Tiny Wisdom: Certainty Is an Illusion

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” -Francois Gautier

Last week, I wrote a post about making difficult decisions, which incorporated 30 ideas from the Tiny Buddha Facebook community. The experience of writing it and reading the comments reminded me how certainty can sometimes silence our strongest instincts–when, ironically, certainty is always an illusion.

The secure job could become obsolete. The dependable friend could move away. The stable relationship could run its course.

None of the things that seem secure and safe are guaranteed to endure–not forever, or for any length of time, for that matter. The nature of life is that everything moves and changes, ebbs and flows, with beginnings, middles, and ends.

We don't get to know what will end when. We don't get to know how long things will last. We can play the odds, try to align ourselves with probability for maximum longevity, comfort, and ease. Or we can instead focus on the possibilities that excite us and enjoy the journey to and through them, one moment at a time.

We can either make what seems to be the best choice for minimal loss and change; or we can get clear about what we want to do with the short amount of time we have, and then embrace the unknown, with our passion as a compass, finding our way as we go.

The irony about choosing the path that seems the most certain is that it generally guarantees only one thing: that we go through life wondering how things could have been if only we weren't so scared.

Today if you find yourself clinging to something that feels predictable and safe, ask yourself: Are these the moments I want to remember when I look back on my life some day?

Photo by kelp1966

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Lynn Zavaro

    I love this Lori: “…embrace the unknown, with our passion as a compass, finding our way as we go.” great article:)

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  • Narwhaltat

    Great piece – sometimes the best decision is to not decide yet, and to sit with the uncertainty .. “the fertile void”

  • Kelley

    How do you determine if it is just uncertainty or the Universe warning you not to do it?

  • Liquidmuse

    This article is very timely for me tho it hurts. My boyfriend of almost 2 years told me this weekend that tho he loves me, loves my family, feels I’m his best friend and is so comfortable with me..he can’t seem to find happiness. He felt he needed time to clear his thoughts so we are now on a ‘break’.  I don’t want to think that we have run our course. But I do see the insight within this article. I just don’t like it lol

  • Hi Kelley,

    I can’t really speak to this personally, as I don’t believe the universe sends us warnings about what to do and not to do. That doesn’t mean this isn’t so–it’s just not the way I view the world. However, I feel there is a difference between uncertainty based on fear and ambivalence based on instincts. I haven’t always been willing to follow my instincts, but generally, if I’m still and reflective, I know what they are.

    I’d love to learn your thoughts on this!


  • I’m so sorry to learn about your relationship. Being so soon after this happened, I can imagine all the feelings are quite raw. Sending lots of love your way!

  • Thanks Lynn! That’s been a common theme in a lot of my recent posts. Uncertainty is always at the root of my fears!

  • Liquidmuse

    Thank you Lori… it is very raw but a lot of Tiny Buddhas articles have been really helpful at keeping me centered during this time. So thank you!

  • Hc117

    I just bookmarked this article in my favorites. The tinybuddha website has also become a website I frequent daily now. My boyfriend broke up with me recently, and I’ve been having a really difficult time with it. We’ve been trying to be friends, but even that seems uncertain at this point. A lot of the future of if we will still be in each others lives seems really uncertain and that has been difficult for me. It seems lately all of your articles have had some kind of wisdom or tips that have been helping me and this article really hits home right now. Thank you so much, I will go back to this article whenever I’m feeling scared or upset about not knowing what’s going to happen.

  • Hi Lori,
    “We can focus on the possibilities that excite us & enjoy the journey………”
    I think that sums it up pretty well. Thank you &
    be good to yourself

  • I wouldn’t say certainty is an illusion, only that it comes in varying degrees and we can never be 100% certain. I have a good amount of certainty/faith that I will know how to tie my shoes tomorrow (unless I die or develop a brain illness over night), and I have much less certainty what the weather will like be this time next year.

    The amount of certainty we have will ultimately depend on what we are trying to know.

  • This is an interesting perspective. I actually had this conversation with someone else not too long ago. I asked him: How can one have a degree of certainty? Knowing that something most likely won’t happen (that you won’t develop a brain illness over night) and knowing that something definitely won’t happen are two different things.

    The definition of certain is “known or proven to be true.” If you aren’t 100% sure, does that really qualify as certain?

    I’m just playing the devil’s advocate here….Would love to learn your thoughts. =)

  • Thank you, David! 

  • I’m so glad that this helped you. Break-ups can be so tough. I know in the past I stayed in “the waiting place” for a very long time, feeling paralyzed–wondering if I’d have another shot at a relationship, and kind of holding my breath until the moment when I might know. I remember I used to wish on a star that my college sweetheart would come back. A big turning point for me was when I started following “Star light, star bright…” with a simple wish for happiness. So I no longer felt certain that I could only be happy if I got him back; I knew that I could be happy without him. Of course, I was still assuming happiness was something outside me–but it was a step in the right direction.

    I’m sending good vibes and love your way as you trudge through this uncertain time.

  • Hc117

    Thank you! 🙂  
    And please continue doing what you’re doing with this site, it’s helped me so much and I know it’s helping so many other people too.

  • The idea that nothing is ever certain and that you never know what’s waiting around the next corner (for “good” or “bad”) has been a staple of my intellectual belief system ever since I lost my mother to breast cancer just before my 18th birthday… 

    Despite having been learned from such a traumatic event, the concept has stood me in really good stead throughout my adult life and given me a sense of… eventual equanimity, I guess, when life’s taken unexpected turns, as well as giving me a kind of calmness around much of the uncertainty in the future.

    Which isn’t to say I always manage to be comfortable with uncertainty on a gut level. But when I find myself caught up in fear or worry about uncertainty in the future, it lets me realise what’s going on earlier in the piece, and sometimes, if I give myself the space and resources to do so, it lets me unhook myself sooner. 

    And I think my mother would have been really happy to know that I was able to take that gift from the pain of her death.

  • Wow, Starfire, what an insightful, powerful comment. I suspect you’re right about your mother. I’m sure she worried about the effect her passing would have on you. How wonderful that you’ve been able to learn something from that loss that has helped you find peace, despite the uncertainty that life entails.

  • Bigblue

    Great post. I needed this right now. I think I’m about to lose my job and I have a lot of uncertainty about my future. Thanks

  • You are most welcome. You are in my thoughts!

  • Lori, thank you so much for your daily inspirational posts. They are a routine that I miss on the few days I can’t stop by and read them. They remind me of the important things and helps me to keep focus on what life is truly about.

  • You’re welcome, Naomi. Thanks so much for these kind words. It makes me happy to know that Tiny Buddha makes a difference!

  • Be certain there will be uncertainly. . .

  • Be certain there will be uncertainly. . .