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How To Feel Safe During Uncertain Times

Photo by Nehcoy Siola
(If you’re looking for Wednesday’s post, How to Slow Down the Uncertainty Rollercoaster and Find Your Center Again, right here.)

I love how my Apple computer dictionary defines uncertainty, as a range from “a mere lack of absolute certainty” to “an almost complete lack of knowledge.”

Where are you on the uncertainty scale these days? For the last year and a half, I’ve been living nearer to the latter, rather terrifying, category, as I faced an almost complete lack of knowledge about my life, my future, my desires and my family.

I spent a lot of time attempting to climb out of a parched well, scale glass walls, plant seeds in barren ground and then dig those seeds up to see if they’d sprouted yet.

I spent a lot of time trying to get going, creatively and professionally. But nothing “took” but a feeling of being utterly lost, unmoored and deeply uncertain.

I always thought I loved change, that I embraced not knowing, that my biggest fear was being bored. Ha!

After a year of living on the edge of the abyss, an abyss created by the death of my father, my marriage, two dear friends and seemingly all my creativity (which is how I make my living- gulp), I realized that I loved change and uncertainty when I had a stable base to change from and when I (thought) I knew what the future held.

But stable isn’t always easy to come by these days (I wonder if it ever was?)

When that stable base dissolved – through the same sort of changes you may be experiencing – that’s when I had to learn new ways to live with uncertainty, ways that weren’t based on being married or my work going well or whether I was afraid to get out of bed that morning.

Ways that weren’t based on the illusion that I knew what the future would hold.

The recent changes in the economy have shoved many of us to the same realization: uncertainty is the most enduring fact of life. We never know what the future holds. Change is the only thing we can count on and learning how to live with that truth, even thrive, when all we want to do is cower under the covers or try vainly to recreate the past, has become a very, very important skill to cultivate.

Because whether you thought you loved change or you always knew you hated it, the result can be the same: you can get stuck in a miasma of fear, anxiety, overwhelm and worry and that miasma can keep you pinned down for years.  Years!

I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle or some other mythical character who has woken up after years of being asleep — I never saw how the fear was limiting me, shaping the way I thought and what I thought was possible.  I didn’t know I was afraid.

In search of a “safe” place, I didn’t know I was making a smaller and smaller box to live in until I couldn’t create, couldn’t write – which has always been the “something is seriously wrong” warning in my life.

I discovered I was searching for the wrong thing.

What I was really creating in my life was illusory safety- rather than learning how to return to feeling calm(ish) and centered no matter what was happening. It reminds me of that old story about the drunk who searches for his lost car keys under a lamp post – not because he lost them anywhere near the lamp post but because that’s where the light was.

When we feel lost, when life’s topsy-turvy, it’s so tempting to grab on to anything that feels familiar – from trying to recreate the past to beating ourselves up for choices we made to staying relentlessly busy – even when it’s not getting us anywhere near we want to be.

What I noticed in my uncertainty was a thought process that went something like this, “If we were still a family, I would feel like my old self and then I would be able to write and create again.” Other versions included if I had only moved all the retirement money into Treasury bills like my friend than I would feel safe and want to seize the day” and “I just need to get organized and get more done and network more and then everything will be great.”

Those thought patterns didn’t help me at all.

Here’s what I’ve come to know, in a way that is far deeper than intellectual knowing:

Feeling safe enough to go forward with your life is not dependent on anything outside of yourself nor on knowing what’s going to happen–which is good, since that would mean you could never, ever get off the couch. Instead, it resides in increasing your trust in yourself, your resiliency and your ability to return to your self, no matter how long you’ve spent searching for your keys under the lamp post.

In other words, it has nothing to do with what’s going on “out there.” It’s an inside job and while that is so obvious as to perhaps make you roll your eyes, it took not having much of anything to hold on to discover it for myself. Still, I can find myself forgetting, falling back into the old patterns of hoping for something to change before I can feel good or take action.

If you do too, you might find the sessions Overcoming Fear, Gaining Peace by best-selling author and meditation teacher Susan Piver and Overcoming Money Fears (and Creating Money “Self Esteem”) by master coach and author Steve Chandler in my upcoming Comfort Queen’s 2009 Virtual Retreat particularly helpful. (Of course, you get all 10 experts and all 14 sessions plus all the extra goodies when you join us – see below for details.)

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I’ll talk about how fear, anxiety and overwhelm don’t have to go away for you to move toward your desires and dreams.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: How To Take Action When Fear Is Paralyzing You

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eileen Jan 8, 2009

    I think the uncertainty can be such a gift. It’s also so freaking easy to romanticize when you’re not in it. I always think I “like change” until it’s actually happening to me! 😉 Then I spent a lot of time watching Murder, She Wrote reruns and eating cake.

    A few years back, my marriage ended, I moved to a new town, and I quit my job to start a new company. All in one month. I think on some level my unconscious mind (soul) wanted me to learn the lesson you describe, so it threw me right into the fire.

    “…it took not having much of anything to hold on to discover it for myself. ”

    Oh yes. I love this. Turns out, looking “out there” to feel safe is totally exhausting. 😛

    Thank you for your writing.

  • 2 Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) Jan 8, 2009

    I have this terrible fear of things staying the same. I get itchy, need to move on.

    My life has been so unstable for the last few years that I’ve become a little to accustomed to it!

    This is a fantastic post – but I can’t wait for tomorrow’s because I think it’s going to be just exactly what I need.

  • 3 Jennifer Jan 8, 2009

    @Eileen It is totally exhausting to look out there – and I have to remind myself about ten times a day!

    Murder She Wrote was so popular because everybody wants to live in Cabot Cove!

    @Joely – itchy, yes, how to be with it, let it be you (it’s me too) without letting it destroy too much??? Ah, yes grasshopper!

  • 4 Victoria Brouhard Jan 8, 2009

    I’ve struggled with this same pattern of “If I only had x then I could do y” for a long time, but this article really hit home.

    I never quite put it together (at least not consciously) that this is a pattern of looking outward instead of inward.

    And like Joely, I’m excited to read tomorrow’s post, as well.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post.

  • 5 Jenn Jan 8, 2009

    Dear Jennifer
    I love what you write about uncertainty. Every since I went to the Writers Spa in Taos I’ve been questing, hence the blog title, until recently in 2008 I started training to be a facilitator and lead workshops and retreats for women. On a very small scale, of course, just locally, at a women’s centre and with some yoga friends. I am so enjoying reading your book The Woman’s retreat book, and the exercises are wonderful, creative and inspiring. Will start teaching Mini-retreat course next week, after almost a year of doing them regularly myself. Hope your virtual retreat is a blast,
    jenn boire

  • 6 Cindy Jan 9, 2009

    Jenn- i feel so amazed and honored by your transparency! thank you so much! cindy