to avoid unnecessary trouble during this phase.
Phase 5: Surrendering to Uncertainty
Surrendering to uncertainty means understanding that there is much we cannot know or fully understand, but trusting that good things can happen when leaning into the unknown. We also understand that painful things may also happen, but that there is meaning and value in all outcomes. During this phase, we remain open to wonder, and we value the freedom from fear over the certainty of false security.
How to journey through Phase 5: Staying in the awareness of Phase 5 requires constant practice, as you will likely find yourself slipping back into the fear of the unknown, especially when it tests the edges of your expanding comfort zone. When you do, simply remind yourself to trust the ever-present and unseen guidance of life and the Universe, and let go.