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Embracing uncertainty in 2021 with mindful awareness and radical acceptance

No one will deny 2020 is a year filled with sufferings, uncertainty and chaos.  Everyone of us is looking forward to a new start in 2021 and hoping that things will turn out to be better.  In the last week of 2020, I suffered from severe toothache due to complications of an operation for installing a crown to one of my teeth.  The operation was done before Christmas holiday and I cannot arrange another dental appointment to alleviate the pain during the holiday.  From this unexpected suffering, I reflected that suffering in our life is inevitable.  From my mindfulness practice, I know I need to accept this suffering and be compassionate to it.  I found the pain comes and goes throughout the holiday.  Of course, I took pain killers to alleviate my pain despite I have the concept of embracing it.  As the effectiveness of the pain killers was not stable, I had a lesson of surrendering to my suffering during Christmas.  I let my experience of the pain unfold and embraced it as much as I could.  My experience of this suffering inspires me on how to prepare ourselves to a new year filled with uncertainty.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, year 2021 will be filled with radical uncertainty.  There is one thing we can be certain.  We will continue to experience sufferings in different levels related to the pandemic.  It seems that we are trapped by our sufferings in the face of the pandemic and we have no control on how things are going to unfold in 2021.  In fact, we can cultivate inner peace by letting go of our tendency to control and accepting everything about ourselves and our lives.  By cultivating mindfulness, we bring our awareness to our present moment experience without judgment and with acceptance.  In this Christmas, I try to bring mindful awareness to my toothache and try not to avoid feeling the pain.  Without trying too hard to control the pain, I accepted my suffering and the experience seemed less intolerable.

To cultivate radical acceptance, as discussed by Tara Brach, we need to see what is happening inside us with an open, kind and loving heart.  Brach described two parts of genuine acceptance, seeing clearly and experience what happened inside us with compassion.  During the Christmas holiday, I clearly saw that I had internal dialogue of blaming myself for making wrong judgment in choosing dentist.  I also worried about the exacerbation of the complications and the prolonged duration of the pain.  Frankly, I also felt disappointed at a less enjoyable long-waited holiday due to the pain.  When I could see my internal experience clearly and experience my pain without avoidance, I gave myself compassion for my self-blaming, worries and disappointment.  With compassion, I embraced whatever was happening inside me and I started to feel the freedom of enjoying my holiday within the limitation of my pain.  I still went out with my family and friends and ate whatever good food I could chew.  With this freedom, I enjoyed every moment of my holiday with acceptance and I had a peaceful holiday.

I was still in toothache while I was writing this blog.  For me, the alleviation of pain and recovery of the complications of my tooth were still uncertain.  As suggested by John Kay and Mervyn King, a good strategy for facing a radically uncertain world is not to pretend that we have the knowledge of what will happen next.  With embracing the uncertainty, we identify references for the situations we are facing.  We try to visualise alternative future scenarios.  As a result, we try to ensure that our plans are robust and resilient to a range of unfolding alternatives in the future.  With courage and confidence, we believe that our past experiences had equipped us with practice strategies that are more robust than academic models and theories using for prediction of our future.  In fact, it is the uncertainty that makes us evolve to a better “self”.  Without uncertainty, there is little room for evolution.  

In the face of all the radical uncertainties in 2021, we need to cultivate genuine acceptance to whatever is unfolding in our experience.  We need to see our experiences and our inner world clearly.  With clarity in our perception of our experiences and inner self, we accept these with compassion, kindness and love.  Only when we cultivate radical acceptance to our experiences, we can embrace all the uncertainties and acknowledge our not-knowing.  As a result, we humble ourselves to develop robust and resilient plans to face all the possible alternatives in the future.  Let us be confident and courageous to face the challenges of 2021 with a evolutionary mindset.

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