Creating a different relationship with uncertainty & taking care of each other
A letter from our Founder and CEO, Lopa
As we near the change of seasons, uncertainty looms in the air. I hear all sorts of questions punctuated by a tone of anxiety: “How bad will COVID be this winter?”, “Will we ever be an anti-racist, equitable society?”, “Will the USPS survive?”, “Who will be President?” and even (I shudder to even utter), “Will there be a civil war?”
These are all valid, and concerning, questions. It is an exceptionally uncertain time.
That said. Is life ever actually certain?
Not at all. The truth is, we truly never know what is going to happen. We don’t know when the vicissitudes of life will hit us; when our proverbial card will be punched.
In the Classical Tantrik traditions I studied in, we were encouraged to “keep Death as a friend”—death being the ultimate harbinger of uncertainty. Contrary to being morbid, I found that perspective actually tended to lead to a more joyful, purposeful, and grateful experience of life...because you never know when it’s going to end, or change drastically.
I feel we are being collectively propelled into an intimate experience with the underlying inherent uncertainty of life.
At first, it’s terrifying, not to mention disorienting. What was “normal”, anyway? A feeling that everything was going to be basically OK, day after day?
While for many of us, that particular expression of “normalcy” may have been true, there are many, many others who didn’t enjoy the luxury of such complacency. And those of us who were lucky enough to experience that ease are now experiencing a different, less certain normal.
If we can pull ourselves up by our individual and collective bootstraps, these systemic collective crises have the opportunity to awaken in us some powerful truths: Interconnectivity. Empathy. Beginner’s Mind.
I had a teacher that used to say nearly every day: “Relax expectations, prepare for anything.” Embodying this simple teaching makes us both open and accepting, while also sharp and ready to act. Permeable, yet not without boundaries.
It’s Beginner’s Mind, and I believe that 2020 is asking (begging? demanding? forcing?) us to cultivate it.
When we stop being lulled into the stupor of our perceived notion of predictability, there’s another feeling that arises—vulnerability.
We are all vulnerable, whether we want to face that or not. (And yes, of course some of us are more vulnerable than others to various threats or circumstances.)
Our greatest safety is...you guessed it: together. We need each other. We are social creatures, we were meant to be relying on each other. Our faculties for communication exceed that of any other species, and there’s a reason for this hardwiring: community.
This is a time for coming together and protecting each other; for taking actions to support the more vulnerable (including if that’s yourself).
It starts with self-care. One of my teacher’s teacher’s teachers, Swami Śivananda used to say “Seva, seva, seva...save yourself first!”
Seva is a Sanskrit word that is often taken to mean “selfless service.” However, it’s deeper than just a simple desire to help people. Seva is actually composed of two words, saha, which means “with that,” and eva, which means “too.” Taken as a whole, the word seva means “together with” and connotes a powerful feeling of empathy and intimacy with all. This empathy lives in all of us.
It starts within—empathy and care for yourself. We can’t pour from an empty cup. Ideally, we fill our cup so much that the seva comes from the overflow.
One of the best ways I know of to fill the human cup is silence. Taking time to unplug and sit with the deep spaciousness within is a dying art, and so so essential.
That inner well is ever self-filling, and as we nourish ourselves from those deep waters, it’s only natural to turn outward and care for others.
Little known fact about me: for a very short period of time, I was a Licensed Insurance Provider. My favorite thing that I learned (from that toe-dip into career that really wasn’t right for me) was that the concept of insurance originated with communities pooling resources into a fund to help their fellow neighbors when Big S#it Happens—incidents too expensive for most families to cover alone, like a tree falling on a house or a major injury.
Right now, we need to harness that inspiration and pool resources into our collectively-depleted selves so that we have the necessary overflow to support our fellow humans.
Self-care is community-care.
And conversely, community-care is self-care. Because we are social creatures, we are naturally fulfilled by taking care of others. It fills us up in a way few things can—as long as it’s coming from a pure motive and not tinged with obligation or resentment.
Whether it’s tending your own immune system so as not to pass on pathogens to others, or taking strong actions to create the change you want to see in the world, the way through this moment of uncertainty is together.
Author: Lopa van der Mersch