Today I was asked on radio “How are people dealing with all the uncertainty?” I don’t really have a straightforward answer to that. What I can say is that “uncertainty” is inherent to our everyday existence. Corona, however, is certainly the starkest confrontation with this uncertainty most of us have ever encountered. But, on any normal day, there is no real certainty of what is going to happen in the very next moment – I could be hit by a car, diagnosed with cancer or win the lottery. Certainty is something we try and build into our reality through the stories we tell ourselves about our imagined future.
In a recent interview, psychiatrist and Buddhist practitioner, Mark Epstein spoke about how we really don’t know what the next moment is going to bring and this is challenging for us because our tendency is to constantly try and imagine what the next moment will be like for us. This is one of the habitual tendencies of the mind – to forecast into the future. We also try and build security through the ways in which we habitually engage in the external world: through having things and doing things; by living outwardly rather than inwardly. Lockdown forces us inward as the doors to an outward are closed.
Stephen Batchelor also refers to this: how, through this outward orientation, our lives tend to leek away; we tend to dissolve ourselves into the world. In this regard, lockdown is an opportunity for re-collecting ourselves. Relative solitude allows for this. But solitude is not about a place or a space. According to Batchelor, it is a practice, an art form, any process that gives us access to our interiority – art, literature, poetry, dance or meditation.
At any given moment we are telling ourselves stories about our lives. Relative solitude allows us to bring some awareness to this more hidden, interior, storying process. Somehow, being open to this interiority has been considered taboo. We are, from young, encouraged to focus on the world out there rather than the universe inside ourselves.
To some extent, the interruption of everything habitual and recognisable to us “out there”, is a psychological gift, an invitation to turn inward. Even if, for now, we just take an initial peak. It’s a good start and it’s amazing what you might just find. You might just find that the only certainty available to you is to know what is happening while it is happening, inside you, in the here and now.