Making peace with ambiguity? Is that even possible? For most people, tolerating the uncertainty and unknowns of life is volatile.
People want the known and they also want certainty. It’s easier to sit in a space that is known than not known. It’s also easier to say someone or some thing is good or bad. It is much more difficult to sit in the wide swath of gray that is uncertain, unknown, has some good and some bad, and generally cannot be neatly catalogued in our minds.
Yet, the older I get the more I seek out the unknowns and to grow my tolerance of things and people being uncertain. First off, I, myself, am neither good nor bad. How often I hear the harsh judgments of others on themselves remarking on their patterns being “bad.” However, these are only parts of self — and often those things we label as “bad” are actually serving some sort of useful purpose in helping us manage our lives. In this spirit, I extend to myself compassion and curiosity rather than a label of good and bad.
How may I be doing something that seemingly is bad – yet letting the judgment go and allowing space to breathe into my complexity? As an example, I am a neat freak who obsesses over messes. Now, to be neat can be judged as good and to obsess over mess can be judged as bad. Actually, it’s just me in all of my complexity and ambiguity. Most days, I seek to understand both parts of myself, being careful to acknowledge both and accept me for me.
Same can be true as we look to our friends. They are also imperfect. However, most of us want to put our friends in the good or bad camp. The truth of the matter is they are both. There are going to be parts that you love and other parts that you can’t stand. However, the question is can you tolerate this complexity in the other so you can stay in relation with them rather than being all in or all out? By extending compassion and acceptance to ourselves, we have a better chance at doing the same for others.
And just like our relationships, situations pop up in our lives over and over again that are not clear cut, but that we seek to be certain and assured of our response. In this way, life and its unfolding are about being good or bad. Another way of looking at this question is, “Can we tolerate the mess of life?” Because life is messy. We love our friends and then they divorce. Who is good? Who is bad? Which side are we on? This is only one example. Our spouse gambles all of the money away. The behavior is bad and has put you and the family at risk. But what is the behavior serving? Perhaps a stress outlet? Perhaps a pattern from his own family of origin? Seeking understanding of the other as you try to make meaning of the situation is being in the ambiguity of any situation.
So often we want to simply write off life as certain, known, and as “good or bad.” We yearn for this, and yet, the older I get, I realize there is little known, certain, or all good or all bad. Tolerating the ambiguity of my own self is what I am called to do first and foremost. From there, accepting the unknown of those you I am in relation to and situations that crop up help me open up to curiosity, imperfection, and tolerating what is to come without knowing.
We seek a certain, known world, and yet what we dwell in is all the unknowns. Growing space in ourselves to embrace the uncertainty is something we are all called to do and leads to more peace within ourselves. Embrace the mystery with curiosity.