by Brus Westby: A friend recently gifted us with a refrigerator magnet that reads, “Yay! Uncertainty!”
Now, each time I open the refrigerator door there it is in my face, causing me to recall platitudes such as, “these are uncertain times,” and “the future is uncertain.” But to actually celebrate uncertainty? Hmmm. Don’t we do everything we can to avoid uncertainty, planning our schools, our families, jobs, homes, right up to planning our wills and funerals? We continually try to secure ourselves by keeping our boat afloat in a swirling eddy of hope for success and fear that everything will fall apart, all for a future that has not yet happened. And really, to be honest, don’t we usually settle with “good enough?” Why then, when faced with uncertainty, would we respond with “Yay?”
My recently published memoir, Letters Home: Lessons from the Great Hippie Trail, is a study in uncertainty. The reader follows us two young travelers determined to wander overland to a distant destination, India. Traveling before technology created a smaller world, we had no map, no previous research to guide us, just a youthful conviction that we would prevail. We were inspired by the works of Joseph Campbell who promoted the notion of the hero’s journey, drawing parallels of the experiences of the iconic figures of the Buddha, Jesus and Odysseus with our own experience. According to Campbell, the hero is first called to adventure, encounters allies and enemies along the way, and must face daunting ordeals to finally discover the “precious elixir” and return with proof of the discovery. Our journey to India was marked by this inspiration and each of these elements, each step along the way, totally uncertain.
Toward the end of a year in India and just before returning overland, I had no choice but to look directly at my uncertain mind during a silent meditation retreat. I had this revelation:
Days into the course, as I’m sitting in the meditation hall in the early morning…Something releases within me, a surrender to an open-heartedness that brings me to tears. I sit in this blissful state for a long while. Could this be the “elixir” that Joseph Campbell describes as the ultimate discovery of the hero’s journey? I don’t know, but a doorway or portal has opened, and a certainty arises that I am on the right path in my own hero’s journey.
Many years later, I am still on the hero’s journey, one marked by continually working with “certainty” and “uncertainty”. At first, these two terms seem the polar opposites, at odds with each other. How is it possible to be certain and uncertain at the same time? Yet, in this seeming disparity I find the “precious elixir” of my own life. From that initial opening I experienced in that meditation retreat, I continue to practice mindfulness meditation fifty years later. Periodically I’m able to settle my mind enough to see through my hopes and fears for an imaginary future and simply drop the project of securing my world. Uncertainty then becomes my teacher, a guide to bring me into the present moment. Intimacy with uncertainty is the precious elixir of my life’s journey. Only then can I be certain of being completely present and fully available to others. Only then can I embrace uncertainty with certainty. Yay!
Letters Home: Lessons from the Great Hippie Trail, by Brus L. Westby, is available now on Amazon Books, Kindle, Goodreads and eBooks.