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To choose or not to choose

Pardon the Shakespearian touch, but do you find you can get so “caught up” in something that’s going on in your life that you forget you have other options as to how you might respond and deal with it, that you can choose again?

I’m thinking of how we can be so impacted by something that happens that, despite what we’ve learned, we are quickly back in the midst of our “knee-jerk” reactions, succumbing to the familiar numbers we can run. Then, like Hamlet, we no longer “be”.

Let’s say you not long ago left a job you had decided no longer fulfilled you and who you are and you moved on to something else. Then a while later, after the honeymoon, back comes some of those old patterns. Maybe you find yourself again in situations where your buttons get pushed and you flip back into your old “stuff”. We could say the same about leaving one relationship and starting another only to find the same stuff re-appears. Or moving house. It goes on.

Another way might be where you think you’ve learned something and for a few days it seems to work, and then something occurs that catches you unawares and there you are, doing “it” again. It’s a bit like your shadow following you around!

We always have a choice

What can be hard to see is that we’ve always got a choice. I’ve been often struck how we might need to remind ourselves to take responsibility and exercise choice. It can seem like we forget this when our “stuff” happens. It’s a kind of selective amnesia or a fog that takes hold, and blots out our awareness.

It’s an everyday occurrence, being presented with choices about how we deal with this or that situation. Yet we may not necessarily see that we have a choice in a particular situation and instead operate compulsively, in a sense “at the effect” of what is occurring.

It can take an effort, a real effort, to do this, to take responsibility and to choose. To choose whether to carry on being at the effect of “it”, of to take control and manage “it” differently, let go, etc.

This is one example of where I have found meditation so helpful, and the practice of mindfulness that is involved. In the process of settling in to meditate, and to focus the mind and let go of mental activity (or however you see it), we notice our mind getting absorbed in something and we return our awareness to the breath, a mantra or whatever technique you use to help you settle and centre yourself and be present and more fully aware. And keep doing this when the mind wanders.

In doing this, I might for example come into meditation with some “it” that is going on. The process of settling in to meditation, and the sustained practice of it, helps me let go of whatever “it” is. It’s like life in general. We can develop mental “muscle” this way, so that we learn we have power over our “stuff”, rather than “it” having power over us. Then over time and with practice you (or I), develop a greater ability to manage the mind, to be aware of our mental patterns and to rise above them, let them go, etc. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back, but that you know there’s a powerful tool you have available to use.

This is a decision we make, a choice we exercise. We use our will, and thus build up the power of the will. That too needs practice. The ego is so skilled in the art of selective amnesia and so we need to find ways to combat it. Thus some regular practice to “re-mind” ourselves is very important.
So just pause a moment, take a deep breath, and do a mental scan. What’s going on in your mind at the moment? What is “foreground”, close up to you? And what is “background”, further away, or running quietly? What can you feel? Is there some sense of unease, worry, sadness, depression, anger or even something else? Sometimes it is not in our minds, as it seems, but in our bodies. So tune through your body, till you sense it.

This can be familiar “stuff”, what we keep doing, but push away in order to cope day by day.

Now go and meditate, notice this pattern you’ve identified, and breathe it away, bringing your awareness to your breath and to being present and more fully aware…

Of the majesty of Who you Are.