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  • Writer's pictureJack Curley

Uncertainty and the Present Moment

We had a pleasant Sunday evening. Eating yummy leftovers and a fresh salad, a few logs on the fire and watching Endeavor, one of our favorite British mystery dramas. A homey night.

As 10 o’clock rolled around my partner and our cat headed upstairs. I pulled the ottoman up to the fireplace, opened the screen and began poking the last glowing log into the hot coals so that it would burn up before I went to bed. I’m easily entranced by fire, the random flickering of the flames and the pulsing glow of the hot coals can keep me enthralled for hours. I blew on to the coals with considerable effort, through tightly pursed lips, apparently thinking the flame needed a high velocity wind to grow. After a few tries with little effect, I opened my lips a bit and blew more gently which, surprisingly, felt like a deeper respect for the fire. Flames immediately licked up from the back of the dying log. I had the thought “my breath has become fire”.

This thought prompted me to consider the impact that my words, thoughts, and actions could have when we are all experiencing so much uncertainty. My unconsidered words could fan the flames of anxiety and fear in others with less effort than I might think. My thoughts can change my face and body language to express fear or anxiety and communicate that to others. My actions could be too selfish promoting more selfishness around me. I resolved to be more vigilant and strive to uplift.

The house grew silent. The hissing and crackling of the fire lent a timeless quality to the silence. I poked the log into the coals again and sat back. I became aware that I was ruminating on all the possible negative outcomes of this extraordinary time and the forlorn sadness and grief that would follow. Catching myself, I thought, “No, I want to create positive thoughts and a positive future”. I imagined the best of outcomes, the happiness of the future and felt happy and grateful . But I quickly felt that this was as hollow as the negatives. Each had an equal measure of uncertainty.

All that was left for me to ponder was the present moment. There was no future I could predict, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, that I could hold with any certainty. Only the present moment felt most grounded. What was I making of this present moment? Positive? Negative? It was both and neither.

I shifted my attention to my breathing and simply stared at the fire. In the following chain of moments I felt suspended in mid-air. Thoughts arose but ascended and disappeared only to be replaced by another and another, each like the flames I was staring at - real, energetic, ultimately ephemeral. All I could really inhabit was the present moment poised between opposing directions as if sitting in the center of a fire.

I realized that suspending in the present moment, without a mental narrative, without a preference for one or the other, is not easy. In this place there is always uncertainty. And in uncertainty my mind creates story after story as I desire to find resolution.

The fire was now just a few glowing coals. I doused each with a small bit of water, they sizzled and grew silent. I closed the screens, turned out the lights and went to bed. I laid there for sometime staying in the moment with my breath and wondered at how calm I’d become suspended in the mid-air of uncertainty and the profoundly paradoxical safety of the present moment.

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