I heard a great term from Jack Kornfield called “gracious uncertainty.” I love that term. It identifies with so much during this uncertain time. We need to learn to cope with fear of the unknown.
I see these pro-Trump people who are protesting and expressing their fear. They are going out and stopping traffic, holding up signs about how their right to go back to work is being denied due to the lockdowns by governments. These protestors are asserting fears that this is a plot by China to overthrow us economically. This is an expression of fear — plain and simple.
They take great pride in risking their lives for the sake of “saving the economy” by being defiant and standing up for their right to work and make a living. What they fail to realize is that the fear they are expressing compromises the health of others by passing along a deadly virus. Meanwhile, they were stopping traffic and one healthcare worker was angry that he was unable to get to work to treat people who needed him. Their little protests were jeopardizing lives.
Thus health care workers who are overworked as it is are making statements of their own by silently standing there wearing masks and clinical healthcare garb to let the protestors know they do not appreciate their lack of support. The doctors and nurses are not invoking them, for the most part — maybe a few are — but they are staying within themselves and asserting their point non-violently.
Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck is sweating right now. No doubt. True, the economic concerns are real, but my sense is that people can’t stand being alone anymore and are going stir crazy. They feel helpless and are scared. They may not like what they see and want to get back to their everyday distractions. Fear is evident in every way during this challenging time. We need to learn how to cope with the idea of uncertainty. If we break this quarantine too early it could cost more lives.
Kornfield says, “There is something about being in the present and not knowing but showing up with a compassionate heart with the tolerance to not know, but having the capacity to stay within yourself and moving through this world as a Buddha.” He notes, “Presence and passion without compassion doesn’t work.” When we approach the world with “gracious uncertainty,” good things can happen.
Kornfield tells the story about friends who were in Washington to protest one of the wars. There were a thousand women and men. They were standing in the street and the police approached them saying, “You can’t protest here. You don’t have a permit.” The lead protestor, who grew up in a rough part of the city, was ready to fight but decided it was not the right time or place to do that. He quietly asked, “Well, what about the sidewalk?” The policeman said, “That’s okay.”
They decided ‘let’s do a ritual and walk to the Vietnam War memorial to honor the vets who were there.’
They walked to the Vietnam Memorial carrying candles, singing an African song about grief and sorrow that comes from war. When they arrived at the memorial the police said, “You cannot protest here.”
Once again, the leader asked, “Why?”
The policeman said, “This memorial requires that it not have any rituals or verbal protests. You’re carrying candles and singing a song about war.” The leader calmly had one person stand at the beginning of the memorial to extinguish the flames and one at the end of the memorial to relight them as they silently marched past the memorial. They started singing at the beginning of the memorial, stopped as they went through the memorial and when they reached the end, they continued singing the African song again.
The policemen were moved by this action. They saw the power of it. “What was that?” asked on of the policemen.
The lead protester said, “It’s kind of a ritual.”
The policemen responded “Where do you want to go next, we’ll take you there.”
It’s not in our power to know how this is going to turn out, but in the words of Kornfield, “We guide ourselves by dedication — the commitment, and the intention you carry. It’s not in your power to determine how it’s going to turn out with you, your children or family. The secret is to act well, act beautifully without attachment to the outcome of your actions.”
This isn’t always easy. It’s easier said than done, but the point is clear. We have to stay within ourselves during this time. We need to lean on others and take care of our mental, emotional faculties as we cultivate our spiritual understanding of what this means.
They say that some men hid away on ships when the Titanic was sinking, taking the spaces of poor women and children who could have lived. There were other affluent people who faced their deaths with dignity. I don’t know if I would be so gracious. I hope I never have to find out, but we can all train ourselves to be gracious as we face uncertainty.