Rilke "Letters to a Young Poet"
I took a leadership assessment this week. Not to be confused with a personality test, this is an "attitudinal test." According to the introduction, it measures your level of energy based on your attitude or perception and perspective of your world." Fascinating, right? I'm still waiting on the debrief, so I'm sure I will have more to report next week, but the taking of the test was interesting and revealing all by itself.
This is one of those tests where the answers are numbered and range from "Always true" to Never true." The questions are things like, "I believe that I alone am responsible for my success or failure." or "I think most people are selfish." or "I always need to win." These are paraphrased, and may not even be on the test, but you get the idea. The interesting thing for me about answering questions like this is that I found it almost impossible to pin myself down. It was indescribably difficult for me to commit to how I think or feel because, really, what I think and feel changes constantly. My circumstances change constantly. The people around me change constantly. My work changes constantly. How then, can I answer questions like this or measure my attitude with anything like certainty? What I answer will be true right now. It might be true most of the time, but in a minute, everything could change.
There was a time in my not so distant past when I was certain of everything. I would have comfortably, confidently and easily answered every question, sure of how I felt and what I thought. Certainty, in fact, was the hallmark of my life a year and a half ago. I believed I knew exactly who I was. I had an absolutely unshakeable belief in the plans I had laid out for my future. I could have articulated with clarity exactly what my life would look like in 10 years or 20 or 30. I knew who I would be with, where I would be living, how I would be feeling. And then, with two sentences from my former spouse, in less than 10 minutes, it all vanished.
(OK. Pause....I know that the vast majority of you are now eager for the salacious details. Take a breath, lovely readers, we're not going there today. More to be revealed on that front at some other time, smile)
The point is, there is no such thing as certainty. I had built a lovely house of cards, and when the winds of change blew through, at first I ran frantically about trying to gather the pieces and at least get them back into some sort of order. But it quickly became apparent that the destruction was too far reaching. I grieved the loss of my dreams and plans, but it didn't take long before I began to feel a sense of adventure. Suddenly, absolutely anything was possible. My life could take shape in any one of a million different ways, and I had no idea which way it might turn. That was interesting, I dare say, even exciting.
I've had some time now to really dwell in uncertainty, and I've come to realize that regardless of what I believed, my life was always uncertain. Everyone's is, in fact, and that is one of the greatest and most delicious gifts of our existence. Every day, every moment, offers a surprise. Sometimes the surprises are delightful: the trilling of a wren outside a kitchen window, the glimpse of a deer in the backyard, the embrace of a friend you run into unexpectedly, the unsolicited hug from your child. Sometimes they are annoying: traffic on your way to work, burnt toast, a lost wallet. Sometimes they bring incredible joy, and sometimes unspeakable sorrow, but the truth is, we never really know what's coming.
Furthermore, if the circumstances of our life are uncertain, so are the things we think we know. Knowledge is slippery. Just when we think we have a thing figured out, it changes. Science, Math, History, all are fraught with uncertainty, and so is every base of information we've ever had. Rather than find this unsettling, however, we ought to find this thrilling. As individuals, we are on a lifelong inquiry. We get to explore, dream, discover, unravel, question, and imagine over and over and over again. If we knew the answers to all of our questions, if we could see clearly how our futures would unfold, how stale and uninteresting it would all be!
I, for one, love the questions. I love waking up every day not knowing what the day might bring. I like that I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, or even one. The uncertainty deepens my thirst for life. It makes me want to know and feel all of it, the good and the bad. It makes me interested in other people in a more profound way. It makes me savor every drop of every moment. It reminds me of how small I am in the big scheme of things and how little control I have.
One of the Niyamas, or "rules" from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is Ishvara pranidhana. Like all Sanskrit terms this can be translated in many ways, but mostly it means surrender to the divinity within. This is a tough one for many people. It requires an enormous separation from ego, but if we allow ourselves to live in uncertainty, to let go of our need for answers and clarity and control, it becomes much easier to offer ourselves to a higher consciousness. What choice is there except to turn ourselves over in trust and faith to the divine that animates us all?
This is what yoga has become for me. I am sure of nothing, but I sense a connection to something powerful, constant and loving when I sit in meditation. I feel an energy, a vibration, coursing through my body in asana practice. Each pose teaches me that every day is new and different. Sometimes I can recreate what came the day before. Sometimes I can't. Some days I am able to do something altogether new and unexpected, and some days, the simplest pose topples me over. And all of it is okay as long as I approach my practice with curiosity as an inquiry rather than something I need to master and control.
Somewhere along the way, I suspect, this is a lesson we all have to learn in yoga and in life. The path there is often painful and difficult, but once you arrive, you may just enjoy it... I know I do.