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Certain Doubt

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

"Every one of us gladly turns away from his problems; if possible, they must not be mentioned, or, better still, their existence is denied.  We wish to make our lives simple, certain, and smooth, and for that reason problems are taboo. We want to have certainties and no doubts—results and no experiments—without even seeing that certainties can arise only through doubt and results only through experiment."

—Carl Jung, Psychologist


Leave it to Carl Jung to tag me right between the eyes with a reflection of myself that I do not want to see.

I like a nice piece of certainty.  It feels empowering, solid, bankable.  Doubts, on the other hand, are usually much less fun.  Doubts, if I don’t keep an eye on them, can turn into fear, and when I am afraid, I am not too smart.  Most of the greatest hits of my bad decisions and dumb behavior have been directly related to my fear. Yet, if I am understanding Carl Jung correctly, it is only by naming my doubts and listening to my fear that movement through them, and more importantly beyond them, is possible.

Wise and experienced teachers have used a number of metaphors to wrestle with the existence of fear and doubt.

  • In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer labels that fear voice in our heads as our “roommate.”  Singer invites us to remember or imagine a terrible roommate—the kind who always has the worst ideas and the harshest criticisms of everything.  Most of us have a voice like that in our heads. It’s the voice that tells us that we are too ugly to get a date, too dumb to succeed, or that if people knew what we were really like, they wouldn’t want to be around us.  It’s the voice that tells us not to risk too much or go too far because it will never work out. Here’s the important thing about that voice according to Singer—it’s not you. That voice is not your voice. You are the one who listens to the voice, considers that voice, and then chooses whether to follow it or not. 

  • Similarly, theologian and author Rob Bell describes fear through the metaphor of a road trip.  Bell acknowledges that fear and doubt are going to be in the car—but insists they should be passengers.  We should not let fear drive the car. We should not let doubt and anxiety choose the playlist for the radio or where we are stopping for lunch.  They get to be in the car. They can even provide input and opinions, but we are the driver. We make the decisions.

  • In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön relays an ancient parable of a young warrior who was told by her teacher that she would have a battle with fear.  She didn’t want to battle fear, but her teacher told her it had to happen. When the day arrived and the young warrior found herself facing what seemed like a big and wrathful opponent in fear, she moved toward fear, bowed and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear thanked the young warrior for showing respect.  The young warrior then asked fear, “How can I defeat you?”   Fear replied, “I will talk fast and get in your face, but if you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power.”

However we may face uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and doubt today and in the days ahead, the wisdom lies in facing it.  In listening to our doubts, in asking our fear questions, in naming and owning our anxieties—and as Jung would say, in experimenting with our uncertainty—they all take their proper place.

…as the roommate

…as a passenger in the backseat

…as a conquerable warrior

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba!”  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

- Romans 8:15


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