Certainty is an illusion. It doesn’t exist.
“What if you have a heart attack and die suddenly? What if both of you die? Are you not scared of your impending death? Doesn’t it worry you when you have so many responsibility and commitments – especially your debt to repay,” asked a member in the audience at my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk recently.
I don’t grudge that question. I have thought about it to myself on several occasions. But I have also learnt that fearing uncertainty is the surest way to invite suffering into your Life. So, I always take the Kamaraj approach of “Agattum Parkalam” – “Let it happen, we will see!”
Certainty is a man-made illusion. Before you were born, where was the certainty that you would be? When you were an infant, where was the certainty that you would be provided for, fed on time, cared and loved? As you grew older you were tricked into this illusion of certainty __ you are sure to have a home, you usually have both parents with you, siblings, education is guaranteed, and you are bound to get a job, earn wages and raise a family! How much more simpler Life would be if only it were to progress in this certain, assured, linear fashion__one thing leading to another with such predictability and precision?
Just to demolish this illusion, and wake up to reality, if you live in any part of urban India, go to a busy traffic intersection closest to you. And after getting over the shock of seeing so many homeless, destitute children begging there, strike up a conversation with any or some of them. You will soon discover how uncertain their lives have been. And continue to be. Maybe some were abandoned by their parents. Maybe some were kidnapped by organized racketeers in the begging syndicate. They live on and off the streets. Abused by people like us who despise their presence and by heartless cops who extort their meager earnings from them. When you understand their Life’s design, you will awaken to the inscrutable, uncertain ways of Life. And when you think about it, you will just be grateful that you were born to your parents and not to theirs __ and there was no way ever you could have been certain of this realization until this moment!
It is also when you are faced with uncertainty for the first time, that you will stop taking Life for granted. A first layoff, a first health crisis, a first relationship break-down, a first financial crisis – that’s really when you begin to realize that perhaps you had read Life differently. That maybe, just maybe, you cannot really be certain about some things in Life.
The truth however is that you can be certain about nothing in Life. The way to deal with uncertainty is to welcome it. Don’t try to wish it away. Because it ain’t going anywhere. It is always here with you. For instance, if you have a good job, enough savings and investments to take care of your retirement, where’s the certainty that your health will be all fine or that your companion still loves you? Of if you have a health complication and have the best doctors treating you, where’s the certainty that you will still survive? Where is the certainty that your family members will live long enough to be with you till your very end? So, don’t try to crave for a Life without uncertainty. If you accept Life as being uncertain, you will find joy in each moment.
So, approach Life with a ‘what is’ than with a ‘what if’. ‘What is’ is a celebration of the moment you are in now and there’s nothing uncertain about that moment. It is happening. So, there can be no fear of it. ‘What if’ is fear-inducing and amplifies what is not yet. It is imaginary; it breeds fear and suffering. Literally, as in that iconic dialogue from Sholay, ‘Jo Darr Gaya, Samjho Marr Gaya’! In the end, it is so very simple: when you embrace uncertainty you will find immense joy and beauty in this totally unpredictable, inscrutable experience called Life!
Detailing a ‘what if’ scenario is a good way to kill anxiety and expunge worry.
Someone I met recently wrote to me about how her husband was unable to cope with unemployment. He is over 50 and lost his job in a lay-off two years ago. His efforts to get a job are not bearing fruit and he’s feeling depressed. The lady said he had shown suicidal tendencies and was undergoing counseling. She requested us to meet the gentleman.
So we met him for coffee last week. He said he was anxious about the fate of his savings, which were slowly getting depleted and he wondered how he would put his only child, who is in high school now, through college. “I am desperate for a job. My income cannot be nil like this. I am at the end of the road. It is scary,” lamented the man.
It is often the fear of, or not knowing, what will happen that drives people to desperation. We are all gripped by this fear at some point or the other. None can escape it. The most effective way to deal with such a fear, with anxiety and insecurity, is to face it.
So, we advised the man that instead of only asking ‘what if’, he must go ahead and answer that question. “For instance,” we told him, “If you are facing uncertainty – meaning, if you fear all your savings going up in smoke – don’t just allow that ‘what will happen to me’ feeling to keep building up within you. Complete the scenario to the last detail – “I will sell my apartment or move to another less-expensive city or whatever…I will survive a few months and then when I am totally broke, I will go live with my parents or brother or sister…and if they won’t have me, I will take up a small-time job and live within my means until I get the break that I will need to rebuild my Life and career.” – And don’t worry about your daughter. Life will take care of her!””
The man seemed unconvinced initially. But he has read my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal. When I drew parallels to our own story and shared how Vaani and I have been coping with uncertainty, and how our children Aashirwad and Aanchal got through college through ‘acts of the Universe’ and the compassion of fellow voyagers, he felt a lot reassured.
Actually, it is not at all difficult to face worst-case scenarios. When the fear of the unknown, yet-to-be-born future arises in us, we play out each detail granularly. Each time it has helped us anchor in equanimity and face the situation stoically. You too can do this. You will be amazed how much you will benefit from such an exercise. For one, you will discover that whatever is the worst case that you imagine, and fear, is not so bad after all. Your detailing that ‘what if’ script will reassure you that you can cope with any impending crisis. You will, over time, also realize that the worst almost always never happens!
Life always, unfailingly, provides you what you need – perhaps not in the form in which you envisioned it, but in the way Life has planned it for you. No need of yours has ever been unmet. And no need of yours will remain unmet either. When you start seeing this magic and beauty in your Life, you will understand that all your anxiety and insecurity is such a waste of your time and energy! To be sure, everything is happening to a plan, Life’s plan – just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean, there isn’t one!
Imagining the worst that can happen is not being defeatist. It is the only way to kill feelings – like fear and anxiety – that may otherwise consume you. Your fears often blind you to your own resilience. Resultantly, you stop believing in your ability to face Life’s innumerable challenges. Looking your fears in the eye may not take any problem situation away. But it will most definitely help prepare you to meet that situation confidently when it arrives. So, perhaps, you do realize now that facing Life is not so ‘mushkil’, difficult, after all!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
Understand that Life has a mind of its own. Its benevolence and creativity is shrouded in its eccentricity. (Aren’t all creative folks a wee bit eccentric?) It is unpredictable and moves is bizarre ways. That’s why all of the world’s wealth is with a chosen few. And a large mass of people__like you and me__are hardworking, ethical climbers with no idea of where the top of this ladder we are on will lead us. A larger mass of people, the strugglers, have no desires than just getting past basic stuff (that which we climbers take for granted) like two meals a day, a home, something to cover themselves with and, possibly a steady source of income or education. There are no answers to why a Sachin Tendulkar should be ordained with boundless abundance and glory while Vinod Kambli should have not got there__though both came from similar backgrounds, trained with the same coach and were equally talented.