How to navigate these times of uncertainty

“We must not lose faith”, my colleague Elena recently said to me. How true. I have been thinking about it ever since. More than one month now into the madness of this terrible war in Ukraine, unfolding while we are watching, often in real time through social media, how people lose their homes and their lives, cities being reduced to ashes. One month that has shattered quite a few firm-held beliefs, exposed illusions and left us severely concerned for the future.

But it also brought so many of us closer together, standing firm in our resolve to do the right thing and not let evil win. Hanging in midair between desperate hope and deepest sorrow. If only the power of our thoughts could make it all end – and yet it doesn’t.

I am certainly not the only one feeling this way, that’s why we see so much determination among people, so many outstretched hands and support. People go out of their way to help.

We have to hold on. No matter how nerve-wrecking it may be, how easy it might seem to slip into despair. We got to have faith and hold on even more. We owe it to those experiencing unfathomable suffering. We need to be strong – for their sake.

Yes, our influence on what happens is very limited. But I feel that we nevertheless must conjure the power of good, relentlessly. To create a counterbalance that will turn the ship around one day. 

“I can’t say I have confidence in the future, but I have a lot of confidence in its unpredictability, based on the fact that the past has regularly delivered surprises…. We need to have confidence that surprise and uncertainty are unshakable principles, if we want to have confidence in something. And recognize that in that uncertainty is room to act, to try to shape a future that will be determined by what we do in the present.” (Rebecca Solnit)

In the space of the past weeks we had our share of surprises already. And so had our governments, realizing that their citizens are far more decent and reasonable in the face of adversity than they had previously assumed. Yes, people take responsibility, in many different ways, often unusual and surprising.

Proving again that most people are indeed pretty decent. The worse the situation gets the more we must be at our best. And that is the only thing we can do. Good and evil usually lie very close to one other in daily life. Sometimes, they are even two sides of the same coin. What does matter is on which side we decide to focus on.

It’s good to remind ourselves that nothing is perfect in any way: not people, nor their behaviour nor any decisions taken. It can always only be as good as it gets. We need to bear that in mind, as there never is a perfect solution. But focusing on the good does make a real difference, and effecting change inevitably requires making adjustments while moving along. We’ll get there.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. (Desmond Tutu)

Only in the darkness can you see the stars. (Martin Luther King)

At first, I was watching the news daily, almost continuously, longing from day to day for the war to finally stop, hoping not more lives to get lost, not more destruction to happen. As if turning away somehow meant abandoning these people in my thoughts.

Imagine having to flee your country because your life is threatened, but knowing full well the place you called home could be erased from the map forever. What a profound sadness this evokes. I understand how people can get uprooted by such a traumatic experience of losing everything they hold dear.

However, we are doomed to watch from the sidelines. Failing to push events to the back of my mind, I struggled to focus on my own life which did me no good. Once these images entered into my dreams at night I just couldn’t go on like this. That’s when I drastically reduced my news intake. 

What also really helped to calm me down was taking care of a little lamb in my friends’ flock of sheep. It is the second time in the last years that I am helping to raise a lamb, and spending time with these peaceful animals in the stable every evening, knowing they trust me, is so good for the heart and soul. 

My hope is on the things we don’t see, things going on behind the scenes, hidden from our view. The people who covertly connect, negotiate and work on solutions. I put my hopes on them. Not all is lost. Help is coming from unexpected sides as well, and maybe we will never even know about all of it.

We Europeans are painfully aware of how much more is at stake now. It’s also our freedom which is being defended in Ukraine. 

There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster. (Dalai Lama)

It is hard to bear looking evil in the face – and that’s what we are doing, listening to the pleas for help knowing full well we ordinary citizens cannot do more. While hoping for a miracle where to turn our thoughts? And what to focus on?

It does not help anyone to put our own lives on hold. We need to uphold ourselves and others in these times of uncertainty, sending signals of hope in the dark:

  • Getting involved helping the refugees of war in whatever manner we can. It might feel like a small contribution but it aids healing and gives a sense of purpose.
  • However horrible it is what we are witnessing: the world doesn’t stop turning and there are people who need us to be at our best: our children, friends or colleagues, or whoever is in need of a helping hand. 
  • Continuing to share our knowledge, particularly with the young, supporting them and making them stronger, is one of the best investments into the future.
  • Be creative. Creation is the opposite of destruction. It enlightens our hearts, and bears witness to the resilient human spirit.
  • Taking care of our mental health is essential. To witness a war unfolding up close is a nightmare, so cut yourself some slack, and take time to re-charge, particularly if involved as a volunteer in helping the refugees. And avoid consuming news in any form in the evening if you want to get a good nights’ sleep.
  • It is not wrong to cherish and appreciate the good we have. We need to enjoy what life offers us. Carpe diem.
  • Be more conscious of the beauty of ordinary things, grateful for their existence and the joy they give us in this very moment. They will keep us grounded. 

This is very much a reminder of our own mortality and how to use our time on earth well.

I will never apologize for embracing joy and beauty – even when the world is falling apart – because joy and beauty are my fuel for activism. (Karen Walrond)

The pointless and evil can never win. That I do believe.

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