Dancing with Uncertainty

I’ve identified as a counselor now for 15 years, and I’ve come to appreciate the practice of professional counseling as both art and science.

In my 7 years as a full-time professor in academia, I’ve also grown to appreciate empirical research AND that which transcends the illusion of certainty.

Certainty. What does it mean to be certain?  

Empirical research does not make us certain, as much as we’d like it to. It can show us trends, tendencies, and probabilities. But certainty is different.

What does it mean to be uncertain?

Did you know that we are neurologically programmed as human beings to create stories for what we don’t understand? Yeah, our brains just make stuff up. We do it when we’re unsure, when things don’t make sense, when there are gaps to fill in, or when something doesn’t fit snugly into one of our preconceived boxes for making sense of the world.

This is how gossip works, too. When we see a situation/person/scenario that just does NOT make sense to us, our brains start firing off stories to explain it. We are hardwired to do this. It is a neat process to notice and practice being mindful of.  A mindful moment can be as simple as pausing to be present with our thoughts. We can begin to notice those automatic assumptions and stories, and we can choose to let them go…

But why would we do that? I mean, how does it feel to be uncertain?

Sometimes I like to imagine uncertainty as a dance partner. 

Whether we are certain or not, uncertainty is always there inviting us to dance. It is a constant. Imagine uncertainty out there on the dance floor, beckoning you to dance with them. When I imagine uncertainty on a dance floor, my mind sends me right back to the 8th grade dance in my middle school gymnasium. Something about those awkward memories just reek of uncertainty.

So here you are at the dance of life, and where’s uncertainty? Dancing their ass off right under the bright lights and the disco ball.

Here is the question: 

Where are YOU? What is your relationship to uncertainty?

Are you off to the side, arms crossed, pretending Uncertainty doesn’t exist?

Are you too proud to acknowledge Uncertainty out there dancing like a fool?

Do you reluctantly drag your feet out onto the dance floor and half-heartedly do the sprinkler about 10 feet away, being careful not to get too close…because, after all, Uncertainty might be contagious.

Or when you see Uncertainty out there cutting up the rug, inviting you to dance – do you choose to let go of your inhibitions and just join in? Are you willing to dance wildly and joyfully? No choreographed routine. No way of knowing when it will end, although we can *almost* be certain it will.

The truth about uncertainty is this: We never know when something or someone we love and value will fall right into our lap without even trying. And we never know when something or someone we love and value will be taken away or become misplaced.

The truth is, there is very little in this life we can be certain of.

In my work as a counselor, many clients come in with some type of relationship with uncertainty.  Some feel stuck, clinging to what they firmly believe they know to be true.  Some are faced with difficult decisions, uncertain of what to do next. One of my practices as a counselor is to work on expanding my own ability to be uncertain.

To dance with Uncertainty.

Because the more willing I am to dance with Uncertainty, the more apt my clients are to join in the dance. And together we can dance wildly and with abandon as we navigate the hard things.  Navigating those hard things doesn’t have to feel static.

My wish for us all is this: May we be willing to meet Uncertainty under the sparkling disco ball and share the dance of our lives.