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STANDING IN AMBIGUITY

STANDING IN AMBIGUITY

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that the willingness to stand still in the middle of uncertainty without giving in to despair allows for new opportunities to show up and gives you the space you need to notice them.  [If you focus on fears and doubts, there really is no room in your head for paying attention when a new door opens.]

Apple founder Steve Jobs had an interesting take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life.  He suggested using the ultimate uncertainty, death, to get past the fears and doubts you are likely to encounter during times of change.

steve-jobs-with-red-shawl
Steve Jobs With Red Shawl by Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, ProjectRED Grouppicture, retouched by Sagredo, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]
Jobs has been quoted as saying, “All external expectations, all fear of embarrassment and failure – all these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.   You are already naked.”

This is, I think, a profound thought, and it is probably the best (and the most difficult) way I know of dealing with “standing in ambiguity” – the whole uncertainty of just living your life, making plans and executing them, having goals and realizing them,  and so forth and so on.

WHAT IT IS AND WHY DO IT?

“Standing in ambiguity” equates, I think, with poet John Keats’ “negative capability,” which he describes as “when a person is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason….”

Wise guys through the ages have tried to get us to just sit with the uncertainty, feel the feelings, understand why they are welling up in us, and then step away from those feelings and look at where we can make our next move.  After that we can take the next step, then the next one, and so on until we get to a new place that feels more comfortable for us.

But, uncertainty and ambiguity is never an easy space to be in.

So then there’s this question:  If it makes us so uncomfortable, why would we even go there? 

One answer is that it is in this space that Creativity happens.  All that discomfort produces new ways of looking at things, change-making moves, and products never seen before.  (It also produces a lot of crazy people…but that’s another story.)

Here’s a short YouTube video, “Embrace Ambiguity,” by IDEO.org, an organization that works with nonprofits, social enterprises and foundations to design solutions for social impact around the world.  It explains some of the benefits of standing in ambiguity that creative people can use.

 

CULTURAL AMBIGUITY TOLERANCE

How much ambiguity you can tolerate is a personal thing.  Each person has his or her own level of tolerance.  The same is true for different cultures.

This YouTube video by Mary Rowland explains about the “ambiguity tolerance” of different cultures and what it means to you in practical, nuts-and-bolts fashion.

(I’m not sure who Mary Rowland is.  I couldn’t find anything about her on Google and her other YouTube offerings are not particularly helpful.  Still, this video is a lovely schmooze about an important topic.    Thanks, Mary Rowland…whoever you are.)

If your own ambiguity tolerance doesn’t match that of your culture, it’s quite likely that there will be friction.  If your own high ambiguity tolerance clashes with your culture’s lack of tolerance for ambiguity, you’ll have to deal with being labeled as a troublemaker or a ne’er-do-well.  If your ambiguity tolerance is low and you’re in a culture with a high tolerance for ambiguity, then you might be labeled as a ‘fraidy-cat, a worry-wort, or even a coward.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out how to work with your culture’s level of tolerance for ambiguity as well as your own.  If the mismatch is too great, then perhaps you will need to go find a more supportive environment for yourself.  This, of course, will add to all the uncertainty.

JUST DO IT

Another take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life is in this YouTube video by Bob Miglani who exhorts, “Dealing  With Uncertainty?  Stop Waiting.  Move Forward and Embrace the Chaos.”

(Bob Magliani is the author of EMBRACE THE CHAOS: How India Taught Me To Stop Overthinking and Start Living.  In 2012, it was a Washington Post bestseller.  In it Magliani addresses how to deal with facing major uncertainty and stop doing the deer-in-the-headlights freeze.  He tells you that you have to let go of trying to control the chaos all around you and focus, instead, on what you can control — your own actions and your words and thoughts.  An interesting read.)

FINAL THOUGHT

The irony in all of this is that standing in ambiguity is…well…ambiguous and also very personal.  There are no final answers, no right or wrong way to do it.  There is only you and what you feel you can or must do.

About a year after my husband died, this poem came.  It  was a signal to me that I was ready again to turn around and face future.

After Fred died and the world I knew changed, I was very lost.  One of the first steps was getting through the grieving intact and through the acceptance and letting go.  And then there was the learning how to stand up strong in the middle of a heck of a lot of ambiguity.

When you’re already naked and the illusions in which you used to dress the world have all melted and dribbled away, when you no longer have anything obscuring your look into the Void, it does tend to free you up to do lots of other things.

I went and did a lot of other things.  Many of them turned out pretty okay.


I CAN TELL YOU GOODBYE

I can tell you goodbye now

And mean it, in my heart of hearts.

Your passing nearly killed me,

The pain squeezing me into

An otherness that whimpered

Helplessly against the loss

Of you and of the world

I thought I knew.

What is it somebody said?

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional….”

Something like that.

 

I decided not to suffer.

I don’t know what I’m doing

And no ultimate answer rises up,

No banner or signpost

To show me where to go.

I am lost in ambiguity,

Lost in the illusions

That keep swirling

Through this shadow-play.

And I cannot find my way

Back to the surety

I once knew.

 

You’re the one who was sure.

I thought you knew the way.

I only had to follow you.

Then you left me

Standing lost on this

Mist-covered mountain

And the world has changed

And changed and changed.

No visible landmarks –

All gone, along with you.

And your assurance that all of this is real.

 

You lied to me.

(Or maybe it was only to yourself.)

You were so sure that

I believed you.

I followed your lead

Because I thought I had no

Guidelines of my own.

And now I have to make them up,

All by myself, all over again.

Every day I make it all up.

 

It’s been good, you know.

I like it just fine now.

I have to thank you

Even though you brought

So much pain and confusion in your wake.

You taught me about a world

I had not known and made me

Play to its many faces.

 

Now I’m going back to what

I used to know,

Richer for having known you.

I loved you the best I could.

You loved me too, I know.

 

Good-bye, ei nei,

It was all good.

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Sunrise by blese via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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PILING ON THE METAPHORS

PILING ON THE METAPHORS

It is my contention that, basically, poems are piles of metaphors stacked on top of each other like those funny-looking block stacks in a Jenga! game, with holes for the bits you’ve left out (or have taken out) because they were not needed to transport your reader into some other point-of-view.

That juxtaposition of metaphors works because of ability of the mind of the listener or the reader to make connections between the images the poet offers up.  The audience that can hook the offered images together with other things from their own life experiences enhances the liveliness of the poetry.

The audience works as hard as the poet in making a poem come alive.  At our monthly Maui Live Poets meetings in Makawao the poets try to remember to thank the people who are “practicing their audience skills” and are disinclined to present their work.  It’s not easy being a good audience….

A NEW ORLEANS POEM-WALL OF HOPE

One brilliant way of making use of metaphors to build connection and community is a work by New Orleans artist Candy Chang, who turned an abandoned building in her neighborhood into a poem of sharing hopes and dreams.

In the fall of 2011, the artist and a bunch of friends painted one wall of the building using hearse-black blackboard paint.  Chang stenciled an incomplete phrase over and over on that wall:  “Before I die, I want to _________.”  Chalk was provided so passersby could write their thoughts.

The entire wall was covered with people’s answers overnight.  More of the walls were painted black and the question was repeated over and over and answered over and over by the hundreds of people who visited the site. The wall went viral.  It became an international phenomenon as other artists wanted to make wall-poems of hope for their own neighbors.

This YouTube video is a TED-talk by Chang (one of many) about the wall.  It was uploaded by SILYMEAN on March 27, 2015.  The poem still continues to grow….

Think about it.  How would YOU fill in that sentence?  What dreams and hopes lurk in the depths of you?  What do you want to do before you end?

The Wall became a catalyst for hope and connection because the audience collaborated in its becoming a reality.  Very private thoughts appeared boldly in a public place where everybody could see and touch and respond by maybe dredging up their own hopes and dreams to add to the space. The wall became a powerful thing with tremendous mana and meaning.

Every one of the answers to the question Chang asked was a metaphor, a distillation of one more life walking past the wall.  All together they made a stirring celebration of the connection of all the lives who touched that wall and the minds that reached out to touch each other.

THINKING ON DEATH LEADS TO THINKING ON LIFE

In my own life, I’ve worked at thinking on death mostly because the impermanence of it all does tend to keep getting shoved in my face.  Everything with a beginning also has an ending.  A simple truth, but also one of the hardest of all to look at when it is your own death you are contemplating or the death of a person you love.

Wise guys say that learning to face your own ending with equanimity will go far in furthering your knowledge of how you want to live your life.  I am far from wise, but I do try to work on it.

Here’s a poem that I made during one of those practice sessions:


RIGHT REGRETS

Somebody once said that probably

The best we could hope for (at the end of our lives)

Was having the “right regrets.”

 

That got me thinking:

What are the RIGHT regrets?

 

When I come to die,

I am sure I shall regret not personally

Touching and tasting and seeing

More of this wondrous world of ours.

But, I think, I’ll keep that one.

 

I won’t exchange it for the notion that

Someone I loved reached for me and I was gone….

 

Perhaps I like hearth fires more than I like campfires.

Whatever.

Hestia rules me, I suppose,

And with that, I am content.

 

I know I will not regret giving my heart or my trust

To the people who wander through my life.

I will regret, instead, that some of them proved unworthy of me.

 

I know I’ll probably regret my wretched lack of skillful means

For walking in the ambiguity that is this World of Dust.

I’ll regret the mind that’s too slow, perhaps,

To catch the glimmer of the most righteous paths to walk.

 

I will not regret turning my unsure hands

To the tasks set in front of me and doing the best I can

With the less-than-perfect equipment I was issued.

 

I will never regret telling my truth,

Despite the fact that it was often misconstrued

By people who were not telling their own.

 

I will regret only not having eyes that see clearer

And ears that listen deeper.

 

I’m not sure whether these regrets are “right” or not.

But then, when I leave,

I doubt I’ll be carrying much baggage.

by Netta Kanoho

Please let me know your thoughts.  Leave a comment and we can talk story.

Picture credit:  Bonfire Level: Jenga by Gord Webster via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

 

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