“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Life is fundamentally unpredictable and so we can’t be certain about what is going to happen next. And although uncertainty is, in a sense, a blessing, since it allows space for freedom and change, at the same time it can feel like a curse.
Being used to the known reality of our lives, most of us become attached to it and hence dislike change. The future is unknown, and how can we be sure that what we possess — for example, our health, material possessions, friends or love partners — will not be taken away from us? And, considering the inevitability of death, we tremble in the face of the unknown ahead of us. We are aware that at any time, even the very next moment, we might die. In fact, any moment we die will be the “next moment.”
In order to feel more secure, we try to control life as much as we can, by constantly trying to fit the future to our expectations. Yet, the only thing we ultimately achieve by doing so is to put ourselves in a constant state of anxiety that prevents us from savoring the present moment. As put by Alan Watts:
“If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are ‘crying for the moon.’ We have no such assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge every one of us is going to suffer and die. If, then, we cannot live happily without an assured future, we are certainly not adapted to living in a finite world where, despite the best plans, accidents will happen, and where death comes at the end.”
Whether we like it or not, the truth is — and we better accept it — that we can’t predict what kind of fortune — good or ill — lies on our path. No matter how much we try to control life, it will inevitably disappoint us by taking its own course.
To overcome our overwhelming anxiety about the future, we need to let go of our desire to control every event, factor the unexpected into our plans, embrace uncertainty and flow with the wild current of life, trusting that it will takes us to new and exciting places. By relaxing the tight fist of clinging to an expected end result, we will be able to focus on the here and now, and thus make the most out of every second of our lives as well as find gratitude in what we have without taking anything for granted.
I’d like to end this article with one of my favorite Taoist stories, which beautifully illustrates how uncertain life can be and the wisdom of embracing change rather than trying to control or fight against it:
There was a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “May be.” The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “May be.” And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.
Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “May be.” The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came in to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “May be.”
Image credit: Emerald Barkley