In Depth: Not Knowing

In Depth: Not Knowing

This is a series on Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” For more on that, check out this post.

Guidepost 5: Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith (Letting Go of the Need for Certainty).

I want you to know I feel personally attacked by this chapter. I love knowing things. I love certainty. I feel the most comfortable when there’s more money than I need in my bank account, more food than I need in the pantry, and more friendships than I have time for realistically. After all, how do I know when something bad will happen? How will I be prepared for bad things? I frequently joke with clients that I should have been an accountant because at least then there would be some sort of right answer. Letting go of certainty is super uncomfortable for me.

Dr. Brown really gets me here, too, because it isn’t just that I have to let go totally and do things without a safety net. She points out that while trusting your intuition means being uncertain, it doesn’t mean just giving up on our reason and thoughtfulness and throwing all caution to the wind. I’ve been on both sides: So afraid to move without knowing the ground will be under me that I freeze up and then so tired of being frozen that I jump off the cliff without even double checking the parachute. Neither one, she argues, is really what trusting faith and intuition means. Ask me about my first marriage. Actually no, don’t do that.

In the chapter, Dr. Brown defines faith by her research data this way:

“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”

Brené Brown

Some things I can’t see: Will it be OK? Will you still love me? Will my bills get paid? Will the climate be able to be repaired? Can I trust you? Will my children be safe? Will I always be alone?

I can spend my whole life being afraid and staying small, not trusting what my intuition and faith are telling me. I can ask questions of my friends and others to try to gain a feeling of sureness–do you think I should invest in this? Should I work more hours? Should I buy this plant? I’ve done lots of this polling over the years, trying desperately to gain a sense of certainty and safety in a world that is unpredictable. The truth is, safety doesn’t come from the world. It’s not safe here.

Someone asked me recently how I cultivate a sense of safety in myself, knowing that the world can’t support me that way. My best answer was this meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh:

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Somehow, knowing I am alive and I dwell in the ultimate is a feeling of safety. I can’t get this feeling from certainty (because it isn’t real) and I can’t get it from knowledgeable friends and I can’t get it with enough food to feed an army in my pantry. It is comforting to know that I can get this feeling, any time I want, by returning home to my own faith in the fact that I exist, I am here, I dwell in the ultimate. That, if nothing else, is certain.