Aug 25 2016


Uncertainty is a major stress factor for most people.  It goes hand in hand with lack of control, which often freaks people right out. We can face uncertainty in a strong and empowered way, or we can be irrational, inept and unhealthy.

Some ways that people attempt to take control is by doing their best to get certainty.

If it is in a specific area, they might, for instance:

  • do some research, eg the statistics on employment opportunities in a certain field, if the uncertainty is about paying their bills
  • do a FB search on someone before accepting them as a friend

But what if the uncertainty is more deep-rooted?

A feeling that you might not be able to trust someone close to you, a feeling of  concern for someone you love, a feeling that maybe life is not treating you fairly, a feeling that maybe the world is going in a direction that upsets you?  No amount of research can fill in the gaps.

What to do about it?

Some folks have quite unhealthy ways of coping

  • they might just get into an anxious funk
  • they might lash out at some person, or develop an angry, criticising, unhappy outlook on everything around them
  • they might do irrational things like buying a lottery ticket as “an investment”, or looking for psychic advice
  • or they might make a rash action, eg walking out on a relationship, with the notion that doing something is better than doing nothing
  • they might talk spitefully about someone who nudges their feelings of uncertainty

Well, nothing much good comes from angry reactions, irrational behaviours, or from anger and fear turned inwards as anxiety or unhappiness.  Could there be another way? Why, yes!

We could consider where the feeling comes from in the first place, that we “need” certainty and control

An inept way of addressing this is immediately again to turn towards someone or something as the cause.  Nope, that doesn’t work – it takes us straight back to the disempowering anxiety that we’re seeking to recover from.

The skilful and ultimately effective way – and so also the spiritual way – is to enquire again: What is it in me which supposes that certainty is necessary and that control is a requirement of living?

We may find that the notion of need for certainty may be one of the unchallenged assumptions which, amongst others, leads us to poor outcomes through much of our life.

So we have to turn back again and again to where it comes from. Challenging our assumptions about it, once we have the courage to look without flinching, brings with it what we wanted all along – decisiveness and empowerment, self-validation and self-motivation.   We lose something illusory and gain something much better –  the strength that comes of working with reality instead of wanting reality to be different.



I will be leading a one day workshop on Facing Uncertainty, for Melbourne readers, in the Meditation and MIndfulness room at Blackburn, on Sunday 9/11.  What a great day to explore Uncertainty.  If you are interested, please email, or phone her on 04000 68990



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Mar 26

Unchallenged Assumptions Lead to Poor Outcomes

Here is a conversation I had recently with a student:

Nothing external can cause an internal response

What causes our emotional reaction is the black box full of assumptions (in the mind) by which we make inferences about how we should behave, emotionally and socially. So an insult doesn’t make you angry: what makes you angry is an assumption about behaviour, eg When demeaned, I should feel angry and vindictive; Insults demean me. So he insulted me; that was demeaning. Then the perfectly logical inference is to become angry and vindictive.

Yet the basic premise or assertion or assumption is not in itself correct – we don’t challenge it when we  make inferences from it that motivate our decisions.

So you see how Inference can be a valid cognition (correct reasoning from the basic assumption) and still have a completely wrong outcome, if the underlying notion is unchallenged. That’s where the hard work is –  just trying instead to change patterns of reaction is repressive, and is not effective,  if the hidden cause isn’t changed first.

Every day messiness

The comments that students make  don’t generally take into account the everyday inferences that mess life up. The great yogi Patañjali figured out nearly two millenia ago that all thoughts are an experience of non-reality, and yet he says that there are some valid thoughts, inference amongst them.  So even valid inference can take us down the path of non-reality.

Along came Cognitive Psychology 2000 years after Patañjali to point out belatedly to non-yogis that our usual way of thinking is mistaken. We normally suppose that something external causes our emotional reactions. Yet nothing external can cause an internal response.

What about this, then? Hurting a child?

STUDENT: Your extra explanation on Inference, especially in reference to everyday life is helpful. I’m struggling a little bit to understand this one, especially the bit “Nothing external can cause an internal response”. I understood the example you used about the black box full of assumptions about how we should behave, emotionally and socially.

Then I thought of a more extreme example and lost the bit of understanding I thought I had. What about if you were walking and all of a sudden you see (external) a man grabbing a child by the hair and throwing the screaming child in pain against a brick wall. People would generally respond (internally) to seeing such an event in some way, depending on their individual black box as to how they respond. Isn’t this still an internal response (whatever that might be) to an external event? or are you saying the external event is neutral in and of itself and therefore has no ability to cause any types of internal responses? or am I totally not getting this?

M: Hmm, that is a fairly common counter-argument – I usually get, What about Child Molesters!!! And it is true that if I saw a man – or woman – bringing harm to a child, I would want to do what I could to prevent it.

On the other hand, the peoples of South America, Incas and/or Aztecs, practised child sacrifice. I read that the distress and tears of the children was highly valued, as it increased the regard the gods would have for what was offered to them. And the parents felt blessed by the whole thing.
So, evidently, it is not the pain and suffering of a child (external) that brings about the response, but rather, something (internal) sitting in the black box.

And  now you’re probably judging the Incas/Aztecs via your own black box – and they would judge you through theirs!

Inside the Black Box

For one, it is
Ist assumption: Kindness to children is an imperative
2nd assumption: Unkindness to children is horrifying
3rd assumption: People being unkind to children must be stopped.
INFERENCE: If I see someone hurting a child, I must be horrified and I must make it stop.

For the other, turn all that around and you have the Aztecs feeling blessed by their child’s pain and suffering. A different imperative inside the mind.

Externals can’t jump inside your mind or muscles

Of course some examples are extreme. I am not for a moment saying that nothing has value. But it is impossible to get away from the fact that inner processes account for our reactions. If you don’t know about an insult, you don’t get upset. If you don’t know about the child, you don’t get upset. Those are the externals that in themselves have no power to get inside your mind or your muscles or your endocrine system, and cannot in themselves cause an emotional state.

I suspect there is a solution, and probably goes along the line of empathy rather than rules.

Is this it?

STUDENT:   So our inner processes account for our reactions to (externals). So first there has to exist something (external) an object, a situation,whatever. It doesn’t cause how we react to it or not react to it , it just exists. Our reactions are subjective like what one tribe considers acceptable another might not.
I’m still not sure about whether (externals) in their own existence are neutral. I am guessing I would probably have to be able to see reality to answer that?
I was going ask you about where empathy and Karma fit in, but I think I might leave it for now.


M: Yes, that is so whether we like it or not.

In a hugely extreme sense, humans only make sense of the bombardment of sensory stimuli by creating categories and then interpreting the stimuli as convenient. Patatanjali calls it “vrtti sarupya” – total identification (of self and reality) with thoughts.

The mind makes sense of reality in its own way

Zen came to a way of communicating that by using terms like “suchness” and “isness” and “emptiness” – things are not what we say they are, things are what they are in themselves. A plant doesn’t call itself a flower or a weed, it is empty of a sense of self and devoid of the meanings we project onto it. Take that over the millions of experiences we have and where does it leave our certainties?

In more recent history, one could read Jung or research deeper into neuroscience or cognitive psychology. Or ask a scientist about the “flux of particles” that really makes up the reality of the world around us.

What to do about it

So everyday emotional behaviour is highly inferential. In daily life, doing something about it means that internal processes are the proper thing for each of us to investigate, rather than considering only how something external can be changed to our liking; and becoming fully aware of those internal processes instead of being dominated by the common unawareness:  that each person feels that he or she is the one who’s right.  Feeling right is a state of mind, while it is facts that are synonymous with reality. Factual reality is neither right nor wrong, but it wins every argument you have with it. Clearing the mind of resistance instead of persisting with feeling right means examining the contents of the black box in the mind.

People are more rational than we might suppose. It is unchallenged assumptions that make us stupid.


PS: Here is an article I wrote recently on Karma

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Jan 04

The Conundrum of Discipline and Letting Go

Here Sarasvati discusses the problems of actually living a Yogic life.  The first conundrum is, “What is surrender?” (not what  you might think)

Sarasvati supervises Anatomy and Asana teacher training for the Australian College of Classical Yoga.  Her own Yoga school is Waverley Yoga, where you can find other writings on her Blog. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov 08

Thinking about Choice

Do you take responsibility for the choices you make?

Choice newTo become aware of the choices we make and being upfront about them – this is one way of getting to know ourselves better. Our choices are a clear reflection of us for all to see – we had better have a handle on them ourselves.  But there are other ways of looking at choice – try these mind-bogglers.


There are many aspects to choice.  Determinism would suggest that choice is an illusion and you really haven’t got any choice. Its position is that a long chain of cause and effect accounts entirely for the decisions we make, and the feeling of choice that goes with them. Can’t stand the thought of that?  Determinism would say, “Well, of course not!” Your reaction was fully predictable because already determined by the pre-existing causes in your life (and of the stream of pre-existing causes preceding your entry into the world),

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct 26

Comfort, Discomfort, Both OK

Generally we choose comfort over discomfort, and that seems wonderfully reasonable, doesn’t it?  But just consider, whenever  you choose comfort you are pushing away about 99.9% of what is available.  Reality is vast, while your comfort area is tiny and constrictive.  Recognising that both comfort and discomfort are valid experiences is a big leap into a broader, more flexible mind. And that happens when we recognise also that comfort and discomfort are about preference, not reality. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar 16

Noxious guru

Supposing that you find you have a noxious guru, what do you do?

How might you discover it?

You may have encountered unpalatable aspects of his personality, but assumed that he was a high-functioning narcissist Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar 04

Yoga Retreat, or Yoga Treat?

When I was in fourth grade, our teacher left the room for a bit, and told us to be very quiet as we were now on retreat. Another teacher came in, and I proudly wrote her a note saying that we couldn’t talk because we were having a treat! Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan 31

Hurting and Growing

I owe much to guru and lineage. Without having had a guru, I would not have discovered this yogic path,  nor ventured far upon it. Without his guru, I would not have met him. Without the great Nityananda, none of us would have made this journey at all. Nevertheless, many years ago I was disillusioned with my guru. It hurt soooo much, I was soooo disappointed, I cried many, many bitter tears and it took years to heal from it. For anyone who might be suffering or might have suffered, this is the story of my healing.

It took years to heal from it. But something much better came from the process than I was able to imagine during the hurtful years. I found in insight that disillusionment is not so much an indictment of another person or institution, it is an indictment of my own illusions, and I am much better off without them.  There is spiritual restoration in that. And in the end, I am profoundly grateful for having had a guru. His personality is his business, and mine is my spiritual life. But disillusionment really does hurt Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec 31

End 2014, Year of Changes

Changes – some painful, some joyful or even ecstatic, some that come simply with the turning  of the Earth.This time last  year, somehow I had a feeling that 2014 would be a year of changes… and I was right. Maybe,on reflection, any 12 month period will see change anyway. But this one was fully charged… quite glad to start on a new one tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec 25

Sit with your anger, dive deep through pain

A few days ago I sat with a spiritual community in trauma.  Their spiritual leader was in disgrace from allegations of sexual impropriety. The hall that is normally full was half-empty, and of those attending, half were quietly weeping.  The session was taken by the leader’s life partner, the woman sweetly and affectionately known as Divine Mother. She was left to carry not only her own pain but that of the community. Such pain, such grief, such betrayal.                 Read the rest of this entry »

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