Earth-Centered Practices for Everyday Mystics, Healers, & Creatives

How Can I Make Peace with Uncertainty?

in Healing, Spiritual Practice, Tarot

Last Thursday morning, I kept calling my friend who’s been in the hospital for over a month. I usually call her every morning to check in, but that morning she didn’t answer her phone. I thought to myself: She’s in the bathroom. She’s having physical therapy. She’s talking to the doctor. She’s on the other phone. Finally, when it became clear that there was not going to be an answer, our friend Elaine and I decided to go see her and make sure that all was well.

We walked into her room in the nursing home and saw the empty bed, sheets neatly folded on top, and her flowers, altar, and personal items gone. I gasped, then heard Elaine ask someone where our friend was. ICU. She’d been taken to ICU.

Over the next couple of days, I began musing on my experience of uncertainty. My triple-earth-sign nature is quite uncomfortable with it. I like knowing the results of things. I like knowing there’s money in the bank, that I have a clean bill of health from my doctor, that I have a roof over my head and fresh veggies in the larder. I like goals and plans and blueprints. I like thinking that I have some control over my life.

I don’t like living with uncertainty for months and years on end.

And yet, even as I write this, I hear a faint cosmic chuckle somewhere in the background. What is life, if not uncertain?

For two days, we thought we might lose our friend. We are all very grateful she weathered that particular storm. But during those days of uncertainty, I felt flattened. Walking a razor’s edge. Keenly aware of the dance of life and death, and how intertwined the two are. After all, this is familiar terrain. I have been an intimate witness to long illnesses that ended in the death of loved ones more than once.

In between visits to the hospital last week, I went for walks, drank a lot of water, took a lot of naps, and read mystery novels (my drug-of-choice for escapism). And I prayed. Of course I prayed. I sent energy spiraling around her body, wrapping her up like a cocoon. I chanted “Om Tara Tuttare,” feeling the forcefield build. I built altars. I lit candles. I cried.

And yet, equanimity proved to be elusive.

As my friend Gretchen said, “Uncertainty is a soul-stretching mistress.”

Now that the crisis has passed, I’m asking myself: How can I make peace with uncertainty?

In search of answers, I dipped into books by three of my favorite spiritual teachers: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo, The Seven Whispers by Christina Baldwin, and Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron.  After reflecting on their thoughts on the subject, I decided to ask another wise teacher, the Tarot, my question:

What can you teach me, dear Tarot, about how I can make peace with uncertainty?

I turned up three cards.

The Opportunity card is the Nine of Water. 

Tucked inside every uncertain situation is the opportunity to open up to a bigger, deeper experience of life. To connect with Spirit, to feel yourself in union with the Great Mystery. To feel that sense of timeless peace, that all will be well, that all will be more than well. To lift us up outside of our everyday lives and touch the face of the Infinite. To know in our human hearts what our souls know all the time — that we are all One, that all will ultimately be well.

What practice will take me there? What actions does this card suggest?  Devotional singing. Ritual. Going to a sacred spot in nature and pouring your heart out. Doing whatever spiritual practices are mostly likely to connect you with the Divine.

The Challenge card is the Seven of Air. 

The challenge of every uncertain situation is to know when your map no longer serves you, and to have the courage to throw the map away. Or to learn how to cope when the map is lost, tugged out of your hands by a gust of wind. The map may be composed of strategies, goals, and plans, or the worldview from which you operate every day. Mark Nepo writes: “When we lose our map, our real knowledge of the path begins. It’s humbling because we’re forced to touch the Earth itself instead of our representation of the Earth. . . This is how being lost can be a prelude to a deeper way, because once we admit that we’re not sure where life is taking us, then we are ripe for transformation. Then we are shapable.”

What practice will take me there? What actions does this card suggest? It suggests that the practice of surrendering to surprise in small things, as Christina Baldwin writes, “allows us to practice the resilience we need to respond to whatever life offers.”  We can practice reacting with curiosity instead of panic when the we lose the map.

The Resolution card is the Three of Earth. 

I’ve used this particular three-card layout for many years, and have long been comfortable with the term “resolution” as an alternative to the more commonly used term “outcome.”  Resolution is more active: we can resolve to take action to change our situation, rather than seeing ourselves at the whim of fate, which is what outcome suggests to me.  But I just read this passage from Pema Chodron:

 “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

So. The resolution to making peace with uncertainty is to cultivate “an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.” And this reading suggests that the Three of Earth will take us to that place. As my friend Julie Clay said, “with community, we can tolerate all sorts of ambiguity.”  Knowing we are not alone. That others stand with us, in the good times and the bad. That a net of prayer, of love and good will, is woven by friends and family and friends of friends. That together we make the medicine — with a little laughter thrown in — that can heal.

What practice will take me there? What actions does this card suggest? Opening up my heart to friends and community, and asking for help.

I will continue to practice making peace with paradox and ambiguity, through opening myself up to deep experiences with the Divine, through surrendering to surprise when my map is snatched away, and through opening my heart to friends and community, and asking for help.

How about you?  What are some of the ways you have learned to make peace with uncertainty?


Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Rishell Graves Tue - Mar 12th 2013 3:34 pm

    The only way I can make peace with uncertainty is to live in gratitude.

    Reply

    • Joanna Wed - Mar 13th 2013 7:42 am

      Thank you Rishell. You are so right. A regular gratitude practice helps us give thanks for even the most difficult situations.

      Reply

  • James Wells Tue - Mar 12th 2013 4:14 pm

    Oh, so true. Oh, so timely. Oh, so difficult. Oh so, necessary.
    Thank you.

    Reply

    • Joanna Wed - Mar 13th 2013 7:58 am

      {{{hugs}}}

      Reply

  • Donnaleigh Tue - Mar 12th 2013 4:59 pm

    This is so beautiful and rings so familiar. I have had to face uncertainty in the past coupLe of years, and it feels like skidding out of control on ice. It is hard to accept that there are some things over which we do not have control. And some of them are not what we wish to happen.

    These cards that you drew are amazing. They spoke to me immediately, and the openness of your first card seems to be the least natural thing to do, to “allow,” but the most necessary response. The vulnerability of being open is so hard to yield to, yet we must always know tht the only thing that is certain…is change. To open one’s arms like ths is to accept and embrace the Universe and accept infinity.

    Thank you for this heartfelt blog. It brought me to tears. I hope your friend will be alright. My thoughts are with you.

    Xoxo

    DL

    Reply

    • Joanna Wed - Mar 13th 2013 8:01 am

      Thank you Donnaleigh. I know you’ve been through a lot, the last couple of years. I am amazed and grateful once again at the wisdom and counsel we find in the tarot. Hugs & Blessings to you.

      Reply

  • Maggie Grevenow Tue - Mar 12th 2013 5:52 pm

    A beautiful post Joanna. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Reply

    • Joanna Wed - Mar 13th 2013 7:59 am

      Thank you Maggie.

      Reply

  • CrowsFoxes Wed - Mar 13th 2013 5:24 am

    Dear Joanna,
    Having been on the roller coaster of health challenges both myself and with family, I know the heart stopping terror you must have felt when you saw the empty room of your friend.

    How hard it is to push past the crowding thoughts, the rush to the future, where we sink into the worst case scenarios — and instead, to simply sit with what is — the room is empty and that is all I know right now.

    Peace to you and your dear friend and all those who love and care for her.
    CrowsFoxes

    Reply

    • Joanna Wed - Mar 13th 2013 8:02 am

      “To simply sit with what is — the room is empty and that is all I know right now.” Oh yes. To be fully present in each moment. Not always as easy as it sounds. 🙂 And yet — yes.
      Hugs & Love to you, CrowsFoxes.

      Reply

  • Loran Hills Wed - Mar 13th 2013 8:31 am

    Oh Joanna, I resonate with this post on so many levels. I love Pema Chodron and find great solace in her words.

    At the same time I must remember that we are continuously falling out of the nest and that there is no ground. It can be both frightening and exhilarating. It’s all about the practice of presence and acceptance of things the way they are.

    Again, I sense that we are traveling the same spiral path through life and all the lessons that come with it.

    Your friend is very fortunate to have you in her corner!

    Reply

  • Tracie Nichols Wed - Mar 13th 2013 9:14 am

    First {{hugs}} to you for such a difficult week.

    And to answer your question — I just keep breathing into the infinite possibilities that ride along with uncertainty. As an optimist, that means “Yay! Anything can happen!”

    Reply

  • indigene Theresa Gaskin Wed - Mar 13th 2013 12:09 pm

    I’m still learning to make peace with life uncertainties. I find that creating rituals have helped me deal with some aspects of it. Having a ritual that I can do, helps me feel centered, (like tarot reading, lighting candles, reading and yoga poses) and keeps me in the present moment, so that my mind doesn’t start on an internal dialogue that can make me feel fearful! Your tarot cards are a part of my ritual and help give me words and a rhythm that’s helpful. 🙂

    Reply

  • Sarah Mon - Mar 18th 2013 2:50 pm

    In my experience, uncertainty is even more of a challenge when there is not a ‘wide net” of community, due to an isolating, chronic illness. But even the love of one other can keep a person going, and when even that seems distant because illness can feel like a barrier, then there is always the still voice within. Thanks for sharing this Joanna.

    Reply

Share yours…