The Wisdom of Uncertainty

On the link between liminality and insight-breakthroughs…

Just finished reading this article and really enjoyed its take on how consciousness can be warped–for the better/brighter–by rigorously taking “no ground.”

Only when I got to the bottom did I realize this article was written by Kurt Spellmeyer. I don’t know much about this person except that he’s an influential teacher–in fact, he is Kritee Kanko’s direct teacher in the lineage that Kritee represents. (I wonder if others in the Cosmos realm know of him?)

Anyone else wanna have a whole conversation about what we don’t know, can’t know… and should remember to forget once in a while? :wink:


Thank you, Caroline. This piece resonates for me in so many ways. I have wanted to bring my non-dual (Advaita) obsession into some kind of historical comfort zone. This essay really hit me hard on my shoulder and woke me up for a split second to SEE. Thank you for being the messenger of what I found to be the most illuminating essay I’vd yet read on this site. :kissing_heart::point_up_2:t3::pray::kiss:
Jim Trattner

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Honestly, I don’t think this could stimulate a conversation in the ordinary way, HOWEVER, I’d love to be included if there are more thoughts on this subject. Alive or dead. Please keep me in mind.

Last year, I wrote a post on FB about uncertainty, shared below. It’s not from a Buddhist perspective, but it’s certainly relevant to the topic:

"Every decision in life is a gamble, really. Of course, I like to play the games where the odds are less in favor of the house, more in favor of the players. But I gave up believing in certainties long ago. Living my life with certainty as my god was a losing game, as that is a god that truly doesn’t exist. As much as I love to control things (and/or to pretend I even can), I’ve found that my greatest power lies not in how well I succeed in controlling things, but in how well I’ve been able to expand the container within which I hold uncertainty, to hold the tension inherent in sitting in the unknown and uncontrollable. The more able I’ve become to hold, dance with and even appreciate uncertainty, the less I’ve been controlled by fear, the less I’ve had to box myself into a life that’s too small to allow for real nourishment, and the more I’ve been able to open to the things that have ultimately served and enriched me on the deepest levels. Not that it’s not terrifying, but I would rather meet fear with truth than with the various layers of lies that we tell ourselves in order to be able to tolerate the reality that we are ultimately not in control of anything, no matter how good we are at the control game.

There is much more freedom and power in truth than in running away from fear. Although I haven’t consciously chosen this path, around age 18, life ripped away all my security, throwing me into this game, and then accelerating it to the highest level “advanced game” that I’ve been playing for many years now. I hate it, but I’m also secretly grateful for the game of infinite trust-fear-trust-fear-trust that it has opened me to.

This process of working with near-infinite-variabled complex systems, developing the ability to tolerate uncertainty and still remain fully committed and engaged, applies to so many areas. Collectively, we see the need for this in politics, where the rigidity, polarization and reactivity we’re seeing is largely a sign of a system that is holding more fear/tension than it has the developmental capacity for. For whatever faults he had, I think one of Obama’s gifts was his ability to hold a lot of stuff with an even-keeled, take-it-in-stride, make-room-for-all-of-it attitude. And I think that did a lot to allay anxiety in those who were ready to learn to hold more, to tolerate more uncertainty. And for those who weren’t ready, it made them more anxious – “What the fuck is he doing?!”

In spirituality, New Agers and religious zealots who cling so tightly to their metaphysics rather than really diving into and dancing with the mystery are part of this dynamic. In Southern California, I am surrounded by obnoxious New Agers who “know everything” and use every opportunity to gloss over every existential or personal anxiety with some sort of rigidly held metaphysical platitude. In fact, maybe spiritual bypass is a direct symptom of inability to tolerate uncertainty, anxiety and not-in-controlness.

In science, there’s scientism – a linear, reductionistic, materialism-based science that thinks it’s got everything all figured out. We are utterly lacking in wisdom while drowning in “scientific” information. Is it any wonder we’re destroying our health and that of the earth?

On an individual level, my career path reflects this transition. What I love about math and physical sciences (where I started) is the sense of certainty, the illusion of control and “truth” (as long as you keep the box small enough, it can truly feel like truth). But what I love even more about psychotherapy is that there is no control! No matter how good I am at it, when the client walks into the room, I have no control over what’s gonna happen. That has liberated and expanded me to such a great degree. Earlier in my career, I emphasized more the “science” aspect of psychotherapy, seeing out-of-controlness as a problem that needed to be managed. As I grew to trust myself and the process of emergence, I learned to appreciate that the “art” is much wiser than the “science.” I’ve seen that the less I try to control the process, the greater the benefits have been, both for my clients and myself. I am so privileged in my work as a psychotherapist to help people develop the ability to sit in the unknown rather than prematurely foreclose on decisions, narratives, or behaviors, in order to allow what wisdom needs to emerge, to emerge. It takes so much courage for my clients to let go of a worldview where it all makes sense and go into the fertile darkness of the unknown. And frankly, it takes a lot for me to not reassure them too much, to not act like I know everything, like if they would just adopt new knowledge that I give them, then they’ll be OK. For me to hold a container where we can sustain an attitude of not-knowing for an extended period of time while we deconstruct what is “known” and play with trusting the process, that’s hard work and is part of my own expansion. I watch people learn to appreciate that “nothing solid to hold onto” is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s ripe with juicy potentialities (which, horrifyingly, we can’t really control if we’re honest about it – we can just influence them a little). This requires so much trust!

One of the important achievements of developmental maturity and wisdom is being able to sit in the unknown without collapsing into nihilism, disengagement, arrogance, or ambiguity. And there is a difference between uncertainty/complexity and ambiguity/chaos.

Tolerating uncertainty requires much more than dismantling narratives and creating new, more complex ones. Beyond the cognitive level, it entails emotional, energetic and somatic development. In fact, high cognitive ability with lower emotional/energetic/somatic development is kind of a nightmare, because you can use your high cognition to propose and defend ideas that are largely coming from an inability to sit with uncertainty, that are coming from an unconscious reactivity to the anxiety inherent in that experience. This process requires becoming a bigger container of selfness – one that can hold more energy, more emotion, more multiplicity. A stronger nervous system and a greater conscious attunement to the somatic signals that need to be recognized and reworked. Learning to surf the energies and breath for which the body is a sacred vessel.

I don’t know nothin’. And on a good day, I’m OK with that."


Thanks for sharing that, Penelope. I resonate with a lot of it, especially this line…

I am curious about that difference, since these two states can seem so similar and even phase into each other. But there is definitely a difference in how agency is experienced, depending. Uncertainty/complexity does not prohibit, but can spur higher action—whereas ambiguity/chaos squelches action. How do you experience this difference?


220px-3D-SIM-4_Anaphase_3_color Maybe this might be one take.Brain%2CHeart%2C%26%20Tightrope Another Maybe…

!!! I love this! Thank you for sharing, @Penelope! There’s so much in here I want to respond to in more depth, but I especially love how you tie mental/emotional/somatic (overall cognitive) development with the ability to hold tensions in mind without trying to resolve them into yet another structure. There’s a reason Zen Buddhist tradition uses paradox (koans) to try to pry open the mind.


Just … well …


Wow, that is an awesome song. DJ-Jabbour, apropos!

Good question, Marco. I’m not sure (hehe – I should say I’m uncertain). I can feel it intuitively, but if I try to translate my intuitive knowing into words/concepts, I’m gonna lose the essence of it. Nevertheless, words are what we’ve got, so I’ll give it a go, with the disclaimer that the answer I’m about to give isn’t really the answer, but more like a 2D piece of something more whole and more dimensioned.

To me, ambiguity has a flavor of disengagement. It’s vague, unformed, and lacking in cohesion, direction or intention. It’s weak. Uncertainty, on the other hand, implies a certain presence/engagement – “I’m here, and I’m in the game, even though I don’t know where it’s going.” It’s not directional in a goal-oriented, linear way, but it’s also not lacking in direction. It’s fluid, dynamic and attuned to the situation, dynamically adjusting itself as needed. It’s poweful. I think that fits with what you’re saying about spurring higher action vs. squelching it (or at least not putting constructive energy into it).

And the difference between complexity and chaos is perhaps even more difficult to describe, and there’s a lot of overlap, like a Venn diagram. But I think complexity has a higher wisdom to it, even if that’s not apparent yet. That wisdom may not be inherent to the process – it might be created/co-created by those who are engaging with it in such a way as to allow a higher order to emerge. Whereas chaos is just flailing around, not very wise, and without as much potential for greater wholeness and cohesion to emerge.

But what strikes me about both of these things is that a lot of it isn’t just about the thing itself – it’s also about who/what is observing/holding the thing. One man’s chaos is another man’s complexity, partly due to how they’re able to see and nudge a process into a higher order emergence. And thinking about this from a developmental level, look at how the less-rigid-structuredness of Green and above can be seen by Orange and below to be vague and wishy-washy. I might be speaking from flex/flow, and someone could think I’m just an indecisive or self-contradictory idiot. So maybe from a god’s-eye perspective, it’s all complexity, whereas from a more small self perspective, we’re more likely to believe in chaos.

One more thing … I think uncertainty and complexity can be expansive, and they require us to expand to hold them, but there is still some sort of container. Whereas ambiguity and chaos represent collapse or destructive explosion or disintegration – the container doesn’t hold, and the people engaging from these places aren’t expanded – they’re collapsed or destroyed.


@Michael_Stumpf, what’s that first picture that looks like an 8?

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Hi,Penelope,a cell dividing to become more of what it already has been in my interpretation…a living Venn diagram…

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Penelope;your articulation about direction is on target with what is happening in the overlapping of ambiguity & uncertainty &has been a skill set of developing being OK with trusting “don’t know present” & allow the direction to emerge…like watch ing my children being born & feeling powerless in witnessing my wife bringing them into another world… Such Messy Beauty,to Bear Witness!

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Does not mean the artist has a clue …

Only that creativity is outside the lines …


Well, that video was pretty good too.

And @Penelope, I love your answer above. I don’t even know how to respond, but appreciate how you broke down various perceived difference between complexity and chaos, and also turned the question on the perceiver. I may discern a hidden order in what you perceive as chaos, or vice versa. Who sees, can act.


@Penelope - ditto to what Marco said.

The capacity to accurately* see a higher order (complexity) where others perceive disorder (chaos)–in your example, Green and Orange people, respectively–directly relates to self-actualization, doesn’t it? I say accurately* because this only holds true if the person perceiving higher order acts in effectual ways–that is, if the higher order they perceive actually aligns with the underpinning reality, or at least seems to, because the actions they take are coordinated, elegant, efficient and effectual. Considering just the way volitional energy flows (where a small amount of energy accomplishes a large amount of great work–which is why we pay super skilled consultants a high rate for what they do), it would seem that higher ordered thinking results in more efficient use of energy in action, whereas lower order/less clear thinking results in more wasted or dispersed energy, or: large amounts of energy being used to accomplish a task, and the results being muddy. I’m trying to get at how I see the development of consciousness (which, as we’ve been discussing, hinges in part on mental ability to handle complexity) affects the capacity for self-actualization.

I believe the difference between people with more high-fidelity mental models (able to skillfully contain great complexity–perhaps through more elegant metaphors about the world) and lower-order mental models forms the basis of a kind of natural hierarchy among humans. The question of self-actualization can extend to societies too. In many cases, sophisticated knowledge and/or technology (which tends to emerge from more intricate/technical models of reality–if not more holistically accurate) is used to effect and maintain “power over” structures between civilizations, cultures, even individuals.

However: if there is empathetic, Not-Two enlightenment in the individual (which I personally see as an unavoidable emergence arising from the very highest levels of understanding), then perhaps there is an obligation (ethical, emotional, or otherwise) toward a kind of “power-with”… that is, how do we strive together to more meaningfully include (and augment) one another’s point of view, and therefore “level up” our thinking, so as to suffer less and cause less suffering? How can I, through dialogue or collaboration or other means, help cause your mental model of the world to reach a more highly ordered state (more capable of containing complexity)? The theory is that in doing so, you become a more realized version of yourself, and that this is desirable and good (insofar as you become like an elder who can help others–esp. true if the emergence of compassionate systems-conscious enlightenment is unavoidable at high levels of understanding).

Is this making sense? What do you think? I guess I’m wondering how we could create a human culture that embraces uncertainty as a key ingredient for cultural/human refinement/development, even if there’s some firmness to the notion that uncertainty is superior to certainty. …?