“Surrendering to Uncertainty: Embracing the Mud” with Kaira Jewel Lingo

Meditation teacher Kaira Jewel Lingo provides an invitation “to come home to the island within us that very much needs our care, so that we can meet the uncertainty of our times with resilience and tenderness.” In this virtual webinar, she spoke about embracing “the mud” of suffering and uncertainty and led a guided meditation focused on nourishing a wholesome mind-state from which we can maintain inner balance and peace.

She began by sharing wisdom from her time as a nun in Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastic community, passing along the guidance he often gave to those who were facing uncertainty or were trying to make a significant life decision.

“He would often say: don’t try to figure this out at the level of your mind. Think of this question, this experience of uncertainty, this not knowing, as a seed. Plant it down in the soil of your unconscious mind and let it rest. It’s at that level of our consciousness that we can come up with a wise response.”

The seed’s ripening can’t be rushed. However, by staying present and aware, and engaging in daily mindfulness practices, we can nurture the seed and trust that one day it will rise.

Jewel Lingo then led us through a meditation practice, inviting us to bring to mind a challenge, difficulty, uncertainty, or unresolved situation in our lives that we’re not sure how to address. “Without trying to figure out an answer or solution, see it as a seed that you can entrust to the soil of your mind,” she encouraged. “Let it lay there peacefully and quietly. Let yourself rest back into the unknown of this moment… see if you can let your body surrender to this uncertainty.” She acknowledged that not knowing might be scary and uncomfortable, but it is also a space of infinite possibilities.

“A flower can’t be rushed into blooming. It blooms in its own time when the conditions are sufficient.”

To frame this idea another way, Jewel Lingo quoted Lao Tzu: “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”

She also shared about a period of great uncertainty and distress in her own life in which she leaned into Joseph Goldstein’s writing on the wisdom on uncertainty. He suggests that when we have clarity and are sure about what’s happening, we are less open to other possibilities. But when we allow ourselves to be in the space of not knowing, there is enormous potential for life to unfold in innumerable ways. So, rather than avoiding the uncertainty, we can embrace it and learn to receive its many gifts. 

During this uncertain season of her life, Jewel Lingo learned to stop resisting or fearing uncertainty but to simply be with questions themselves. “I found I could still find peace and joy even in the midst of not knowing,” she recalled. While her external situation may not have changed, she was able to change her relationship to it.

Applying these lessons to our current socio-political moment, Jewel Lingo reflected that “in a sense, our whole culture, our society, is dissolving. We’re entering a chrysalis as a species. Structures we’ve come to rely on and identify with are breaking down. The pandemic has shifted all of our lives. We don’t know what the next space will be like.” She continued:

“Learning to surrender in our own lives, as individuals, can really support the collective wisdom of encountering this time of huge planetary uncertainty with more skill and more ability to take advantage of the possibilities that are still there. If we’re afraid, if we’re locked down, if we’re fighting against the uncertainty, we can’t profit from the hidden possibilities that we may not see right now.”

It’s so important to embrace the mud of our lives, Jewel Lingo emphasized, because that’s where all the beautiful flowers come from; lotus flowers need mud to grow. “Our suffering is what brings insight. The more we can see that, the more we can allow others to embrace their own mud.”

To wrap up, Jewel Lingo answered audience questions including one about if this wisdom can be applied when one needs to make a decision quickly. Jewel Lingo responded that the practice of surrender is really helpful, even when faced with a time-bound decision. “When we feel we don’t have enough time, we tend to tighten and stiffen. That tendency can block energy in us, the flow of ideas and solutions,” she explained. “There is a difference between rushing and moving fast. It’s possible to be in that tight time frame and still not lose our perspective or get rigid. When a decision has to be made quickly, be very compassionate with yourself. Say ‘I’m going to do my best, and that’s all I can do.’”

She closed with a prayer by Shantideva, an 8th-century Indian monk, an excerpt from which reads: 

“May all beings everywhere plagued by suffering of body and mind obtain an ocean of happiness and joy by virtue of my merits. May no living creature suffer, commit evil, or fall ill. May no one be afraid or belittled, with a mind weighed down by depression. May the frightened cease to be afraid and those bound be freed; may the powerless find power and may people think of benefiting each other.”

Visit Jewel Lingo’s website to view written and recorded teachings, her upcoming event schedule, and more. 


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Kaira Jewel Lingo began practicing mindfulness in 1997 and teaches Buddhist meditation, secular mindfulness, and compassion internationally. After living as an ordained nun for 15 years in Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastic community, Kaira Jewel now teaches in the Zen lineage and the Vipassana or Insight tradition. She teaches at the intersection of racial, climate, and social justice and focuses on serving activists, BIPOC, artists, educators, families, and youth. Now based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, she offers spiritual mentoring to individuals and groups.

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Share your reflections on social media using the hashtag #GarrisonVirtualSanctuary, and if you have any questions about this event or others, please contact us at events@garrisoninstitute.org.

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