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Living in Ambiguity


It has been five weeks since my world came to an end. The world and all that was good and hopeful ceased. Darkness fell and life as I knew it ended.

That was how I saw it. I stopped eating, quit sleeping for the most part. I lost ten pounds in five days. In my mind's story, all reason for living ended.

This was a lie

We all make up stories as to what is happening in our world. This narrative runs through our heads, reinforcing what we believe, supporting our reasons for being mad, hurt, sad, or hopeful. It's always based on insufficient information then altered by our desires. There is an old computer maxim, garbage in, garbage out. My story was a lie I told myself and it caused me immense pain. It was a pain worse than passing kidney stones and it wouldn't stop. Unlike kidney stones, this was a pain I invited in my front door, served tea and cookies, made a bed, and offered a room. I did this.

The why and cause is irrelevant. The key to this foolishness and woe is it is both common, inane, and sad. Rather than see what was happening I chose to live in a projected future, borrowing pain that didn't exist yet, giving it full permission to bloom in the present and take over my life.

Don't get me wrong, something did happen. The important thing, lost at the time, was I allowed it to generate a world of my own making, where I was the poor protagonist beset by horrors I couldn't cope with. In retrospect I can find it humorous yet still feel compassion for the person I was.

How did this happen? Why?

In various ways this happens to us all at some point in time. The reasons for our collapsing world differs: divorce; bankruptcy; a breakup; death of a loved one; getting an F on our mid-term; a terminal illness; being cheated on; getting fired; the reasons we use are endless but they all have one thing in common, how we are dealing with it. No matter the issue, our focus narrows until the only thing in the viewfinder is pain and our world is dying. If this were the all of it, it wouldn't be as bad as it seems. It would not last long.

Our ability to convert a problem into something truly massive is masterful. We do this through the stories we tell ourselves. The little voice enables us to walk through how horrible this was and project it into the future, walking through it over and over, reliving the pain each time. We borrow suffering from both the past and the future, project it as a certainty, then wallow in it, running through it endlessly.

The initial incident was the prick of a thorn. The narrative we keep repeating is the subsequent infection. What is hard to accept, as well as do, is to ask the infection to leave. We let it in. We can tell it to go.

One of the most important aspects of Buddhism is accepting what is true. Our projected possibilities are only that, possibilities, yet I used mine to remain in my own exquisitely constructed hell. Each time I'd get a bit of good news, something showing things were not quite as bad as I'd seen or thought, a new yarn would arise constructing the worst possible future and then I would suffer based on this as if it were true and in the here and now.

Odd how we can allow our fear to create a complete, fictional world then choose to go live there just so we can support the reason for our misery.

Why? Why would this possibly be something humans do to themselves?

We don't like the unknown. When something bad happens we fear and hate ambiguity and the multiplicity of possibilities the future offers. The fear urges us to construct a narrative of what is to come and why this happened. Whether our tale is good or bad is irrelevant. If we pick a rosy future, pain will ensue when reality doesn't end up matching our fantasy. When bad, we get to create a mini-hell to live in prior to any future arriving. We do this all because we cannot handle not knowing. We are not being able to accept the uncertainty of what the future holds or what happened in the past. We can't simply live in the present. We feel it is easier to live in a hell than be in the present uncertainty.

We do the same things concerning blame. Our narratives skew what happened through a lens showing how right or wrong we are in whatever occurred. We could feel completely wronged, with some 'other' responsible for our pain. We could feel completely guilty in the incident, making ourselves the shameful person who caused this. These Right and Wrongs are absolutes giving us some certainty in a world where gray predominates. All events are viewed through the perspective of our desires and past experiences. Right and Wrong are never completely true. They are tales we tell ourselves so we can believe our feet are on solid ground.

As a practicing Buddhist, I meditate. My meditation has increased since 'my life fell apart', and I've done a lot of introspection as to what is really true, why I cannot accept what I know to be true, and why I keep finding myself running the tales of future sorrows through my mind.

Today, at least for a time, I am able to accept it all. I am here in this joyous uncertainty. I have no idea what the future will bring and am completely at peace with no longer having my feet on solid ground.

This took time. I had to open myself to my pain. I started by opening myself to everyone's pain and, in so doing, opening my heart to my own. Accepting my own pain was difficult. We learn from an early age to avoid pain. The overwhelming desire is to run away from it, to construct a tale about the pain, to make it someone else's fault, or absorb all the blame, anything but to accept the pain as our own.

Putting it into the context of everyone's pain helps. Suddenly my view isn't the narrow focus of just my problems, but the pain of people everywhere. There are people dying of disease, war, starvation, and my pain is only one little part of that. Once that happened, I could feel compassion for everyone, including myself.

Once I felt compassion for myself, it was easier to see my narrative was only one of many possibilities. I could see the story itself was where my suffering had sprung. I could drop it, as just a passing thought, no longer with any power over me.

This is only a realization of where I am now and it is the first step. I've spent my entire life creating the habits of my mind. They will take time to break. They have to be recognized each and every time they arise. Meditation shows you what your mind does. Slowly, almost glacially slowly, meditation builds on your ability to see. It allows a brief instance or gap as a thought arises to see it for what it is. This perspective allows you to choose not to be the story.

What happens now I do not know.

I am good with that.

The Little Self and the Big Problem