2020 has been hard work: a masterclass in living with uncertainty.
I do a lot my heavy lifting in the small hours of the morning. That’s when I’m must prone to waking up in a state of great anxiety. My overactive mind tries to wrestle my angst down with a series of short-lived schemes and plans. Each of these tries to analyse or reframe what’s happening around me so that it feels certain. Even if the clarity it briefly suggests is alarming. As if certain doom is preferable to the awful state of just not knowing.
If we’re not trying to create imagined safety inside our own heads, there are plenty of vehement people out there offering it to us outsourced: all these political factions, and all these brands, saying in effect:
“You don’t have to work at this, we can give it you ready-made. Just give us your vote, or your cash, or for our premium form of security blanket, give us both.”
All very tempting, but I’m beginning to accept that to live sanely with uncertain times, we actually have to keep doing the work. We can’t seize control nor can we hand it all over to others.
To illustrate my point, check out this clip from Lord of the Rings. (Forgive me for using a cinematic fantasy to make a point about gritty reality. We all live in paradox these days.)
Towards the end of their quest, Sam has rescued Frodo from the Orcs, but Frodo believes all is lost, as he no longer holds the ring of power. And then Sam reveals he has it, and holds it out… but is he just tempting Frodo or does he mean to hand it over?
Second-by-second each of them pulses between despair and hope, moves to defend himself and then to yield to the other, to and fro. Given the nature of the ring, what exactly is being given and taken is ambiguous. Even when the ring is taken, we know we are only moving to the next stage of their journey together. We see vulnerability and doubt, trust woven with distrust.
In the to and fro of this scene, Sam and Frodo are actually playing with each other, exploring the space between them to see how it feels. I guess you could call it hard play as it’s not necessarily what we’d think of as fun.
Faced with uncertainty, we can be tempted to grasp, or to give up to another. But there is this middle, playful way, where we’re alive to the continuing exchange of feeling. We feel the edges of our own power and that of the other. Perhaps this is where we feel most alive.
I have a feeling that doing that work of being active in engagement with all our powerful feelings may be what we’ll need more of in 2021.