I’ve been thinking about choice. The choices I make every day that lead to new choices to make. I’ve been busy listening to other people closely for the last couple of years, more than ever before. Listening to people so hard I can feel the blood pumping through their voices and feel their cells trembling with emotion. The exercise of listening to others has made me listen to myself more closely too. When I find myself criticizing other people’s choices, I look harder at my own. When the things they say make me angry, or terrified, or crushingly hopeless, I listen closer to the words I’m using every day and how they sound to others.
Whatever I find in others, both positive and negative, I always find some of it in myself too. Even if it’s just a weak shadow, I can always find some scrap of everything that lives in the hearts of others in my own. I believe this is because of the interconnectedness of all life on earth and the universality of human experience.
There are very few instances in which we don’t all have a choice in how we act and react to everything in our lives. One of the most important things I’ve learned in life (and I learned it a long time ago) is that not liking the choices you have isn’t the same thing as not having choices. When people say “I didn’t have a choice” what they mean is “I hated all the choices I had and I’m pissed off about it”. It means the choices they had were hard and unpleasant. Everyone is faced with hard choices in their lives at some point. Most of us will face hard choices at frequent intervals in our lives.
I hate it when people use the fact that we all have and make choices to shame those who’ve made what appear to be “poor” choices. I don’t look at choice like that. Who of us hasn’t made the easier choice knowing it might not be the best choice? Who of us hasn’t made choices out of fear or wishful thinking? Who of us hasn’t made choices we regretted? Anyone who claims they haven’t made choices they’ve paid hard for later and regretted, at least for a little while, is lying through their teeth.
Sometimes the choices we make that others criticize for being “poor” are the ones that lead us to the greatest personal growth.
What will help you (and me and everyone) grow the most and find the greatest satisfaction in life, is taking responsibility for the choices we make. This isn’t about being right or wrong. It isn’t about what you should or shouldn’t have done. It’s about acknowledging that you almost always have CHOICE and to make those choices consciously. It’s about forgiving yourself when you make choices you later regret while simultaneously giving yourself permission to make new and different choices every day. It’s about appreciating the rewards of choices you make as much as admitting responsibility for the choices that led you to more pain.
When you choose to do things to take care of yourself, like resting when you need to, like saying “no” to people when they’re asking more of you than you have to give, like spending the money for a good fucking pound of coffee because coffee makes facing every day sweeter even if it means you’ll be eating plain baked potatoes for dinner because you can’t afford both good coffee and a great dinner. Whatever taking care of yourself means, when you choose to take care of yourself, you’ve got to acknowledge that you did that for yourself. That YOU chose to give yourself something you really needed.
I’ve made a lot of hard choices in my life. I remember sometimes thinking “This is total bullshit! This is no choice at all!” and I remember the bitterness that comes with feeling I had no choice. I remember the feeling of powerlessness when faced with terrible and terrifying choices to make.
Feeling powerless isn’t the same as BEING powerless.
Finding the courage to use the power you have is sometimes the greatest challenge in life.
Choice is on my mind a lot this week especially as I near the departure day for a choice I haven’t wanted to make. A choice I’ve avoided making for a long time. I’ve taken steps close to it and retreated in fear. I’ve shared quite a bit of this journey here on this blog but I’ve kept plenty of it private too. I can’t and won’t allow other people’s opinions and prejudices and dogma to steer my ship.
That’s me choosing to protect myself and nurture my fragile courage.
People are scared to acknowledge that they always have choices. They’re scared it’s the same as saying that everything that ever happens to them is their own fault. But that’s not true at all. Other people are constantly making choices that affect our lives too. None of us can (or should be able to) control the choices others make. As our lives are constantly intersecting and overlapping, we create situations for others that they, then, have to decide how to react to or act on. And others create situations that we have to decide how to react or act on.
Acknowledging that you always have choices isn’t about laying blame on yourself for your unhappiness or sorrows or misfortune. It’s about empowering yourself to SEE those choices for what they are. It’s about empowering yourself to make choices more consciously because acknowledging all the choices before you when you’re in the trenches of misery allows you to see all the possible ways out of the trenches. Those choices might be really hard, they might suck, it might hurt your heart (or the hearts of others) to make them, but the person who’s hurt the most when you stumble blindly making decisions out of fear or choosing to NOT make any decisions* is yourself.
So this is what I’m practicing. I keep saying “you”, but I’m talking to myself and about myself most of all. Maybe “you” aren’t ready to hear this shit, or maybe “you” are way far ahead of me and are on to new lessons and meditations on life. That’s cool. But this is where I am right now.
Acknowledging choice is allowing me to be kinder to myself. I’m seeing that I’ve made a lot of crappy decisions that I truly believed were the best I could make at the time. I can look back, with the things I know now, and shake my head and say “you SHOULD have…” but instead I’m just looking back and seeing how I kept moving forward and kept fixing the broke shit with the tools I had. Sometimes I made horrible decisions because I was scared and ended up sacrificing more of myself than I ever thought I’d have to as a consequence. But there’s no shame in that. We all do that. I’m proud of myself for being able to face those decisions and take responsibility for them. Taking responsibility for them helped to set them free. I’m a fallible human being learning new tricks all the time. I don’t float in swamps, my friends. I seek the clean moving water. I seek the streams that lead to creeks that join rivers that rush onwards towards the sea.
I’m terrified of the open ocean even as I’m drawn to it with the pull of the river currents and the moon.
The choice I’ve just made scares me because I don’t know how long this trip is going to be. I don’t know how to pack for it mentally or spiritually. It’s an open-ended adventure. I only know what I’m going to do on Monday.
To all of you who are facing tough situations and having to make tough choices:
Swim for the ocean and let the horizon be your anchor!
I’ll be there too.
*That’s an actual choice people make constantly, to do nothing, to say nothing, to change nothing IS a choice.