Chicken or Fish?
“How did I get here?”, I utter to myself as I am confronted with a familiar discomfort. No matter what I do it seems that this feeling is unshakable. In as much as a feeling could be shook, I would shake this one until it understood that I am not fond of it at all and its presence here is as welcome as the carnivore diet at a vegan convention. If it was able to use Facebook, I would friend it just to unfriend and block it, so it can better understand the awkwardness it instils in me. My brain-body system is rocked back to the reality of the discomfort as the air hostess politely repeats: “chicken or fish?”.
Surely an impossible question to answer if ever I heard one. How can I make this decision on the fly like this, right here in this very moment if I have no control over the outcome? Or do I base my decision on the advise of a song: “but its okay to eat fish, cause they don’t have any feelings” -(Something in the way, Nirvana).
And what if the fish is cooked in a way that I don’t like? Over or undercooked or even both simultaneously to bring the wrath of Gordon Ramsey out in me? Or even worse, what if the chicken is the better option? Better suited to my taste and dietary requirements. Better cooked. Less of a risk for food poisoning.
Do I want to smell like fish for the rest of the flight?
Oh, by the beard of Zeus, just make up your mind so that you don’t look so perplexed by the question that will be asked to everyone else on this plane too!
Also, this is becoming a little bit awkward with the hostess just hovering, smiling passive-aggressively trying to maintain her professional stance towards me. Pretty sure this will end up being another round of “what ifs…” running through my thoughts, all focussed on my perception of her judgements and the impact of my indecision on the rest of the flight.
The rest of my life!
“How did I get here?”; ah right, that’s where all of this started and already back here again.
“Fish, please”; I blurt out eventually. Lucky fish without feelings. Feelings make thinking tricky or thinking makes feeling tricky? I am not sure. Not sure about anything other than that I am unsure, indecisive and uncomfortable with uncertainty.
Death and Taxes
A seemingly harmless question, potentially mundane and everyday in its existence, yet utterly complex, or rather complicated, by the uncertainty of the outcome. This is but a single playful example of how easily our world of thought can spiral (mostly downwards, but don’t dismiss the idea of multiple spirals or spiralling in different directions).
In a Meet Joe Black (1998 film) kind of logic, the only certainty we could experience is “death and taxes”. And even that is filled with uncertainty – both death and taxes. Other than Bob Marley, I don’t know of anyone else that has accurately predicted the age of their death or how it would occur. Ask anyone who is required to submit taxes and they too will be unable to predict with accuracy just what is going to happen. The dreaded SARS communication and confirmation of income and expenses. Never really all that known, but rather fixed in the constant state of unknown flexibility.
This position, or rather this need for certainty and predictability, can bring with it an immense amount of discomfort in the form of anxiety and the delusion of control. With it comes secondary emotions such as guilt and shame when the outcome is not as predicted and thus bringing a sense of failure or feeling “out of control”. Feeling out of control for something that we are not capable of controlling in the first place should probably not make us feel so out of control at all.
To an extent I agree with Joe Black, but his comment is limited, or rather limiting. There is more certainty than just death and taxes. I can be certain of the uncertainty around and within me. I can accept it, acknowledge it as it is unfolding in the present. Making use of my senses to ground me in the reality of my experience, the present, here-and-now. The position of not knowing can provide me with curiosity rather than anxiety. To follow in the tail of the commit rather than trying to steer it, control it and lead it, I embrace the moment-to-moment experience not knowing what the outcome would be.
We allow ourselves to indulge in this experience with the likes of reading a good book, watching a movie or series unfold or the ever-unpredictable outcome of live sports. What would it be like if we can accept this uncertainty as certainty? Embrace the emotions of it, for the everyday experiences, in the same way we embrace the joy of it in entertainment?
What if I apply myself in a more driving-like-Dirk-Gently kind of way? Dirk Gently makes use of “Zen navigation”, as explained by Douglas Adams in the book The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul: “He had a tremendous propensity for getting lost when driving. This was largely because of his method of “Zen” navigation, which was simply to find any car that looked as if it knew where it was going and follow it. The results were more often surprising than successful, but he felt it was worth it for the sake of the few occasions when it was both.” It very rarely gets you where you wanted to go but always where you needed to be.
And maybe that is just what psychotherapy can be when it embraces the certainty of uncertainty, staying mindfully attuned to the process and ending up where it needs to be rather than where we wanted it to go.