Desire and Uncertainty

by Nirmala Nataraj  Jan 11, 2014

“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that... an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity. To the degree that we've been avoiding uncertainty, we're naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms—withdrawal from always thinking that there's a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to fix it.” – Pema Chodron

“Doubt is not a pleasant situation, but certainty is absurd.” Voltaire

My life, like those of most of the people I know, has been dappled with strange chance encounters, unpredictable twists and turns, and the kind of non-linear narrative that reads like a stream-of-consciousness novel rather than a tidy memoir with a decisive beginning, middle, and end. The Sturm und Drang of my particular story is one I wouldn’t trade for all the stability and reassurances in the world, however. I think, on some level, my innate preference has been to explore, seek, travel, and create in the midst of ambiguity.

I know plenty of women who aren’t comfortable with the kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants doctrine I’ve adopted. I know, because I was that woman not too long ago. I had the successful husband, the cushy life, the regular vacations, the ten-year plan that mapped out my ambitions and was being fulfilled like clockwork. All the same, life was lacking that special ingredient I couldn’t quite identify. It was bland, predictable, devoid of the natural joy and gusto I felt I should be experiencing. After all, my life was governed by a litany of shoulds. I was educated, attractive, and thriving in most arenas—so why didn’t the little details pop out in Technicolor?

The answer, as I discovered two years and one divorce later, was simply this: the messages I’d been spoon-fed from infancy about what was supposed to bring me fulfillment—the doting husband, the picket fence, the dream job, the tidy life defined by a series of accomplishments and healthy heaping doses of validation—simply didn’t hold the same rose-tinted appeal I thought they would. The very promise of stability, as appealing as it was at first glance, from very far away, was cratered with fault lines and glaring imperfections upon closer examination.

The experience of full aliveness, in fact, is stultified by the desire for certainty. Certainty, for many women, is signified by tangible markers that we’ve made it in the world. However, the secret we all harbor but few of us are willing to completely cop to, is that that quintessentially “female” desire to know exactly what’s what is a flimsy illusion that not even the most skilled conjurer can maintain for too long. What most of us really want is the experience of turn-on, the ability to take all of the energy of life and move with it fully and authentically, to be open to whatever comes around rather than shut down because of fear or habit.

This means holding more sensation. It means opening up to the vast repository of uncertainty that is the very air we breathe. It means living fully in the wisdom of the moment, which mandates that in the next five minutes, anything can happen—anything from losing the big six-figure job to meeting the spiritual teacher who will send us trundling along the path of enlightenment with shaky sea legs. And while the plausibility of doom and gloom might always be there, so is the very real prospect of true happiness…and usually, the experience we find ourselves reeling in has more to do with where we place our attention and how adaptable we are to change than with the actual circumstances themselves.

Change is a frightening scenario for most of us, especially when our culture is keen on inundating women with bleak statistics and dismal alternatives. Leave your high-power job or high-power man, and you’ll be out on the streets, or you’ll be alone for the rest of your life. And for many women, certain misery is a sweeter option than indeterminate pleasure.

The quandary that theologians and philosophers galore have pointed out is that as obsessed as we are with getting our versions of what should happen to coincide with what will happen—it’s never possible to predict the future, because it hasn’t happened yet! Additionally, researchers have noted that most of the time, feelings of certainty are in inverse relationship to people’s perceptions of reality. For instance, how many paranoid people have you met who are without a shadow of a doubt that their theories of how the world operates are absolutely spot-on? For such people, the details are evident and undeniable, and all the plot points of the world coalesce to form a clear picture that…in the end…is completely self-deluding.

When we're in our orgasm, we aren't interested in all the fear-based directives that freeze us in amber and have us stooping to please the denizens of that particular universe…which, in the end, is susceptible to uncertainty, the faithful bedfellow of reality. A woman in this place lives fully in her body—this means riding the waves of fear, anticipation, and excitement that come with not knowing what’s going to happen next. She prioritizes truth and authenticity over security and comfort, and she is fully aware that certainty and stability stand on precarious foundations anyway, as they are dependent on the shifting sands of circumstance. She chooses to follow a more honest compass—that of her heart and her desire,

We already know we feel most alive when we’re not sure whether we’re going to succeed or fail, so we begin to look for the next seemingly impossible challenge, the next level of the game. Even the difficult times become cause for celebration when you are powered by the beauty of uncertainty. When my marriage ended, I was several thousand dollars in debt and face to face with a suddenly vague future that infused even my smallest decisions with a new sense of urgency. But, to my own surprise, I was having a hell of a time. I think I was able to keep a sense of humor about my successes and failures, because the sense of waking up to this completely new life in which nothing was fixed or assured was absolutely exhilarating. The sense of entitlement I’d unconsciously assumed in my former life, as it turned out, had been a buzzkill, not a panacea.

The thing about following one’s desire, which I ultimately learned to do, is you eventually come to terms with the fact that it’s not an intellectual choice based on a series of factors you piece together to determine the outcome. Desire is its own reason for existing, and it is rooted in mystery. It requires us to put on a blindfold and be led by something greater than our intellect, and greater than our rational decision-making minds.

Of course, we come pre-programmed with the need to know what’s going to happen next. In the wild, unpredictability is dangerous; and being the animals that we are, we want to have a sense of control over our world. But control is the first cousin of predictability. And we all know how exciting a predictable life—not to mention sex life—can be.

Seeing desire as a visceral entity rather than a mere concept means that when you let your desire move you, there is no sense of causality or a linear progression of steps. Movement and desire co-arise together. You discover what you desire at the very moment you find yourself gravitating toward it. And that isn’t something that can be scripted in advance.

Granted, it’s not as if I abide by a doctrine of happy-go-lucky serendipity all the time. I get gobsmacked by the same complexities and trials that many people experience…in the realm of finances, creativity, love, and general purpose. I still shuffle my feet nervous in the midst of the unknown and find myself longing for guarantees and refuges when bad shit happens. Because of these tendencies, it took two years to leave my marriage—I’d been waiting for a sign from the gods, some cast-iron assurance that everything would be okay. Ironically, the life I’d built with my ex crumbled around me in a matter of moments, not because I had all my ducks lined up and was ready to make that decisive move, but because the universe thought to whack me with a preliminary taste of what I knew, deep down, I wanted: the decimation of a tenuous blueprint in favor of uncertainty and turn-on.

Uncertainty is a powerful cocktail when it’s paired with even the slightest inkling of a question: Is this all there is? Can there be a better life for me? Artists, scientists, and innovators routinely embrace uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradox, because the open road is where new discoveries are made. Life becomes an adventure even in the most mundane of matters, and purpose is beautifully distilled from the primal soup of chaos.

I’m in a new relationship that has driven home the place of uncertainty in my life. All conversations between me and my lover, whether the nonverbal meanderings of the flesh or the inarticulate fumblings that are part and parcel of learning each other’s landscapes, necessitate that we at least momentarily put down the dogma we carry around with us. We must be willing to be unsafe, to be wrong. We must be willing to engage with each other, with life, in a spirit of play, uncertainty, discovery, and reverence. Desire, it seems, is sometimes like this: a shipwreck that can only be salvaged when we lose faith in the course we’ve charted and simply return to the forgotten ground of our senses.