If someone asked you where are you heading, what would your reply be? Might it be going nowhere?
That’s not intended as a frivolous question, though many right now might feel tempted to reply with variations around “get lost!”. It could be something around, “don’t ask me questions I can’t answer”. Because such is the state of the world right now that there don’t seem to be answers and many people feel incredibly uncertain and anxious about the future, and even focusing on the immediate can be really hard work and tiring.
What’s your state of the world?
In the UK, there is a decision pending about Brexit, but there’s no sense that things will get better and if anything could get a whole lot worse. In other countries, there’s a lot of unrest, even in places a sense of near-revolt, or continued concern about President Trump or whoever, or a general dissatisfaction with one’s lot, or a wondering if you will get by. Then we hear of the dire state of the climate and how humanity’s future could be in doubt if we don’t change course. We read of stock market crashes, the rising price of fuel, the risks of a trade war, or disasters of one kind of another. The mind, once aroused around fear, will quickly focus on more things and we start to catastrophise, like something dreadful might happen, or going through “what if” scenarios. Just to check, ask yourself: have you over the last week been predominantly optimistic or pessimistic?
One way such uncertainty can show up is in how we feel, like feeling tired, exhausted, low energy, low morale, or struggling to get motivated. It’s like pushing water uphill and not having a sense of achieving anything. Some report waking up at night feeling very anxious, but with no particular reason.
Disempowerment: not being in control
People don’t feel like they can get on with their lives. It can manifest as a sense of disempowerment, or, to borrow a phrase much used at present, “not being in control”. Anger can spill out every now and again, like the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. People need to express it somehow because otherwise the powerlessness gets channelled internally.
I used to work with this state a lot in organisations going through major restructuring which could seriously impact people’s jobs, especially when awaiting announcements. It was the “not knowing” that really did it for them. It was hard if not impossible to plan ahead, to get a sense of direction. People would experience a loss of purpose, even of competence and self-esteem. They didn’t feel valued.
I used to call it a “limbo” state, being in limbo.
It also happens when people are awaiting a health diagnosis. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is or, crucially, what is to be done about it. Will it be serious – or not? Will they be OK – or not?
It’s the not knowing, the state in between, a void, which we try unsuccessfully to avoid.
Afterwards, it’s different. Once people know, they can plan, prepare and get on with their life. Now they at least know where they stand. It might not be that pleasant, but at least they can get on with things.
What can you do?
So it’s important to remember that this is a passing phase. It does not last. Life goes on. Remember the famous John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or the Buddhist understanding that all is impermanent, all in process, and that nothing stays the same. So too, we move on. If we allow it.
So, if you are faced with uncertainty in some form, while it isn’t necessarily nice, you can do something. After all you are a responsible being, if you so choose. So, you can act as one.
One is to look after yourself. This is crucial, since stress levels can rocket. So breathe and meditate, take exercise, eat healthily, every day. Remember your values and what and who you love, including crucially yourself! Love endures despite all things.
Two, have options. There is always a choice, even when we feel disempowered. Find things to make choices over, things you can control. Be prepared, at least to cover possible scenarios. Once you’ve thought it through, put it away somewhere and don’t mull over it.
Three, manage your mind, deliberately, intentionally. After all, we are what we think, and life turns up accordingly. So, by managing our minds, we can keep or regain the focus we want. We can manage and let go of anxiety. This is true taking control. This means, as this blog explains a lot, pausing, stepping back from your stream of thoughts, becoming fully aware, in the present moment, letting thoughts go, being in the Now. And stay there a bit, letting anxiety shift from thinking to feeling to dissolving, so that all you are aware of is Now.
Such present moment awareness allows you to shift from going nowhere to being now here.