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Lissa Rankin is pioneering practitioner of medicine, my longtime friend and mentor, and a doctor I’ve found to be inspirational through her real and raw approach to transformational work. When I spoke to her for my book Dead Set on Living we discussed how stress becomes normalized. Lissa had some great things to say about this. She maintains that we’ve normalized stress to the point where it has become almost a badge of honor in our culture, as well as a defense. To say we’re stressed is to put on a suit of armor that makes us feel more socially acceptable, because now we’re important, contributing, productive.
If we examine what stresses us out, we’ll see that much of it is rooted in fear—anything from fear of being late for work to fear of death. Lissa said that if there a fear “cure” it would be “coming into right relationship with uncertainty.” I loved that: coming intro right relationship with uncertainty.
She sent me an excerpt from her book The Fear Cure that can work as the foundation for a practice. Try it and see what you think.
When we’re willing to view life as the teacher, even amid uncertainty, a journey begins. This journey—some might call it the spiritual path—challenges us to shift from fear of uncertainty to trusting life in the face of that which we can’t know and don’t understand, which leads us to freedom. After interviewing many people about what they’d learned on their own spiritual journeys, I discovered that the journey from fear to freedom, which is all about coming into right relationship with uncertainty, is a predictable journey, one that many have traveled. Lissa’s teaching is a map of sorts that can help you assess where you are on your path.
Here are Lissa’s five phases:
1. Unconscious Fear of Uncertainty: “Better safe than sorry.”
2. Conscious Fear of Uncertainty: “The only thing certain in life is uncertainty.”
3. Uncertainty Limbo: “I’m curious about the unknown, but I have my reservations.
4. Uncertainty Seduction: “The flip side of the fear of uncertainty is the excitement of possibility.”
5. Surrender: “The only way to experience life’s richness is to surrender to the unknown.”
Here’s how I navigated these phases when I began my divorce:
I became aware of my unconscious fear of uncertainty about my relationship when I thought about my experience with addiction and relapse and how that could create insecurity for my ex-wife and her daughter. I dug into how I tend to cling to safety and certainty in a relationship and questioned whether this relationship had been working for me.
This helped me touch my conscious fear of uncertainty and recognize how my need to be sure limited my possibilities, generating a predisposition toward what that exactly needs to look like in my life, especially when it came to my relationship with my ex-wife. I tried to get to a place of self-compassion.
As I engaged in the uncertainty limbo, I looked at this situation and my fears and doubts with curiosity. I tried my best not to judge or “know” the answers, but it wasn’t easy! There’s a natural inclination to squirm away from the discomfort of the unknown.
By being aware of the uncertainty seduction, I could avoid stumbling, and discriminate between reasonable fear and experiencing the unknown with integrity—except in this instance, that wasn’t the case. I hadn’t utilized Lissa’s From Fear to Freedom Practice. (Let this be a lesson for you kids . . .)
Surrender was the part of this practice I couldn’t commit to. I would shove the feelings of uncertainty, fear, loneliness, and lack of self-worth deep down as they arose. I’d worked with surrender practices in other areas of my life prior to this, and since then, even using Lissa’s formula, but this time around I chose not to, and the results, well . . . let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
Lissa reminded me that it’s a process! “You may leap forward from one phase to the next, only to find that you regress in times of loss or trauma. Because we’re often more comfortable with uncertainty in some areas of our lives than in others, you may not be in the same phase in all aspects of your life. There is no right or wrong phase, and you should trust your own timing. The reason to identify where you are in your development is not to trigger your ‘not good enough’ story, but simply to help guide you as you walk your own path. Be extra gentle and compassionate with yourself as you navigate from fear to faith. Trust the process!”
Chris Grosso invites us to sit in on conversations with beloved luminaries and bestselling authors such as Ram Dass, Lissa Rankin, Noah Levine, Gabor Mate, and Sharon Salzberg to discover why people return to self-defeating behaviors—drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating, sex, media—and how they can recover, heal, and thrive.
by Chris Grosso