On Uncertainty

Meditation runs counter to the demands of an attention economy. But it’s a critical skill for these times.

Image CC BY-NC Tsalon

We’re living in a time of tremendous uncertainty. From the COVID-19 pandemic and now to the results of the US election, 2020 has been a lesson in embracing that which isn’t known and living with that feeling for weeks and months on end.

In the world of fact-checking, I’ve been thinking about the concept of midinformation, or informational ambiguity based on scant or conflicting evidence, often about emerging scientific knowledge. A new study from Full Fact, Africa Check and Chequeado looks at the specific challenge that, “despite our human need for certainty, there isn’t always the evidence available to say if something is true or false.”

I want to move past the practicalities of information communications right now and into the realm of meditation, a skill I think runs counter to the demands of an attention economy, where every second must be filled with content. But it’s a skill that’s needed if we’re to survive the contemporary information environment intact as a society.

The Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty has been a guiding handbook for me for years, and her words continue to ring true for me this year and now:

Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening boddhichita (an awakened heart) are called bodhisattvas or warriors — not warriors who kill but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world….

A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid….

In loneliness as well as in kindness, we can uncover the soft spot of basic goodness. But boddhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this “I’ wants to find security — who wants something to hold onto — will finally learn to grow up.

author and technologist. words and commentary in ny times, bbc, atlantic, hyperallergic, etc. meedan. opinions my own.

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