What Do You Choose?

"Always repenting of wrongs done
Will never bring my heart to rest."

 Chi K'ang

"Your duty is to be; and not to be this or that."

 Sri Ramana Maharishi

We live in a world of multiple choice. You can choose to do something or not do it. If you do something, the consequences may be what you expect, or they may not. If you chose not to do something, there will be consequences for your non-action, just as there would be for action. This makes life somewhat unpredictable, and in some of our eyes, more interesting.

The thought that our actions may have unexpected unpleasant consequences can be a source of anxiety. If you have a history of making choices that result in your experiencing pain, you will tend to become nervous in the face of decisions. Some of us build a mental catalog of our poor choices that reminds us that any move we make may bring disaster. Then we imagine all the possible disasters. With multiple catastrophes in mind, we freeze up in fear, unable to choose.

But wait a minute, all those poor choices are in the past. They are not happening now. All those imagined coming catastrophes are in the still unformed future of multiple possibilities. All you've got is what is happening right now. Right now you can do something or not do something. If you do something, you get to choose which of several somethings to do. Then in the next moment you get to manage the consequences of your decision.

It is wise to understand your choices and evaluate likely consequences. It is not helpful, in the face of a choice, to distract and confuse yourself by blaming yourself for poor past decisions or fantasizing about what might have been. Some people get so wound up in their thoughts of regret and their fears that they lose track of what is real. Others cling to their image of an alternate future past the point when that future is no longer a possibility.

In the classic 1954 movie On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando's character blames his brother for not making the right choices in Brando's boxing career. He cries, "I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody." It is a poignant moment because in that phrase we hear and feel the loss of a much better future than the reality being lived by this washed up boxer. We can also imagine that this character may choose to spend the rest of his life blaming his brother for not taking the high road to riches and fame. He may cling to his failed dream and not accept his real circumstances. It is easy to imagine for him a life always out of sync with reality; a life filled with addiction and loss. In the movie, however, the character realizes he is somebody when he chooses to testify against the mob that controls the waterfront. He apparently realized that what might have been did not happen, but that life goes on, and one must make the best of it.

When things have not worked out as we would have liked, what should we do? Our best bet is to accept what is, and choose based on that actuality, rather than dwelling on how we would have liked things to have been different.


 This week be aware of how you deal with choices. Be a witness to your choosing, and notice your style. Notice the state of your mind and heart when you face a difficult choice. See how much you can attend to what is real at the moment, and let go of any tendency to engage in unproductive regret and worry.

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© 2001 Tom Barrett