Certitude vs. certainty

Some years ago, back when I was working for Burger King Corporation, responsible for the operations of many of their restaurants in Greater London,  I spent a good deal of my time in my car driving accross the urban sprawl from one store to another. Luckily I had the good sense to put that unproductive driving time to good use: I’d tune in to educational programmes on the radio or I’d listen to self-development and instructional audio-tapes. My car became a rolling university.

One of the programmes I tuned into on the BBC as I was tackling the busy central London traffic one Wednesday afternoon, I will never forget! The message, from a very unlikely source I must add, changed my view of life forever and put me on a quest: the quest for Certitude.

The radio programme was an interview. An interview with 4 leaders from 4  different religions. Top level holy men if you like. I was about to tune out of the programme as it was not a topic I was particularly interested in, until I heard that each of these leaders (a Bishop from the Christian faith, a Lama from the Buddhist faith, a Chief Rabbi from the Jewish faith and a  Mulla from the Muslim faith) had all actually been raised in different religions and cultures to that which they were now representing. For instance the Bishop had been raised a Hindu, the Lama had been raised in Judaism, the Buddhist had been raised a Muslim. All these men had converted over to a different religion than that which they were born into.

That caught my attention, raised my curiosity level and caused me to listen in further. The bulk of the interview was a series of different questions to each of the leaders mainly about their individul journeys and about the differences between the faiths.

The highlight of the programme for me however was towards the end  when the reporter turned to the Bishop and asked: “how has life changed for you since you’ve reached the high level of spiritual/religious development and awareness that you now have?”

His answer was something like this: “Before, to me life was full of certainties and uncertainties. For instance, I was pretty certain that I’d have 3 meals per day to eat and that my job was relatively secure, but I was unceratin as to whether my wife truly loved me and as to whether she would remain faithful. Equally I was quite certain that I’d improve my golf handicap by the end of the year but was uncertain as to whether my stock market shares would perform as I had planned. This perpetual pendulum swing between certainty and uncertainty kept my mind in an ongoing  state of agitation and my emotions on a rollercoaster ride rolling from glee and elation all the way over to insecurity, worry, vulnerability, intense fear, anger and despair. As a result, in order to avoid the suffering, I spent all my energy developing control strategies in every area of my life trying to desperately avert uncertainty and to “cement-in” certainty.  This would go on all day long and often throughout the night…of course very tiring and stressful!

Now, I have come to understand and experience CERTITUDE: the fact that life is filled with certainties and uncertainties, and that’s ok!” The radio programme concluded there. And my life took a fresh turn!

It was immediately clear to me that my existence up to that point (and most everybody’s that I knew) had been  governed by the dualistic tug of war between  certainty and uncertainty. And I was painfully caught somewhere in the middle! at a huge cost to my productivity, fulfilment and health.

At that moment I yearned to elevate my life to one of certitude. My quest had begun!

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