Every stage of our life has places of uncertainty, times we get caught in the worry, anxiety and stress of trying to anticipate when our sky will fall. We go to great lengths to prepare for these surprises of illness, accident, aging and loss. Whether we are anticipating something big or small, building an emotional fortress to keep it out can become an all-consuming pursuit.
What is really lost in these fruitless efforts to secure a guarantee of safety is the ability to enjoy the present because we are so distracted and worried about what might happen in the future. Our life cycle of change only causes us to tighten up some more and work ever harder to fight against this uncertainty of the unknown.
How does this state of guarding against the unknown play out when we are taken aback by illness, aging or bereavement? It creates an emotional place of living in our fears of what we imagine might happen. Our imagination magnifies our worst fears and anxieties. In this place it becomes hard to see anything else.
The line between wise, common sense awareness, and debilitating anxieties about what we fear might befall us, can be very fine. Think of the difference between locking your car or home as thoughtful theft prevention, or being consumed with worry and stress that someone is lurking nearby ready to snatch your car or steal into your house at any moment. I can feel my heart racing even as I write this!
Just recently I came face to face with my own fears of aging and my body not responding in its dependable hardy fashion. “How dare my body act up like this, especially as I was approaching my birthday?” The two came together in a conspiracy of negativity about getting older and worry about what was around the bend.
My own processing got me thinking about what we all need when the unexpected happens. I especially want to share it with you, in the hopes that you will find some useful ideas and connections to whatever worries and uncertainties you have or are experiencing in your life. So, here are 4 areas to explore:
You might be questioning my choice of going straight to acceptance as a first step in this process. If you are connecting to Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief, you may remember that acceptance was the final stage in grieving the loss of a loved one. However, when we are dealing with illness, fears of aging or other major life transitions, being able to accept exactly where we are becomes the starting point, not the end point. Accepting that you are divorced or getting older or not feeling well is where we must be in order to begin to deal with our situation, whatever it is.
Our needs in the face of aging and illness will encompass our physical, emotional and spiritual being. Sharpening our body awareness helps us become attune to asking; “What does my body need?” Maybe it is more rest or more activity. You might need to nurture becoming more sensitive to what your body or emotions are telling you during the course of any given day. How our bodies respond to exercise, foods, medications or experiences is important information to know. The same is true in being aware of our emotional needs in relationship…to ourselves, our body and to others.
We all hold expectations of what we “should” be thinking, feeling or doing. “I should be able to breeze through a 10 hour work day at age 60 the same as I could when I was 30.” “Why is it taking so much longer for me to get over this cold now that I’m older?” In holding ourselves to expectations either within or outside of us, we set ourselves up for the disappointment and discouragement of not meeting these arbitrary standards.
4. Patience and Self-Compassion
When we allow ourselves to become proactive and non-judgmental towards what our bodies or emotions need, we are building self-compassion for whatever place of change we are at. The healing of body or spirit happens in its own time and can’t be rushed. With the sensitivity of knowing ourselves, we can be aware of small changes rather than looking too far beyond. Here is where expectations and what we want can truly cloud what we need.
As for me…That birthday came and went. It is not so daunting anymore. I have settled into being fine exactly where I am!
I’ve learned a lot lately about how to listen to my body and know what it needs. My process of exercise, nutrition and mindfulness are much clearer and focused. And uncertainty?…with patience and self-compassion, I allow the unknown and uncertainty to just hang out there, while I enjoy as fully as possible my present moment.
Give it a try and feel what happens!