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Uncertainty has been here

Newsletter: June 2020

‘Uncertainty has been here’, someone mutters, as with faltering steps and frail horror in their eyes, they begin to leave Covid behind. Or do they? ‘Uncertainty has been here.’

And how has it been for you, my friend? How is it now?

I live with other people’s uncertainties at present. And I’m reminded of the therapist Yalom on the subject. He wrote of the client asking big, unsettling questions. ‘If our entire solar system shall one day be in ruins, along with my accomplishments, what enduring meaning can there be in life? Why do I live? How do I live?’ These questions feed and guide each other.

So the client is seeking meaning and certainty in a universe that offers neither. And the therapist must somehow live their uncertainty, with capacity to tolerate it and allow it.

We do sometimes panic in the face of other people’s uncertainty. Their panic becomes ours; we want to help. But Yalom invites us to let go of the temptation to rush for solutions, like a plaster hastily if inexpertly applied.

RS Thomas called God ‘the great absence’ and this feels like a seed thought for now. Uncertainty, whether in our selves or others, needs to be given space; it needs to be allowed to breathe. God might actually be in our absence.

So we need not run for certainty; we can allow spontaneity and uncertainty. And if someone contemplates the worst, this is not so bad. As Thomas Hardy reminds us, ‘If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.’

Therapists are often seen as sure guides but will them selves often wobble and improvise; and this is OK. We are not asked to be answer-machines. Answer-machines tend to be terrified themselves, frightened of the space; and there’s no hope in fear.

You do sometimes hear of people feeling they ‘must be strong for others.’ This usually entails appearing rock-like and sure, while those around gibber, sob or scream. And while it is strong, in a way, I’m not sure it’s helpful, either to the individual or the others. Being strong for others arises from fear – a fear that others cannot find the answer for themselves.  ‘So I must be responsible! I must sound certain!’

But answers are conceived in our lives in ways no one can direct nor imagine; and they may well arise in our absence. So a climate of trust in the process is more life-giving than a climate of certainty. Here we may become kind midwives at an answer’s birth. We offer safe uncertainty; and that makes all the difference.

Meanwhile – and several worlds away – my friend Martin Hoile (music) and I (words) have written a musical of the life of Julian of Norwich called All Shall be Well. Have I mentioned this? In the last few days, we have found a ‘Julian’, which is lovely, and all things being well, will start recording the album shortly. The closing song has been on my website a while, but if you’ve missed it, or would like another listen, it’s here:

All Shall be Well

The finished work will appear on platforms such as iTunes, etc, and as a CD. After that? Ah, the uncertainty! One step at a time.

So it’s time to go; your time is precious and I feel my words dying on the breeze. But anyone who buys, reads and reviews either Another Bloody Retreat, (on Amazon here), or The Secret Testament of Julian, well, in the words of Elvis Presley, (though more accurately, the songwriters Carson, James and Christopher) ‘You are always on my mind.’

Actually, you all are, anyway – stay safe, if not certain.

Simon x

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