Life is a series of choices
Every moment of the day we are making choices, large and miniscule. What time to get up, what to wear, which leg to put in our pants first, what to eat for breakfast, how many times to chew that bite of toast before swallowing.
Usually many of these will be some combination of automatic, unconscious and habit. They have to be – we’d go insane having to be fully aware of every little thing we do.
Except that when your life is changing, that’s exactly what happens. And exactly what you need to do. When you are stripping away the labels and un-defining who you are to see clearly – all these things you’ve been doing on auto-pilot become open for inspection.
Why do I do it that way? Why do I prefer this or that? Why do I make these choices?
When we think of our lives, we probably think in terms of the big decisions – jobs, relationships beginning, relationships ending, homes, children, deaths. The ‘defining moments’ of our lives, we often call them.
But I can’t help but wonder if these ‘big’ decisions seem so difficult and defining, not because of their size in themselves, but because they make us hyper aware of all the little moments – the unconscious, automatic, repeated moments. The moments that actually define us.
When we have to make a big decision, it is really a meeting of us and all our little choices. All the ones we’ve made that have brought us to this threshold and all the new choices we will have to make coming after.
Big decisions are big because they open all of our lives to scrutiny and force us to look at that sum of tiny choices – and ask, “Who am? And is this who I want to be?” THAT is the question.
The Really Life Defining Moments
We are made in the little moments, the minute to minute choices. And the more unconsciously we have been making these choices, the more confronting the ‘big’ decisions can be.
Because you realise you’re not quite sure how you go here. Like driving home and suddenly realising you can’t remember the last 20 minutes (20 years) of the trip.
And because you are faced with the realisation that you’re not sure who you are. Our choices make us; they are tiny, daily definitions that we give to ourselves. And if our choices are repetitive, we are reinforcing a story about ourselves, to ourselves, and to the world.
So along come those big decisions – marriage, divorce, career change, big move, big risk, big opportunity.
And we realise that this is not our defining moment – our defining moment came a thousand times in a thousand different choices. This ‘big’ decision is only the culmination of that, the confrontation point where our only real choice is – do we continue the way we’ve been going? (And we might, either because we like our choices thus far, or because we are still unaware of the conflict within ourselves.)
Or do we change?
(And let’s stop waiting for the big moments to force into this questioning – let’s ask it now.)
Making the Change
This is where it gets hard. Because at this point, realising you’ve come so far down a path you didn’t actually want, it’s not easy to back track.
A few steps off track, and you can just course correct, step back or step across and carry on.
But miles down the ‘wrong’ road? Years into a life you chose while you were sleepwalking? What are the options then?
This is what I have faced. It’d be nice right now if a helicopter just came and plucked me up and plonked me down over on the other track, in the life I wish I’d created for myself. It rarely works like that – if ever. Because lives are built by the daily steps we take.
But what if you want to leave this life behind, change something big, but you don’t really know where to begin? What steps to take to begin to build that other life?
I think the only option is to get a little lost.
Go cross country for a while. Wander into a tangled wilderness until we’ve lost sight of what was and take one step after another (one choice after another) in pursuit of what could be.
And it will be painful. For a while, every choice will be an effort, will require thought and energy. More energy than you feel like you have sometimes. For a while the absence of definition and boundaries will feel overwhelming. Life, for a little while, will feel it is just about daily survival.
But resist the urge to cling too tightly to the road you just stepped off. If you try to keep it in sight, you may feel comforted, but you will never travel far enough into the unknown to get to the new road. Instead you will be on neither road, forever in the wild uncertainty, and probably regretting your decision to ever step away, to wake up, to let go, wishing you could go back. (But usually you can’t.)
But if you press on, if you take the risk of letting the old road disappear from sight, you will find what you are looking for. Even before you find the new path. Your soul is your compass. It yearns for the true path. And you might be surprised how many friends and fellow sojourners you will meet in the wilderness, fellow soul travellers seeking the new path, the new life too.
This time will feel frightening. But it is important. Vital, to shed the old ideas that held you captive to your unconscious choices in the first place. Once you’re on the move, you’ll quickly learn to drop anything you’re carrying that no longer serves you. That shit is too heavy and useless for this wild road.
With every step, these new choices of bravery and truth will redefine you.
And by the time you find your path – or learn to forge it yourself – you will be light, unburdened, and your soul will be free.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver, The Summer Day