Sometimes it seems like the only job of the world is to gently (or not so gently) separate us from our deepest assurances, exposing us once again to that ultimate moral teaching tool: humility.
Of course, it’s not always a pleasant experience to have our certainties stripped away. Sureness is something like a neck brace, which we clamp around our lives, hoping to somehow protect ourselves from the frightening, constant whiplash of change. Sadly, the brace doesn’t always hold. I could list for you a tragicomic litany of all the things I was once mistakenly completely certain about, and I’m sure you can do the same. Maybe you, too, were once absolutely sure that you’d found your great love, or your final best friend, or the perfect mentor, meditation, or medication that would—once and for all—never fail you. And then? Slowly, it seems, we are not so sure after all. Such is our slippery toehold here on Earth, and so it has always been.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the people we instinctively turn to in times of trouble are those who—we sense—have made space within their convictions for doubt and mystery. Compassion grows best, it appears, in the soft spots beneath quiet surrender. So I try very hard to go easy on the firm conclusions. These days I settle for feeling only 85 percent sure about most things, most of the time. I believe this is keeping me sane, and I also believe that it’s keeping me human. In fact, I’m 85 percent sure of it.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love (Penguin).