Gift Of Fear: Embrace Of Ambiguity Over Certainty
Posted by Anuj Pandey on Nov 13, 2017
I was asked to open up the circle with a few observations. And of course I prepared, but I have a fear of public speaking. So I'm drawing a blank.
Many people have a fear of public speaking. Many top 10 lists out there list that fear consistently near or at the top -- even greater than the fear of death for some, which means that for some people when they go to a funeral they'd rather be the person in the casket than delivering the eulogy. My fear of public speaking isn't that bad but it's appropriate to think of it in those terms because I think shows that many of us get these little pangs of fear that nudge us in the direction of questioning -- are you afraid to die or are you afraid to live? Which side are you on?
I used to have quite a lot of anxiety and panic attacks sometimes. It's just a result of genetics and upbringing and all the rest of it, but when it's happening, as many of you probably experienced, it's very very real. Many times in my life, I was certain that I was going to die -- like completely certain that I'm going to have die and have a heart attack. I'm going to die. I'm from Canada, so we have free health care. :) Inevitably, I go see a doctor and the doctors would check me out and say, "Hey, you're not going to die. Don't worry about it. Everything is fine." Yet this pattern would keep repeating itself until I was ready to learn the lesson.
So eventually I did learn the lesson. I started realizing that wait a second you know this experience that I'm certain about, maybe I can create a little bit of space around it, see it ambiguity and then determine where I stand. You know, so far, my record tells me that every single time I have these feelings, I've been wrong and I haven't died. :)
Over time, I started noticing that I would develop a similar certainty around many things in my life, only to discover that it wasn't quite as certain. At one point, I'd bought a house and people who sold us the house weren't exactly honest about the kind of condition the house was in. We had lawsuits going back and forth and construction going on. I was so certain that this was the end of my life, that I would end up in financial ruin, and everything would be shambles from this point.
One day, I distinctly remember calling up a Buddhist monk, whom I've gotten to be pretty good friends with now. I was expecting a sympathetic ear, but only thing he would say is, "Interesting." Interesting?!? So I thought I would get a little bit more forceful and just tell him more horrible stories. Still, just, "Interesting." And finally, he just said, "You know what. In five years, you're going to be telling this as a moderately interesting dinner time story. It'll be nothing more than that." Of course, I thought, "Are you out of your mind?" This is going to ruin me.
Sure enough, the Buddhist monk was right. At this point, I don't even talk about that episode anymore. That's how trivial it has become.
The lesson for me has been that every time fear comes up, it's a time to be truly alive and realize that that life happens from a place that is beyond our expectations, beyond our certainties sometimes. The nature of life is ambiguity. No energy is inherently good or bad. It's ambiguous. All those things that were happening to me, that I was convinced were a disaster, were also ambiguous. Had I not had those experiences, I would have never learned yoga, never become a yoga teacher, never become a yoga therapist, and never been able to help people, and I would never be in this room. And the blessings that have come from connecting to this community, I don't know how to start that list.
To bring things full circle, when I was doing my yoga therapy training, at one point, the teacher asked us to write her own eulogy. "Assume that you're going to die next week and you have to write your own eulogy. What would you say?" I would really recommend that exercise, because in doing so, I got to really confront my truth. And when you start talking about yourself in the past tense, it really forces you to examine what is actually true, what you had no control over and what you did have some control over. And if you're reflecting in the past tense about what you did not have control over, all of a sudden, you arrive at the present with a renewed freshness for the things you do have control over.
That has made all the difference in my life -- to realize that, wait a second, life is pretty ambiguous and that's good because that in that ambiguity there is an opportunity to make a choice. And so I'm grateful for that fear. I'm grateful for my fear of dying and I'm grateful that it helped me embrace ambiguity over certainty.