You see it in most advertising, whether it’s for wheels, clothes or computers: The Guarantee. It underlies the been-burned-before anxiety of the pre-nup agreement of a second marriage. That one foot just a half step out of all the way in. A fallback. A crisp twenty-dollar bill stashed between the professional association card and insurance card in the not-well-traveled part of your wallet.
Life is unpredictable. And when it doesn't surprise us with delight, it terrifies us. We never know how the road will bend, who we might be between one turn of circumstance and another. It can be tremendously freeing to inhabit the deep “don't-know” and, surprisingly, have it conjure a profound trust of the present moment.
It's unsettling to not know the hour of our departure from this life. Not knowing if our hard-won financial gains, our taken-for-granted health, the love of our spouse or children, or even our own stories of our lives will weather the tides that unceasingly wash an inhale and exhale of change across our world.
We want a safe, unlocked, back door out. We want to feel secure in the choices we make, and erroneously assume that being able to backpedal will give us a greater sense of standing solidly against the tides of change.
It's a fool's errand.
We make choices, or not. Grasp hold of opportunities, or lose them forever in the folds of time. There is no true solid ground under our feet. Let's face it, most of us are whistling past the graveyard when our sense of self gets shaken. Aggressively manhandling life isn't the right answer either. Tossing away our personal responsibility through the fiction of a guarantee doesn't help us to face the ever-changing landscapes we call our lives.
There are no guarantees.
A meditation practice does not quid-pro-quo bring peace of mind. Prayers for loved ones don't guarantee the return of health. Taking that new job with the increase in pay, prestige and pressure…might just be walking off a cliff. The relationship that seems like an answer to the prayer of completion? Perhaps kindling and spark to the demons you were hoping to put to rest.
When it comes to the incredible uncertainty of life, we can only show up present, present with brokenness and beauty. Present with our magnanimous welcoming arms and the timid dark corners of our hearts to the opportunities and difficulties that ceaselessly arise and then disappear.
Looking for guarantees in the groundless uncertainty of life is casting a glance — a glance in the wrong in the direction. Like first looking to the left when crossing a Hong Kong street, confusions in directionality can get you mowed down.
So often we seek concrete answers and certainty, and while it's tempting to inhabit the illusion of a guarantee, in this ever-changing world really all we can do is grapple with life's koanic questions.