The Freedom of Uncertainty: Liberation in Loving the Unknown


I have 19 chapters of a novel written. I have no idea if it will ever be published, or what will happen if it is, or how I will feel if it isn’t. The haunting to write compels me to invest my time and energy, despite the storm of uncertainty it brings on its heels. It doesn’t care that I don’t know what will happen. It whispers that it doesn’t matter.

This year I rekindled an old love affair, with the game of poker. Traveling and playing live cash games has been an adventure seeped in uncertainty. I never know what the next card will be, I only know the possibilities and probabilities. But then there’s the questions of Where will it lead? Will I succeed or fail at my lofty goals, or something in between? And what else will happen along the way, aside from the financial implications? There the possibilities are infinite, a roulette wheel where I cannot assign mathematical probability. Instead my head spins as I dance with uncertainty.    

In my last post Confessions of a Gambling Mom I suggested that we are all gamblers, that much of our behavior involves calculating risk and reward and based on possible outcomes. We just don’t tend to think of our choices this way. (For a deeper exploration on how the concept of betting can be applied outside the casino, check out Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets.)

But the concept of uncertainty goes deeper than just not knowing the outcome of a decision ahead of time. It roots into something very fundamental to being human. It grows tendrils into how little I know about things that feel dreadfully important to me. About the source of my own consciousness, or the future, or the very nature of Reality. Or what is the point of all of this, or if there even is one. 

There is so little bonafide fact in this world, relative to all the beliefs that I slather onto reality. Scientists are allegedly working on this conundrum. Meanwhile, I have my senses, I can move through the world and feel it and see it and experience it with my body and mind. There is something bright in the sky we call stars. Rocks are hard. 

And then there’s the one certainty that despite its fated promise, remains somewhat harder to comprehend: This is all temporary. As Sogyal Rinpoche reminds me in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, “It is absolutely certain that we will die, and it is uncertain when or how . . .”

I am a mother. My daughters are still too young to know the bliss or heartache of romance. I don’t know what kind of a world they will inherit, or if it will have rain or flowers. Or if we will even live long enough to find out. 

All around me, like the air I breathe, is mystery and magic and the force of creation and destruction and I don’t even know what else. Dark matter perhaps. And it strikes me that there is freedom in facing my ignorance. By taking the time to separate fact from speculation, I unburden myself by shedding beliefs masquerading as truth.

A while ago I wrote a piece exploring The Greatest Threat to Our Freedom. The gist of it is that all the habits and roles and behaviors I act out can be changed. Because they are not facts, they are just choices. And I am free to choose otherwise.

It’s been a while since I wrote that piece on freedom, and  the full impact of the idea didn’t hit me until months later. Since then, this bit of knowledge, or perhaps lack thereof, has continued to work its alchemy on my life. Where there used to be anxiety or fear I now recognize the distinct scent and intrigue of uncertainty. And it is everywhere, permeating all things like the space between atoms. 

To pretend that uncertainty doesn’t exist now feels pathological to me. Yet all around me people seem so sure of their opinions, so right in their convictions. As I consider quitting social media, just to opt out of the theater of certainty and have more time to bliss out in not-knowing. Can I do that and still succeed as a writer? Once again, I don’t know.