In reaching for certainty I have sometimes found more uncertainty that I would hope for. But this too can be a sign of growth even when it may seem a bit disheartening and unsettling. Uncertainty can have a sort of stability to it when you become used to it being there. Do we have to have all of the answers to life’s most important questions or are we allowed to say I don’t know every once in a while? While relaxing into my own uncertainty, as ironic as the phrase sounds, I have found that life can take on a more fluid and adaptable quality. Acknowledging your own uncertainty is not an excuse for not working hard or doing the best that you can in your life. For me, acknowledging your uncertainty weakens the false self that needs to have all of the answers. It becomes another part of yourself that falls away in order for you to continue your own journey of becoming more of yourself. This kinda of uncertainty isn’t debilitating or lazy. In fact, this kind of essence gives you a sense of agency to operate in your life from several vantage points, rather than substituting the parts of your life you would most like for folks to see. Donald Winnicott, the pediatrician and psychoanalyst from the early 1930’s suggests that this self that we build up as our true self and are most proud of is actually our false self. This facade is initial response of our ego in order to have us fit in a mechanistic society that demands perfection. So to participate in the game, we split off a bit of our own consciousness and create a character that doesn’t humiliate us too much internally but fits into the world without making too many waves. This characterization of the self is able to move through the world with a sense of agency that provides us comfort, certainty, financial security and romantic interests. So we adopt this formulation over time and designate it as our true self, only to find that it too is fragile and can shatter like everything else in the world. All it takes is the loss of income, divorce, family dispute, or a major trauma of the sorts that occurs within normal everyday life and we find out all too well that this is the truth.
There’s sort of a reckoning that happens between yourself and reality when the self you know of yourself to be collapses. Sort of like a creator who invents a product that goes into the world and does well temporarily, only to be crushed later by folks that don’t read the manual properly. One can become angry with life when after your hard work to create a workable self you can be proud of, tragedy strikes. But what remains of who you are after that self has crumbled is still just as good if not better than the self that you built up. Why is it that we tend to burrow into these identities? It is because of the payoff they offer us. Growing up I was never the attractive one in the family or so I was told; I was never encouraged for my good looks or my height. I was never told that the girls would go stir crazy over me because my voice was telephone appropriate. I was awkward, introverted, sort of outcast, and thinner than most my age. I was designated the smart kid in the family; so I built a self off of that idea, for the sole payout of being most rewarded.
Little did I know my early trauma within my own family was conditioning me for the cruelties society can bring; conform and we will reward you greatly-rebel and you will be cast out and ridiculed. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I began the work of slowly cracking the shell that I had built up so long ago in order to fit into my world at the time. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt with degrees in multiple disciplines, by the world’s definition I was smart as a whip with all of the alphabet soup after my name that anyone in their 20’s could want in order to enter into society and lay claim to the rewards that an awkward kid from a small town could want. But that was just it, I didn’t feel smart-I felt used by the very system that I was trying to enter into and by the same self I as its creator built. Was my whole life a lie? It felt real? These questions plagued my mind until I could finally come to terms with the fact that the payoff was not worth it, and I needed a change fast. So I began the serious process of feeling out my own inner landscape. Spiritual practice became my psychotherapy and psychotherapy became my spiritual practice. And I quickly realized I wasn’t alone in the world. Surprisingly, in its own way, it made things better. Perspective didn’t make my angst go away but it did give me a different way to relate to it-which offers its own kind of ease.