Uncertain Being; Being Uncertain

Posted on May 7, 2021

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As I’ve mentioned before, I am using Good Grief Network‘s 10-Steps to Personal Resilience & Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate as a tool to process, feel, and heal my personal (not climate) grief. I have been doing Step 2 work: Practice Being With Uncertainty.

As I’ve examined the things about which I am uncertain and my reactions to uncertainty, I’ve returned, again and again, to the Buddhist teaching of “the pebble in the river.” I’m not sure where I learned the concept; I suspect Alan Watts is the source, but some time long ago, I learned to imagine life as an endlessly flowing river, and myself as a pebble afloat in that river, sometimes peacefully, but also tumbled against other rocks, buried by sand, sometimes stuck–always moving, but not in control of the flow.

I love to float on my back in a peaceful lake, and I’ve taught swimming, so the pebble in a river image stuck with me. The way to achieve success in floating is to relax, let go, and trust the water to hold you.

As a pebble in the river, I am not in control of the flow; as a conscious being, I need to decide whether and how to respond to what happens. I try to avoid wasting energy by fighting against the current; I go with the flow, relax, trust earth to hold me.

As I reflect on my uncertainties, I find that beyond my basic needs: food, shelter, community, etc, I do not crave certainty. In fact, my time in evangelical Christianity revealed how certainty can lead to dehumanizing people by prioritizing religious ideas over human well-being; claims of certainty raise red flags with me.

Being uncertain about whether or not I will be able to spend the time I want with my loved ones or when and how I will die troubles me, but at a surface level. The uncertainties that trouble me much more deeply are unanswered questions that linger after loss, the unfinished business. In the days leading up to and for the months since my sister, Sheree’s, death, questions multiplied and threatened to overwhelm. I talked about the questions that haunt me with my sister, Loretta. We talk about the questions and how we feel about the fact that we will never know. Along with questions about Sheree, I have many unanswered questions about other relationships, other losses, other sorrows. Dealing with this kind of uncertainty is deeply painful and complex.

Part of my process while exploring uncertainty in my life has been to write about it in my journal, to talk about it with loved ones, to walk, to meditate, to dance, to play music, and to use the pebble in the river image to remind myself that I am not in control of the flow, and that I can trust the water to carry me.

After I watched a Youtube video titled, “The Beauty of Not Knowing,” I realized that I have reached the shore in this part of my 10-Step swim. I have begun working on Step 3: Honor My Mortality and the Mortality of All.


lisa eddy is a writer and editor for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy
On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com