“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.“Thomas Merton
I used to put myself to sleep by repeatedly reciting a little mantra that helped me transition from active days to hopes for a calm mind at night: “There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to know.” Guiding myself into greater comfort with not knowing was always helpful in reassuring my mind that it could truly rest and take a break from trying to plan and figure everything out. It seemed that where my mind could lead, my body would follow, and so I could slip into the sweet embrace of sleep.
There is much to discover that can surprise us, so much to which we can gratefully yield, so much permission to let go of our need to know or control what will happen.
In our daily lives, there are endless forms of uncertainty — far more things we cannot know than know. Objectively, this could be cause for great delight, wonder, and surrender. We could be relieved and appreciative that we do not have to perpetually hold onto the steering wheel, captain the ship, drive our lives. There is much to discover that can surprise us, so much to which we can gratefully yield, so much permission to let go of our need to know or control what will happen. And yet when we experience the presence of true uncertainty in our lives, it can be rattling. It goes against the conditioning most of us have internalized that not knowing is threatening — that it must be hidden or overridden, solved or resolved, as quickly as possible.
For everyone alive now, and for everyone who has ever lived, we are united in the fact that life invites us to show up again and again into mystery. There are no guarantees — only exquisite unknowns. We do not know exactly how or when we will die, and there is no single formula for how best to live. We do not know how life is going to unfold — in the grand scheme and also in its minutiae — and we cannot be in charge of most all of it. This freedom from control can either shrink our perspective to the size of a clinging fist or deliver us readily into the gaze of the cosmos, depending on how we approach life in the moment. Much of our freedom depends on cultivating greater perspective about being with uncertainty, however and whenever we can.
As we meet the uncertain world with grateful and wholehearted presence, our inner life and spiritual life are unfathomably enriched.
When we practice Grateful Living, we create a welcoming space for the surprise of uncertainty, knowing that it arrives naturally in each of those moments when we truly take nothing for granted. Without expectations, life is one surprising unfolding after another. The exact nature of the surprises that arrive in our lives is not up to us, but the nature of our response to surprise is ours and ours alone. Each time we let go and welcome life instead of holding onto our ideas about it, we receive reinforcement for our willingness to surrender to vastness rather than trying to resist it. The rewards of this shift are ever-available to us and make the risks ever-worthwhile, as they deliver the gifts of greater ease, resilience, and joy. As we meet the uncertain world with a more grateful, trusting presence, our inner life and spiritual life are unfathomably enriched. As Br. David Steindl-Rast says, “Deep trust in life is not a feeling but a stance that you deliberately take. It is the attitude we call courage.”
It seems we could benefit from learning to bring more of the intentions and prayers we use to guide ourselves to sleep at night to help guide us in how to be truly awake to our days. At night, we soften into the impending unknown of sleep by encouraging our minds to be fully in the moment, to let go, to trust, to surrender. Perhaps if we allowed ourselves to remember this practice of release — that there truly, often is nothing to know — in the fullness of how we live out our days, we might find ourselves more available to life, and life infinitely more available to us.
Photo by Sven Lachmann
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Kristi’s mantra ‘There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to know’, which introduces the reading Deepening Our Comfort with Uncertainty, is a priceless gift to me at this moment. On New Year’s Day, after much preparation and clearing of decks, I begin a ‘gap year’ in my eighth decade in which my mission is to explore the transformative practice of grateful living as a way of life.
I am already clear that the practice of seeking reasons to be grateful in each moment of every day will require me to live much closer to the present moment. This calls for nothing less than a radical change in my habits, the invisible architecture of everyday life. I have always been a compulsive organiser, striving to micro-manage everything in sight, yet in my new adventure my heart’s desire is to abandon plans, expectations and goals, trusting instead that all I need will be given to me.
‘There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to know’ will now underpin my way of living in the year ahead and, with profound gratefulness for the right words at the right time, I take Kristi’s mantra as my own.
Dear Kristi, thank you so much for your wisdom, it really comforts me. Love
Thank you so much for a beautiful article. It was/is just what I needed at this moment. I am just waking up to how much I resist uncertainty and life in general. My practice of acceptance and surrender is new to me and I feel already it is part of me now. Thank you again:)
I am preparing to retire in a year, and while I have been blessed with many friends, a loving husband and fulfilling work, I worry about isolation and loneliness. I have worked for nearly 40 years–and have always found great meaning in helping others. I am feeling afraid that I won’t find anything else and that my days will be empty and long. Letting go is hard and trusting the process is even harder. Thank you all for your comments today.
Dear Linda, I retired 8 years ago and it has been the best 8 years of my life. I have done alot of “inner work” and have never been happier. I truly enjoy the gift of each precious day! I wish you much joy and peace when you retire and always. Bless you, Linda.
Thank you, Sheila, for your encouraging reply.
Kristin thank you so much for sharing this. This is what need at this time in my life – to be at peace in the uncertainty.
Thanks Maria – How wonderful that you can find yourself inspiration and support for just what you need at this time in your life. May you always find it here, and everywhere you seek. Grateful to serve. K
Kristin, thank you for your life giving perspective… occasionally I find myself in this space and am graced with the freedom of which you speak.
I see that you have worked and led not for profits…. how do you manage to hold both the need for surrender and trust…. with the responsibility of fiscal management? In my experience these two always seem to be at odds.
Deanne – I LOVE this question. Thank you for asking. I do have many years at the helm of nonprofits whose fiscal health is a primary day-to-day concern. I have learned that holding this responsibility gratefully, bowing to the mission and trusting it to do ITS work in the world, and seeing fundraising as a core expression of organizational values as well as a spiritual practice – these all help me greatly. It is always the places where gratefulness is seemingly in tension with aspects of our lives that we have to find meaningful, new, creative pathways, practices, and paradigms. This is how we live our best lives, deepen a grateful orientation, and also help to heal the world! Thanks for being so awake to possibility. Please stay in touch – K
I so needed to hear this today Kristin…. thank you…
Be well and continue to share your wisdom. I for one will be listening ?
I felt free and comforted when reading this. I felt the release and joy of welcoming uncertainty as natural, as a given surprise into which we are invited to delight. I was astonished to realize how much of the current cultural value on certainty and control that I have imbued! I will try out your go to sleep mantra, and I invite myself to re-read this and walk with pleasure, in openness to treasure. My eyes want to release water in thanks, Mary Anne
Mary Anne – What a stunningly beautiful reflection you have offered us. Thank you so much for your awareness, longings and sharing. Please stay connected. We are in this together. K
Hi Kristi, Thanks for this beautifully written reminder. It’s so filled with the wisdom of “going with the flow,” of “expecting what you need” not what you think you need; It is a reminder that life is trustworthy. I’ve been in my new home for about two weeks. I made a major move due to health reaons and am learning so much about myself from this experience. As Br. David says in your essay, “Deep trust in life is not a feeling but a stance that you deliberately take. It is the attitude we call courage.” Yes, it’s the attitude of gratitude. As Matthew Fox says in his book “Meditation with Meister Eckhart”
“The Word of God
Is always “In the beginning.”
And this means it is always in the process of being born
And is always already born”
Life is process not product and we are LIFE!
Dear Carol – Indeed, there is much we can learn from letting go and seeing what happens when we allow life to be “trustworthy,” allowing ourselves to be both trustworthy and trusting. The ripple effects of this exploration are endless. Blessings on your move and new home. Thanks for staying connected, no matter where you are! K
Dear Kristi, thank-you for your beautiful essay! As I have gotten older I realize that I truly do not know anything. ‘Letting go and letting God’ has become easier for me and I have come to love life so much! Living gratefully has helped me greatly in this. God will not give us anything that is not for the highest good. My heart is so filled with love after reading your touching essay! Thank-you, Kristi!!! God bless you.
Peace and love, Sheila ?
Dear Sheila – Thank you for your humility and faith-filled life. Letting go reinforces our trust and love for life. How wonderful not to have to steer the ship all the time. You are a blessing. K
Dear Kristi, it is so kind of you to take the time to write a personal reply to everyone who shares a reflection on your essay. It means so much and your replys are as wonderful as your essay is. Thank-you!
Peace, love and blessings, Sheila ?
Dear Kristi, Thank you for the article. As practicing grateful living each day, I follow the flow, what the universe gives us; and each day I can see the light of the life. I am happy. I am grateful. For me happiness and gratefulness is equal position of a state of my mind, The moment I feel, I say it loud, express it, and send the “Happiness” message to friends and family. Like today, Happiness…is the sunny day, home and my garden.
Dear Is – Thank you for knowing that a grateful heart is a happy heart. And I am so glad that you follow the flow of your life and share your joy with the world! Thank you for sharing it with us. K