Uncomfortable Place Of Uncertainty

Margaret Wheatley

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Awakin FeatureWe weren’t trained to admit we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. We’ve also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don’t have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do.

It is very difficult to give up our certainties -- our positions, our beliefs, our explanations. These help define us; they lie at the heart of our personal identity. Yet I believe we will succeed in changing this world only if we can think and work together in new ways. 

Curiosity is what we need. We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes. We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival. To be curious about how someone else interprets things, we have to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring things out alone. 

Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me. What did I just hear that startled me? This isn’t easy -- I’m accustomed to sitting there nodding my head to those saying things I agree with. But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more dearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying, "How could anyone believe something like that?" a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.

Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don’t want to change. We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that’s true, we have to listen more, not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.

Margaret Wheatley is a celebrated author of many books. Excerpt above is from 'Willing To be Disturbed.'

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to uncertainty? Can you share a personal experience of a time you moved into the 'very uncomfortable place of uncertainty'? What helps you stay open to changing yourself?

Add Your Reflection:

10 Previous Reflections:

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    On May 30, 2019 Varuna Khullar wrote:
    Hello, We gather in Awakin Circles on Wednesday in India and yesterday this passage was picked up for discussions. Amid the circle reflections, I liked a gentleman's anecdote who compared a frog in a well situation to his understanding of this passage. It goes like this:A frog inside a well who never gets a chance to get out of a well, thinks that the high walled, dark and deep watered well is the only World. There is nothing beyond it. All through its life, if the frog never hops out of the well, he perceives world to be running in one way. Everything inside the well is known to the frog with closed eyes over the number of years it has spent inside it. So, what happens when one day the frog is suddenly taken out of the well? The moment it is exposed to the sunlight, the immediate surroundings of the well, it is shocked, there is a total disbelief and a fight to get into a survival mode, even though it may be completely safe. The frog in that moment is uncomfortable in an uncertain... [View Full Comment] Hello,
    We gather in Awakin Circles on Wednesday in India and yesterday this passage was picked up for discussions. Amid the circle reflections, I liked a gentleman's anecdote who compared a frog in a well situation to his understanding of this passage.
    It goes like this:A frog inside a well who never gets a chance to get out of a well, thinks that the high walled, dark and deep watered well is the only World. There is nothing beyond it. All through its life, if the frog never hops out of the well, he perceives world to be running in one way. Everything inside the well is known to the frog with closed eyes over the number of years it has spent inside it. So, what happens when one day the frog is suddenly taken out of the well? The moment it is exposed to the sunlight, the immediate surroundings of the well, it is shocked, there is a total disbelief and a fight to get into a survival mode, even though it may be completely safe. The frog in that moment is uncomfortable in an uncertain situationbecause throughout his life, it felt that the well is the World but in reality the World is much more than a well. Thank god for the opportunity the frog got to come out of the well!!

    Thanks
    Varuna[Hide Full Comment]

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    On May 21, 2019 David Doane wrote:
    The Buddha supposedly said "Always have the beginner's mind." I appreciate that advice and often maintain that attitude. I accept uncertainty as a fact of life. I have become comfortable to a great extent in the place of uncertainty by living and seeing that there is no certainty, at least not in the present and future. There is only some certainty as to the past. My mantra in living is process, not product, meaning my effort is to focus on what is happening and on right action knowing that there is no certainty as to the outcome. I'm not certain what the right action is -- I like when I trust my feelings, my guts, my heart, my intuition, my thinking, and my learning and go with action that is in line with those. What helps me stay open to changing myself is knowing that change is always and change can be growthful, so as long as I'm changing I want for my change to be in a way that is growthful for myself.

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    On May 21, 2019 Martin vanZyl wrote:
    Uncertainty makes me human, in that it encourages me to invoke my free will choice to evolve and much as my old ego patterning would love me to say that I am the first to do this,it is just not true.Years' ago, I was lucky enough to stumble across the teachings of the Twisted Hair Elders For thousands of years they have been imparting knowledge that works and having this lineage connection makes the journey easier and more pleasurable and also more unpredictable .If I apply Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to myself,which I can because I am the centre of my universe,then I could say that the more precise my position,the less precise is my momentum.This can lead me to sit on the fence and incur much more uncertainty than I actually need to grow and I end up falling off the fence.If I don't consciously make a choice it will be made for me.This reminds me of the story of a man driving down a road.At the next T-junction he was unable to decide whether to turn left or right,so... [View Full Comment] Uncertainty makes me human, in that it encourages me to invoke my free will choice to evolve and much as my old ego patterning would love me to say that I am the first to do this,it is just not true.Years' ago, I was lucky enough to stumble across the teachings of the Twisted Hair Elders For thousands of years they have been imparting knowledge that works and having this lineage connection makes the journey easier and more pleasurable and also more unpredictable
    .If I apply Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to myself,which I can because I am the centre of my universe,then I could say that the more precise my position,the less precise is my momentum.This can lead me to sit on the fence and incur much more uncertainty than I actually need to grow and I end up falling off the fence.If I don't consciously make a choice it will be made for me.This reminds me of the story of a man driving down a road.At the next T-junction he was unable to decide whether to turn left or right,so he ploughed into the wall in front of him and smashed his face in[Hide Full Comment]

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    On May 21, 2019 Ruby(Triza Laxmi Aurora) wrote:
    Curious? I was born curios with a a big question mark on my forehead about everything as behind that question mark, inside my brain was all empty, void of all knowledge, wisdom, and experiences. I took my first breath and cried to know everything to fill, or rather grow, that empty mind. Intuitively, I had this weird idea, as a kid, that girls had their vagina at the back. Don't laugh please. I had weird ideas about everything! That the world was not round, but countries were on top of each other, on flat lands. Aha, there I am! Having born on a tiny island in Fiji, in the southern hemisphere of our planet, my life had the best experience of things. What it felt like to play for my national soccer team against Australia, or to make my own bamboo raft to adventure in the sea alone between islands, and so on. Then. I moved to the northern hemisphere of our planet to experience life on the "other half" of my world. Life on a huge continent is also full of experiences, or, ma... [View Full Comment] Curious? I was born curios with a a big question mark on my forehead about everything as behind that question mark, inside my brain was all empty, void of all knowledge, wisdom, and experiences. I took my first breath and cried to know everything to fill, or rather grow, that empty mind. Intuitively, I had this weird idea, as a kid, that girls had their vagina at the back. Don't laugh please. I had weird ideas about everything! That the world was not round, but countries were on top of each other, on flat lands. Aha, there I am! Having born on a tiny island in Fiji, in the southern hemisphere of our planet, my life had the best experience of things. What it felt like to play for my national soccer team against Australia, or to make my own bamboo raft to adventure in the sea alone between islands, and so on. Then. I moved to the northern hemisphere of our planet to experience life on the "other half" of my world. Life on a huge continent is also full of experiences, or, maybe death was a possibility in my time in the US army. I am very dumb to have worked at stanford University, very uncomfortable place for me to be, So, I went to San Leandro mountains for a two week retread, only realized I could have been eaten by mountain lion when I came back with my sleeping bag. All my curiosity made me enough insane to experience and know everything to fill that empty brain I started with . What I cannot experience in my real life, I do it in my dreams. To experience the "other half", I became whole!! Hope my son gets it.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On May 21, 2019 Marc wrote:
    More recently, I've related to uncertainty with more uncertainty, followed by a fair amount of anxiety. Its a bit of a negative feedback loop in the sense it usually becomes more difficult for me to make decisions in the midst of the uncertainty, leading to more of the same, and usually more pronounced. Where this comes from, what causes this, what's at the roots of it, I'm not certain.. but I continue to be open to changing because living from that place is not a fun place to be, so I try to maintain faith and hope in the future, and a return to a time and place when there was peace, curiosity, and even joy in the midst of uncertainty.

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    On May 21, 2019 Ashima Goyal wrote:
    The message is so simple and yet so profound... to be curious and to listen more :-). This passage reminded me of an email one my mentors had once sent me and I'm going to copy a part of it here. It helped me a lot in coming face to face with my own discomfort with 'not knowing'. "Let us investigate how we cling to beingrightand instead open up to the freedom of being wrong, or at least not knowing. What? How could that be?? We don't tend to associate 'being wrong' with freedom, or anything good for that matter. Here's what I mean. When I ask myself "What has created a sense of separation in my own relationships?" - the answer has often been my attachment to my views. My own intense emotional investment in being right can lead me to be rigid and less empathic in how I interact. Being unattached to views doesn't mean you stop believing what you believe, or stop caring about what you care about. You simply release the tight fist of... [View Full Comment] The message is so simple and yet so profound... to be curious and to listen more :-).

    This passage reminded me of an email one my mentors had once sent me and I'm going to copy a part of it here. It helped me a lot in coming face to face with my own discomfort with 'not knowing'.

    "Let us investigate how we cling to beingrightand instead open up to the freedom of being wrong, or at least not knowing. What? How could that be?? We don't tend to associate 'being wrong' with freedom, or anything good for that matter.

    Here's what I mean.
    When I ask myself "What has created a sense of separation in my own relationships?" - the answer has often been my attachment to my views. My own intense emotional investment in being right can lead me to be rigid and less empathic in how I interact. Being unattached to views doesn't mean you stop believing what you believe, or stop caring about what you care about. You simply release the tight fist of clinging and attachment.

    ...it helps me take my views less seriously and hold them more lightly. So much of life is about learning - letting go of what we thought was true, letting go of outdated ideas of who we are, letting go of the assumptions we've made about ourselves and others. Rather than a defeat or depressing, being open to being wrong is a vital part of living and learning.
    "[Hide Full Comment]

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    On May 21, 2019 Albert wrote:
    Thank you 🙏
    . . . to create a community of curiosity

    The Real Work
    ‘It may be that when we no longer know what to do
    we have come to our real work,
    and that when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey.
    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

    The impeded stream is the one that sings.’

    ~ Wendell Berry ~

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    On May 20, 2019 Annelise Schinzinger wrote:
    I appreciate Margaret Wheatley's encouragement to Listen more and be Curious. "We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes." This kindles a desire to talk to people with very different views and try to understand where they are coming from, instead of simply discarding or categorizingwhat they say as bunk or rubbish. I am on my way to Europe and will have opportunities to be Open-minded and Curious. I've always enjoyed learning what makes people tick, and these are hot times we live in.

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    On May 17, 2019 Rajesh wrote:
    Fantastic passage. And some really good pointers for uncovering our own beliefs and assumptions, that drive our lives. The first paragraph is striking, especially this snippet - "We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. ".

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    On May 17, 2019 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    I like this thought-provoking and very helpful essay by Margaret Wheatley. Mind-set like" Black or White" or "Either Or" or "My way is the only way and no other way" sadly closes doors for expanding ur consciousness. Getting stuck with such mindset not only confines us to the restrictive way of living in the "comfortable place of certainty" but also creates walls for us and between others for making significant changes in ourselves and others in important spheres of life. Fortunately living with open-minded families and friends I have been able to make a shift from narrow and close minded mind-set to more open and inclusive growth promoting mind-set. I know it is not that easy to move from the " comfortable place of certainty" to moving into the "uncomfortable place of uncertainty.". It is a slow and steady inner journey of transformation. I learned from Mahatma Gandhi's wise statement of learning how to remake our inner w... [View Full Comment] I like this thought-provoking and very helpful essay by Margaret Wheatley. Mind-set like" Black or White" or "Either Or" or "My way is the only way and no other way" sadly closes doors for expanding ur consciousness. Getting stuck with such mindset not only confines us to the restrictive way of living in the "comfortable place of certainty" but also creates walls for us and between others for making significant changes in ourselves and others in important spheres of life. Fortunately living with open-minded families and friends I have been able to make a shift from narrow and close minded mind-set to more open and inclusive growth promoting mind-set. I know it is not that easy to move from the " comfortable place of certainty" to moving into the "uncomfortable place of uncertainty.". It is a slow and steady inner journey of transformation. I learned from Mahatma Gandhi's wise statement of learning how to remake our inner world before trying to remake outer world.
    I find it difficult to change my position about some of our fixed and exclusive mind-set of elected politicians. I have a couple of dear friends who according to my view are stuck with a fixed, blind and rigid mind-set to see the harmful ways of theirideology that perpetuates injustice especially done to minorities. I am willing to empathically understand theirperspective and position with little success. I try to keep my mind open and flexible hoping a shift in their mind-set.
    Open-mindedness, practicing "beginner's mind", empathic understanding, authenticity and willingness to self- examine and learning to move from the "comfortable place of certainty" to the "uncomfortable place of uncertainty".
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave
    [Hide Full Comment]

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