Life's uncertainty makes constant demands on everyone's coping mechanisms. They are basically two ways to cope with uncertainty — acceptance and resistance. Acceptance means that you allow events to unfold around you and react to them spontaneously, without suppression. Resistance means that you try to change events from what they really are and react to them with familiar, safe responses.
Acceptance is healthy because it permits you to clear any stress as soon as it occurs; resistance is unhealthy because it builds up residues of frustration, false expectations, and unfulfilled desires.
In his book Emotionally Free, the noted psychiatrist David Viscott refers to the state of having stored- up feelings as emotional debt, which he links directly to ageing: "Sorrow ages you prematurely. When you're in emotional debt, you're pessimistic about the future, and even in your green years, long to return to the past to remedy the shortfalls of love and opportunity you suffered. Sometimes you yearn for more caring, for more time with someone who is no longer here, for a chance to speak your mind and release your emotional burden, or just to resolve your confusion by finally discovering what really happened to you."
Avoid emotional debt
Untold numbers of people find themselves in emotional debt that grows larger with the passing years. Growing old is a psychological state in which emotional debt increases until the body's coping mechanisms can no longer deal adequately with present stress. The result is infirmity, sickness, and death. It takes conscious work not to fall into this trap. Although every new moment is unknown and, therefore, potentially threatening, there is no real security in resorting to the past. As Viscott writes, "You can speculate, you can lament, you can yearn, but as much as you may wish to return and round off your emotional experience, you can never go home again. You real home is in this place, at this time. This present is for action, for doing, for becoming, and for growing."
Live in the present
Biologically, your body is perfectly set up to live in the present and acquires its greatest joy and satisfaction there. Your body never knows what its blood pressure will be the next second, so it has a built-in flexibility to allow a wide range of pressures; the same flexibility is built in to every other involuntary response. This is the wisdom of uncertainty, which permits the unknown to take place and welcomes it as a source of growth and understanding. We see this wisdom expressed in the spontaneity of every cell and organ. The pattern of electrical firings in your brain is never the same twice in a lifetime, yet this radical uncertainty allows you to have new, original thoughts. Every minute, nearly 300 million cells die, never to be seen again, and this stream of death is assimilated into the vaster stream of life that keeps your body functioning.
The mind, however, finds it much harder to accept uncertainty. It fears change, loss and death. This is the source of resistance which the body translates into stress. By imposing mental resistance, you create a threat your body has to cope with. Some people riding a roller coaster are screaming from excitement, others from terror. The ride is the same, but the ones who hold back and tense their bodies, generating a flood of stress hormones, experience terror. The ones who let go and allow themselves to be carried by the ride experience exhilaration....
Go with the flow
Losing control is an extremely unpleasant state for most people, and we all exert energy to maintain control. But there is a healthy way to be in control and an unhealthy way. The healthy way is to be secure enough in yourself, meaning your worth, lovability, and achievements, that outside events do not threaten your coping skills. The unhealthy way is to manipulate people and events so that your weakness and insecurity are covered over. You have to be honest with yourself to follow the first way; you need to know your limits in various situations, which ones make you feel weak and which ones bring out your strengths. Self-knowledge is an anchor that makes unpredictability tolerable.
A wise person once said to me, "If my approach to a situation isn't working, I have faith that there is more to learn. Either someone else can provide me with help or the flow of events will reveal what is needed. In either case, I won't get to the solution until I first admit that my response isn't perfect."
Unhealthy controlling people lack this flexibility and humility; they insist on being in charge of events and find excuses to make themselves come out on the right side of every conflict. This behaviour promotes disharmony both within themselves and with their environment. Unable simply to allow, they pay the price of never truly experiencing the nourishment that comes when life is simply allowed to flow in, around, and through you.
Get free of the past
Your life can be only as free as your perception of it. Whenever we look at a situation, we see our past in it, because every event gets interpreted, and interpretations are rooted in the past. If spiders frightened you as a child, you will project that fear onto spiders today; if your father was alcoholic, your judgement about someone who drinks will be clouded by your painful past experiences. Just to realise that you are placing an interpretation on everything, no matter how trivial, is an important step toward freeing yourself from the past. Realise that you are always seeing things from one point of view. If you find yourself fighting with someone, for example, holding on to your point of view makes the other person a threat, while acknowledging that two viewpoints can both be valid removes the threat....
Once you have interpreted a situation as a threat, your body will automatically give some kind of stress reaction. So it's important to question your interpretations. Old ones usually don't remain valid beyond the original situation. The only way you can end stress is by perceiving it to end.
When you begin to get into the habit of consciously and carefully examining your old interpretations, you create space for spontaneous moments of freedom. These are the moments when your old mindset clears in a flash of insight. With that comes a sense of revelation, because you are looking into reality itself, not a reflection of your past. All the most valuable things in life — love, compassion, beauty, forgiveness, inspiration — must come to us spontaneously.