Facing uncertainty and the “What if” mind

Today Jeff H. led the Sangha as we listened to Brian Lesage from Election Day 2020 in a talk entitled “Facing Uncertainty: Allowing Love to to Return in a Different Way”. You can listen to the talk here:

Jeff’s thoughts on this topic are written below.

Some people say we are living in unprecedented times: a global pandemic, an intensely divisive American presidential election, fallout from the American system of racial oppression, global climate change and more. Uncertainty seems to be lurking everywhere.

Other people might instead offer that there is nothing new under the sun. World Wars I and II, the violence and unrest of the 1960’s, plagues throughout history, the world has always been filled with uncertainty. Everybody gets an uncertainty medal.

The Buddha proposed that everything is uncertain, subject to causes and conditions beyond our control. When we choose to believe the illusions of certainty we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Better to study the transient, imperfect and impersonal nature of all things,  release our attachment to particular outcomes and reduce our disappointment. Sounds easy.

Our brains are hardwired to seek certainty in an uncertain world. Brian Lesage recognizes that this tendency is futile, but it appears to offer short-term comfort as we plan for the future. What can be a useful tool, the “what if” mind can become a prison. Let’s listen to the talk that Brian gave this election day, a peak in national uncertainty.
I admit to spending a lot of time before, during and after the election stuck in my “what if” mind. I deliberately ramped up my vipassana practice to improve my resiliency, but occasionally fall back into anxiety and fear. We can even bring others into our “what if” scenarios, which is not a way to dispel the misery of the world.

Brian advocates using media to inform, but not allowing media to rule our lives. I have limited the amount of election news I view. The stories are designed to catch our attention and push us onto the next story. This is a recipe for anxiety and fear. As Brian says, anything can happen tomorrow which is always the case. Letting the media fill our hearts with sensationalized stories is not a kindness to ourselves.

I appreciate Brian’s suggestion to use the “what if” mind as a tool and use the media to inform. This seems to be in harmony with “the middle way”.