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Letting Go of the Fear of Uncertainty and Embracing Adventure

“Each time you stay present with fear and uncertainty, you’re letting go of a habitual way of finding security and comfort.” ~ Pema Chodron

Being the thought-out planner with a neatly plotted road map—and a compass tightly gripped in one hand, pointing due north—I cringe a bit (okay, a lot actually) at the thought of changing direction, being adventurous, and going off the beaten path.

I’ve purposefully designed my external life for security—the cushy job, maximizing the 401K, additional streams of income to insulate the extra-super-comfy-security, a large home for a future family, long-time childhood friends, and a solid marriage.

I am deeply grateful for all of these and, on most days, find pride that my focused, linear thinking has created a surrounding of comforts.

As I venture further on this journey, though, I realize that anchoring ourselves with an abundance of security can actually become a dangerous habit.

It can create an attachment that prevents us from being fully awake.

My straight-path mindset hadn’t really prepared me for an off-roading adventure. I held a belief that if I softened my resistance to allow things to go in a direction other than I had planned, this would be a mini-failure of sorts—a “giving in” to the unknown.

And the unknown, after all, is deeply rooted in scariness, signifying weakness, giving up, having no direction. It’s not secure, and far, far from safe.

Or so I had thought.

Sometimes we can be blindly walking down a path and then an obstacle, a detour, or a sharp turn appears, asking us to expand our mind and heart to see and feel differently.

This past year, I found myself becoming a security-junky of sorts, as I would not allow for an unforeseen change to enter my life.

I would stand firmly at the arrival of this unwelcome circumstance with crossed arms and a tremendous amount of resistance. I held tightly onto my compass, my road map pressed against my chest, and didn’t want to let go.

Since February, I spent many hours becoming financially responsible for my widowed mother-in-law. She suddenly became ill with dementia and struggled with everyday tasks, including her financial independence.

At 28, I learned all one could know about social security, supplemental health insurance, Medicare part a, b, c, d, e, state-aid programs, assisted living centers, and estate planning.

I hadn’t planned to become a power of attorney and full-time financial planner, and make heavy decisions for a parent, at this age.

My husband, an only child, was now a part-time caretaker and full-time emotional shoulder for his mom. Being in his late 20’s, he hadn’t envisioned this either.

My mother-in-law—known to her friends as an independent woman, a young spirit and yogini at heart—at 67 was forced into retirement after 40 years of teaching. She was now house-bound with no privilege to drive, vastly dependent on others.

Nowhere was this ever charted in her plans.

I managed to swim through all the budgeting and retirement planning, while being angry about the situation at the same time. I felt shaky with uncertainty: about her health, my husband’s hurt for slowly losing his only family member, and how we would gracefully handle this new responsibility, alongside our own dreams for the future.

Mentally, I was able to get through all the intricacies of planning; but, emotionally I started to become unavailable.

I began to feel my energy slipping away. So I’d retract from the situation. But then, I’d bounce back with guilt, believing I was not being a supportive wife or daughter. And so, I’d open up for a bit by helping with tasks, planning, and appointments.

It was this recurring push, pull, cycle of shrinking my energy, coming up for air, and then starting over again. It was stressful.

Resistance and tension, I soon discovered, is choosing a fear-based, chaotic way of life.

After several months of these cycles—and with the aid of a mindfulness practice to show me another way—I was able to reframe the situation.

This unexpected weight of responsibility was an opportunity to step outside of mental barriers. It was a chance to break old habitual patterns of clinging to familiar good-times. It was a choice to let go of the resistance to inevitable change.  

A new approach to how I faced this challenge arose: I would, radically, let it be okay that this situation made me frustrated, sad, angry, and fearful.

And not long after, some healing followed.

I found a delicate balance by not expending mental space on clinging to worry. My mindset found comfort in the uncomfortable. My heart would begin to open again, surfacing with more compassion, more gratitude, and a renewal for life.

What I’ve learned over the course of the past eight months is this:

Our need for physical security is perhaps an outward gesture of our inner fear of uncertainty. When we finally step into the discomfort—stare at fear face on—we come out lighter and less fearfully attached.

In turn, we reveal more of who we are at the core: confident, expansive, and totally adventurous.

If you’re feeling muddled by uncertainty and fear, these ideas may help you navigate these feelings with courage:

Re-think thinking too much. Many of us are conditioned to “think things out.” A bombardment of non-stop thoughts rarely gets us anywhere. Honest clarity lies in letting things go, stepping back, and holding space for the unknown. Being present with patience and allowing time to pass is a healing process.

Practice acceptance. Befriend not knowing and let go of the need to know what’s next. Ease and peace will follow. Resistance and fighting are extremely rigid and draining. Acceptance is fluid, light, and ever-changing. Shifting to an acceptance mindset allows us to show-up, wholly, with our attention grounded in the present, and experience heightened levels of awareness and wisdom.

Remember what’s there. Each of us is capable of experiencing an unlimited amount of goodness. When feeling anxious or worried, remember to shed off the heaviness of resistance to reveal what is always underneath: love and freedom. As a favorite zen teacher of mine writes, “Behind attachment is freedom. Behind fear, love.” ~Ezra Bayda

Understand uncertainty. Our journey will always be laced with hurt, risks, laughter, and celebration. We don’t get to cherry pick only the parts of our path we want to experience. It’s an all-inclusive ride. Learning to acknowledge that there will always be uncertainty will allow our experiences to be more meaningful and joyful, regardless of what we may be dealing with.

Find adventure. Think back to an exhilarating, defining, or even life-changing moment. You might notice this memory occurred when you were going with the flow, having faith—even when you couldn’t see the big picture at the time.

When we release a tight grip of old comforts, adventure and opportunities seem to naturally arise. When we allow situations to be—without having to change or redirect them—transformations begin to happen.

Until lately, it never dawned on me that simply holding space to intentionally allow for the unknown is where real strength and true courage lies.

My mother-in-law’s condition has been a huge awakening. She is a reminder that our time here is precious and limited. Each of us will come and go. And nothing that truly matters is ever permanent.

With this new opening in my life, the direction I will take has changed course. And I feel more prepared for off-roading moments. She is a reminder to live fully—to renew purpose and energy, explore new ways of seeing, reconnect to values, practice mindfulness by accepting situations as they come, and as they are.

Improvising as we go is much more freeing than rigidly fighting against what is.

Loosening the grip on this compass and finding another route on my roadmap will always mean a continuous practice of letting go and being with uncertainty. The reward of honoring this path—in the company of a headwind of fears—is that we will have really lived with courage, adventure, and love.

How do you face the fears, the uncomfortable, in your life? Do you have a certain process, a “perspective check,” a mantra, or a reminder that helps you find a sense of peace with uncertainty?

Photo by A Pillow of Winds

Avatar of Cat Li Stevenson

About Cat Li Stevenson

Cat is a devotee to wellness, mindfulness & happiness. A recent corporate escapee who is living and practicing Zen, for the next year or so, on various meditation cushions in the world. At the intersection of her dynamic roles, Cat blogs at Think Simple Now. Add her as a friend on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Grace

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this articulate reminder. 
    My husband had a stroke a year and a half ago; I lost my job; I’ve struggled with the responsibility and insecurity of the situation. I never thought I would apply for food stamps or consider bankruptcy and foreclosure on our home – but here I am.
    I’ve been experiencing burnout and feeling as though I’m spread too thin. “Resistance and tension, I soon discovered, is choosing a fear-based, chaotic way of life.”
    I know that letting go and allowing things to be as they are is the way to walk out of this chaotic dream – but I REALLY needed a reminder.

  • Hope

    Thank you for your contribution. I had to move away from my kids after a divorce and I had no income. I had to move in with my parents. My dad’s health is failing and I hold so much resentment towards him because he was once my abuser. I hold several degrees and have trouble finding work in my field. I am grateful for the job I have now, but it is not what I love to do. I know I have to let the universe take care of me and be grateful and patient and be okay with uncertainty. This helped. I am grateful for the reminder. Namaste.

  • Lila

    This post came not a minute too soon. I unexpectedly became the full time caregiver of my mother, following the death of her husband and son within a 3 month period last year.  Everything you say resonates with me, though I am older.  Fear and uncertainty knows no age. 

  • Steve Hewitt

    Wonderful. Just what I needed at this difficult time. Thank you

  • Damien Otis

    Thank you for writing this. I’m a few days from moving to a city across my country, having never been nearly that far. I need to grow and I can’t do it here. I wish everything was setup and comfortable, but establishing myself in a culture unfamiliar to me is no easy task.

    This post is inspiring. You’ve articulated what I’ve been feeling. It’s encouraging to know that being calm and allowing the world to envelope me is not a lazy stance. That choosing to not let worry consume me is not irresponsible.

  • http://nochnoch.com/ Noch Noch

    oh i used to loathe any changes in plans i’ve laid down with a vengeance. but after i got sick 2 years ago, i’ve discovered some changes are for the better. and learning to go with the flow a bit more… 
    Noch

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Hope~ You must be a strong woman.

    I’m often grateful for the challenges that I’ve faced at a younger age. It seems each ‘hardships’ (call it an obstacle, an event laced w/resentment, and the like) served as a reminder — a be fully awake call — that life is precious.

    Sometimes, I feel like the lucky ones are those who have endured more, experienced more … and surfaced with facets of perspective. 

    You are a warrior in training …. Blessings to you.

    ~Cat

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Lila~ Wow. I love that: Fear & Uncertainty Knows No Age. 

    Sounds like your mother has had significant loss … and is deeply fortunate to have you — caretaker and strength — in her life.

    My best wishes to you and your family.

    ~Cat

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Grace~ ”
    I know that letting go and allowing things to be as they are is the way to walk out of this chaotic dream” <= Yes!

    Your words remind me of one of my fave books — Don Miguel's Four Agreements.

    I always find it interesting how 'what we never thought would happen to us' … well, it happened to us. And when it does, seems it's a refreshing new way of looking at life — new way of seeing, new open-mindedness to the rest of the world … and our connection to it.

    Wishing you and your hubby a wonderful Holiday.

    ~Cat

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Noch~ Best wishes for your health. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. :)

    ~Cat

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Thanks Steve. Glad the words resonated with you.

    ~Cat

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Damien~ Up until this past year, I didn’t realize that not worrying was the wiser, more courageous stance. I always thought I was one set ahead by forecasting the risks of the future … and then planning for it.

    But, gosh, a truly exhausting, fear-based way to live. It was a big ‘a-ha’ to figure out that letting go and holding space for beautiful surprises in the unraveling of the unknown is much, much more freeing. This is to be truly alive. 

    And congrats on an exciting move! And the self-awareness … and self-love that you have harnessed to realize this move is for your growth.  The world —  seems she opens up to us — teaches & guides when we remove barriers and choose to see with fresh eyes.  

    Please let us know how the move goes!

    ~Cat

  • ZKM

    Great article Cat!  Life does become easier when you just flow…I’m still working on that flow thing!  

  • Ho Melvin

    One plus week for me to move to another country too. On the main process of planning stuff like a place to stay, budget and resume. When I think about the situation of been there, it sinks me a little with “What if?” thought.

    I have to snap out of it as my present situation was not as rosy as well but in fact is getting worst. My instinct tells me to get out and explore for a change of things. Thinking too much is just making it worst but I stumbled into this article and found you, Damien which had the same position as me. Not to make myself comforting that others had the same situation but I’m grateful that others dare to take the uncertain curve. All the best to your journey and mine too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.l.stevenson Catherine Li Stevenson

    Thanks, Karen, for all your support. You are in the flow … livin’ a dream … mind just has to ‘catch up’ with the heart & body. :)

  • http://www.jonanscher.com Jon Anscher

    Great article! I just posted a short story from one of my own journeys to face and let go of my fear. It can be hard and scary, but it’s amazing how freeing it is to let go of those fears and “fly.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-G-Hibberd/781495261 David G Hibberd

    I have nothing to “fear” yet I cannot live my life without worry and anxiety. I will embrace the day I can wake up and actualy “wake up”, let go of the past and find my true path ;-) xx

  • http://www.jewelocean.com/ Kelly Ocean

    Stepping out of your comfort zone is one of the most difficult things that any one can do. I have been teaching my kids from early preteen days to step out and lose yourself in the wild once a year in the National Park near our home. Although its not exactly a wild place and anyone can hardly lose his or her way in a 30 acre of wild growth, but the feeling they get is exhilarating for them and it makes them more confident in their abilities to get out of trouble.

  • http://www.aliciaorfila.com.ar/ Alicia Orfila

    Thank you very much! inspires me to write about my own uncertainty and share it, why not?ALICIA 

  • Jessica

    What a beautiful message. It came so handy for me…

    Thank you!

  • Rahul

    “Our need for physical security is perhaps an outward gesture of our inner fear of uncertainty.”

    That has been the story of my post-adolescence life till now. It’s a regressive situation to be in. At times I realize how much and what all I’m missing out on due to this stubbornness of not being able to let-go and take-it-easy.

    Fortunately, I now understand what’s contributing to my miseries and will try to get around this close minded pattern.

    I commend you for hitting the bull’s eye on our Fear due to insecurities and uncertaintly. Great post!

  • Sanja

    What will you do if people make to you or your family computer and tehnology crime,how you will be then feel?

  • Bevin

    I have been living most of life in fear of uncertainty. In observation of my behaviors, I realized that most of my activities has been different ways to pursue security. Even the most noble of my values, to love, has been an activity of fear. I love because I seek certainty in relationships and possessions. It has dawned on me that I have to let go and move with life. Life in essence is uncertainty but it does not have to be fear. To love uncertainty is to live without fear. And to live with fear is to not live at all.

  • james

    Thanks a lot, may the force be with you.