Leaning Into The Unknown With Open Hands

Our days are riddled with unknowns. The next moment is unknown. We don't like to be caught off guard. Surprises can cause anxiety. This is more intense and challenging for some than for others. Though our schedules are jam-packed and calendars full to the brim with our plans and intentions, the future is always unknown and nonexistent to us, until it emerges and gives itself to us in and as the Present Moment. This is not new to reflect on or recognize. But the ego-self has endlessly subtle, unique, and creative methods to handle and cope with these unknowns and 'uncertainties'. 

The 'in-between' places of life, the spaces between the shorelines of solidity and grounding, what John O'Donohue and others refer to as thresholds or liminal spaces, are usually the very places that make us feel incredibly uneasy and uncomfortable. The actual experience of not knowing, of smelling and tasting that lack of 'sureness' and whatever makes us feel grounded and solid, can be awkward, terrifying, anxiety-producing, stirring up all sorts of memories, fears, and insecurities in us. For some, this experience can be a season of a few years. For others it can be a season of a few hours. And, let's be honest, it can be a 'season' of a few minutes. Large or small, these moments challenge us. They challenge our footing, they challenge and shift our grips that provide a sense of ok-ness.   

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

It is perhaps most difficult to listen and be open in moments such as these, where the tensions in us make us want to choose one or the other shoreline, to regain some sense of knowing what is and what is not, anything that is in our eyesight (or mindsight) that may provide a sense of sure footing and alright-ness. A piece of tape to stand on. It is perhaps most difficult to even see these moments as gifts (how absurd!) or as anything with ripe potential to show us or teach us something new, beautiful and quite needed, revealing more to us...US, our very own becoming and evolving Self, and the story that we are living and writing. 

Open hands. This has always been a lovely, profound, and poetic image for me in my journey. It has long lived as good furniture in the rooms of my heart and imagination. I have been discovering over the past few years how much easier it is to enjoy and employ the language and concepts of open hands. The actual practice of living with open hands is much more demanding and real. It is the difference between jumping off the ledge into the lake, feeling the wind rush over your skin and the ensuing crisp splash of your watery entrance, and the mere imaginal construct that you can safely see in your mind's eye and write a blog post about. 

"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability...To be alive is to be vulnerable." (Madeleine L'Engle)

One of my graduate school professors once said this about change and grief: "Grieving is at the heart of change. Grieving is a letting go process. Letting go of hope." And Richard Rohr writes in many places that all great spirituality is about letting go. So what are we being challenged to let go of right now? Where do you notice resistance in yourself to opening up to the unknown that is inviting you forward? What do you need to grieve? Remember that all transition and change involves losing or letting go of the old and being introduced to and invited to receive the new. All change and transition involves both loss and reception of the new. This will always involve some grieving, and true grief always involves gratitude. 

On the other side of grief, though difficult right now to see, imagine, or trust, is new life and a further developed self and story for you. There is an ever-expanding land for you to continue exploring and living in. When the New comes to us, it asks for space and room to dwell and land in. We're asked to show hospitality to the New. We likely will not make room for the New when we are full of fear and clinging, however secretly or openly, to the old. 

"Part of it is just the way the brain works—the familiar is easier because it requires less attention from us. Even ‘bad’ familiar. We know it, we can use autopilot and we don’t have to pay attention or use extra energy." - Gretchen Schmelzer (psychologist and writer)

In John O'Donohue's blessing "For One Who Is Exhausted", he exhorts us to 'be excessively gentle with' ourselves.

Patience. Gentleness. Kindness. Acceptance. 

You and I need these graces in abundance, especially in the deep and dark times of exhaustion and unknowing. We each of us have the option (invitation?), moment by moment, to choose between fear (closing down) or love (opening up). May you be given the peace, endurance, and child-like openness and vulnerability to trust that opening up is Better and Truer than staying closed and turning away from the unknown and the new. 



I'm told to let go and trust the fall

to "feel" wobbly

let go, to not know for a while

(and let my handlebars do that wiggly, weird, kind of crazy

movement that makes me feel uneasy, there are rocks and gaps

and ditches all about)

to let go of an old way, an old habit, an old belief

an old way of seeing

I want to become sturdy in ways I can't imagine

right now

I want to be knit back together

with these moments of new beginning

Who ever gets this 'change thing' right?

No flip of the switch, no butterfly


after one night in the cocoon

So if we want to 'feel our wings'

we must let go of the branch

and yes,

if we want to discover new lands

one must consent to lose

sight for a very long time

of the shore.

may our wobbles

turn into celebrated