How to tell the difference: unbearable or unfamiliar?

My wife and I have been trying to make decisions about what it’s wise to do right now. Visit a friend who has cancer? Go to the store again? Go to the job at the retail store? What we’re struggling with is information, emotion, inference, and uncertainty. You are, too.

The feeling how-can-I-tell-what’s-best is acute now. What is the same as other days, though, is that we select information, we think about it, feel things, believe we’re making sense of it and we act. Most of the time, that’s reaction. Autopilot. Familiar patterns. When the risks are low, we feel comfortable and we do what we usually do. Now, we are anxious because we are feeling the uncertainty that we usually look past.

This is a good time to practice recognizing the difference between reaction and the settled-down feeling of knowing what fits this situation.

How to tell the difference?

  • Do I feel that I have to decide or act right now? You may be trying to get this over with. Rushing resolves uncertainty by sweeping it away or denying it. Do not rush to answer questions because the ambiguity is unbearable. It only seems unbearable to you right now.
  • Do I have the sense that I’m the lynch pin, the bottleneck, the decider? Maybe those things are objectively so, but you can involve others. What do they see, care about, want to see on the other side of this ambiguity? You can’t satisfy everyone, but you could see more of the terrain.
  • Does this box I’m in feel familiar? If you’ve been here before, reflect on how you ended up there last time, what the consequences were, where you felt stuck and where you felt free. Mine the latter for insights and small ways to proceed.

Discernment is knowing the difference between familiar reactions, no matter how effective at the time, and the I-don’t-(really)-know-yet that can feel unbearable


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