Struggling with Certainty

Varun Penamatsa
Mar 15 · 5 min read
Photo by Kyle Glenn

On our struggle with the illusion of control.

In a world where the only constant is change, we all desire some degree of certainty.

This idea is echoed by many thought leaders in self-betterment, preaching that certainty is a basic human need.

A common example of one such craving is that of financial stability: X amount of money to live comfortably, to know that “everything will be alright”.

It’s interesting, as I find myself sitting in a third world country where $1000 would be a dream come true, how relative this idea can be.

After our physiological needs are met (that is clothing, food, and shelter), there are diminishing returns with regards to happiness and additional income.

Yet we still crave certainty.

For me, this sometimes comes in the form of routine. I relish waking up at the same time every day, eating the same food, and doing many of the same things that bring me joy.

My adherence to routine, as well as the anxiety I sometimes feel if and when I fall out of it, is due in no small part to the fact that this habit helps me feign that I ultimately control my life’s trajectory.

The truth of the matter, however, is that I have no control over the events of my life.

I can control how I react to situations, and control my perception of events, but not the events in and of themselves. In this way, I have responsibility for my own reality. And, to some degree, control.

This should not be confused with the type of control we can habitually seek out or day dream of (like having a billion dollars in my bank account).

That we have no control can be terrifying. It’s confusing.

We try and make sense of the world and organize ourselves to control this life that cannot ever be fully intellectualized or understood.

But lack of control can also be strangely liberating.

If I could die tomorrow, an event I really have little control over, a billion dollars wouldn’t do a whole lot for my unanimated body.

So, when the desire to control is instead replaced with presence in whatever we are doing, we have less of a need to know.

Less of a need to control.

Life is not entirely about understanding, about controlling. There is no way we can understand more than a fragment of what’s going on around us and within us.

Some questions can be asked, and remain unanswered because there is no possible way that they can be.

Control can also be sought out in the pursuit of only feeling ‘good’ emotions.

‘Good’ is a highly subjective term, but in this context is generally associated with happiness, contentment, love, etc.

Many of us are conditioned, despite our teachers’ (parents, role models, etc.) best intentions, to run away from things that make us uncomfortable. The anger, fear, anxiety, etc., that many cultures label as ‘bad’.

It’s not, however, an emotion that’s ‘bad’ in and of itself. Our physical response to an emotion may feel bad, but the emotion itself is neutral.

The closest thing I find to being more objectively ‘bad’ is really just the suppression of emotion. It is that which makes us feel stuck, aggravated, and left wondering why.

We can’t control the physical sensations of our bodies, nor the avalanche of thoughts that rumble through our minds every second, nor the myriad of emotion that we possess to try and relate all of these things to one another.

We can only allow for the reality that this is what we are experiencing. And we can do this without labeling these things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

I can point to a profound moment regarding my struggle with control.

I was watching Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yup. You read that right.

I’ve always loved mindless action-comedies. I enjoy the visual stimulation, the absurdity of the plots, and the fact that there is little scientific backing whatsoever to much of what’s going on.

In this particular film one of the characters, who was essentially an AI powered robot, said:

“Humans are odd, they think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be.”

And it’s true.

We try and make order of the chaos around us, when in reality the outcome is just another iteration of the chaotic and non-sensical world in which we live.

Paradoxically, we also have a deep desire for uncertainty.

If every day was the same, if you were never blind sided in relationship, or surprised whilst watching a sporting event, the world would be boring.

Some people value certainty more than uncertainty, and some the opposite.

What’s important, at least for me, is to recognize the value and beauty of each.

I, like everyone else in some capacity, have struggled with uncertainty my entire life. I often find it unsettling and worrisome.

It is not, however, uncertainty that is really the issue here. It’s my struggle with it that begets all the issues: the anxiety, the doubt, and the fear to fail.

When starting a blog or a business, for example, I was my own worst critic. Having come from an intensely academic background, I took a practical approach and thought of all the reasons that I would fail, that I wouldn’t succeed (it was always a long list).

The reasons you can’t do something will always be long. But you only need one entry in the opposite column to change that.

I’m currently traveling the world. I have no idea what I’m doing professionally, no idea how I’ll support myself in the long run, or where I’ll be living next week. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m having for breakfast.

But leaning into the uncertainty, into the space around me, has left me feeling the most liberated and excited that I have been in some time.

My physiological needs are met. I have people, around the world, who love me. I have the time and space to determine what matters to me. To cultivate relationships that make me feel my version of ‘good’. To serve others, and to see the beauty and expanse of the world around me.

I’m tremendously confused, have no clue what the f*ck I’m doing, and I’m okay with it.

In other moments, the doubt and fear and anxiety come up, but they’re just sensation.

I suppose I’m saying it’s okay to be uncertain. Everyone is. But we don’t have to add fuel to the fire.

After all, we’re beings of light floating on a blue dot in space, experiencing the totality of the universe and meaninglessness at the same time. We live and operate in a world of paradoxes, one that is impossible to intellectualize or holistically comprehend.

It would be weird if you were certain of everything.

Varun Penamatsa

Written by

Helper, seeker, student. Explorer of health and the human condition. Curious about everything. ❤️

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