Sunday, August 17, 2014

Do We Have a Choice?

“I know that the word choose is a favorite New Age term, but it isn’t entirely accurate in this context.  It is misleading to say that somebody “chose” a dysfunctional relationship or any other negative situation in his or her life.  Choice implies consciousness – a higher degree of consciousness.  Without it, you have no choice.”

“Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain.  Nobody chooses insanity.  They happen because there’s not enough presence in you to dissolve the past, not enough light to dispel the darkness.  You are not fully here.  You have not quite woken up yet.  In the meantime, the conditioned mind is running your life.”

There may be such a thing as coincidences, or there may be a guiding pattern to life, guided by what I choose to believe is a loving God.  I say this, because I was talking to a friend who has been stuck in an abusive relationship for many years and I told her that only she can make the choice to leave.  Then I heard the above from Eckhart Tolle’s audiobook, The Power of Now, and I asked myself, “But what if she can’t?  What if, as she herself said, her choices were and are the result of her past conditioning?  What other choices does she have then?”
What choices do any of us have?  According to Eckhart Tolle, we can only choose in one of two ways – based on our conditioning or based in being present to the moment.
First, let us consider the term conditioning.  It means training in order to reach a certain way of being.  Usually we think of physical conditioning.  We work out, we train, in a gym in order to maintain our body at a certain condition.  If we continue working out we maintain that condition.  Our minds get trained, too, but not by us.  Others train our minds.  We learn to think what others think.  We believe what others believe.  This is called socialization.
To a degree, socialization is necessary.  It teaches us to say, “Bless you” if someone sneezes.  We learn which side of the road to drive on and we learn not to spit on the carpet.  We hold doors open for others and we show up on time to work.  We stop at red lights and look at the floor numbers while riding the elevator.  When we go against our conditioning, we risk the disapproval of others. This disapproval can take various forms, from a cross look to a terse comment to losing a job or going to prison.  The conditioning goes on through most of our lives.  The basic premise is that there are a certain set of rules that we all need to agree upon and abide by in order to reduce chaos and selfishness and function together in society.
Conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are two disadvantages to it.  First, it almost never stops and second, it allows others to think for us rather than allowing us to think for ourselves.  With regard to the first problem, one might be expected to wear button-down shirts and neckties to work because these clothes are “professional.”  They don’t necessarily improve job performance, but they are “required” nonetheless.  Wearing jeans and a t-shirt to a white-collar job on a Monday will probably throw the place into chaos.  People would react with feelings ranging from confusion to anger, even if you’ve been an excellent performer for 20 years.
The second problem is more insidious. We do not think for ourselves.  Or if we do, we get as far as the thought, “Other people will disapprove,” and we stay stuck.  We stay stuck in bad relationships and bad jobs because we fear what others will think or say.  We make choices that hurt us and even those we love because we want approval or fear disapproval.  And often, even when we do the right things, it is not for the right reasons.  We do the right things under certain conditions, but if those conditions were to change, then we might do the wrong things.  As long as we think we have the approval of others, we do what we are told.
Approval, though it may seem like it, is not love.  Approval is not necessarily concerned about what’s best for the individual or society, but of the needs and wants of the approving party.  We do things to please others because we don’t know any other way.
But there is another way.  There are many ways.  Tolle says we need to be present in each moment and then we will know what to do.   Our conditioning is part of our past and connected with fears of the future.  In the present, there is neither past nor future.  When I am present in the moment, I am at peace and I act out of love, love for myself and for others. 
I can begin “practicing the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence says in his book by the same name.  I can invite God into each moment.  If I make mistakes, and I might, God can be bigger than those mistakes and He can guide me to do the right thing at this moment.
Finally, I can be in my Purpose.  I can “do my work” as Steven Pressfield says.  This too puts me in the moment and makes me conscious of the presence of God.  It is not a coincidence that problems I have struggled with for years, some for most of my life, began disappearing after I began writing consistently.  It is not a coincidence that my life, though not without difficulties and challenges, started becoming what I always dreamed it would become.  More importantly, it is not a coincidence that I have been able to love and forgive others and myself after years of not being able to do so.
To be present in each moment, to practice God’s presence, and to be in my Purpose all require me to be present myself.  They all require discipline and training.  They require a new form of conditioning and this is not an easy or immediate process. But we can think for ourselves.  We must think for ourselves if we are to live the life we are meant to live.  We can Get Started and Keep Going.  We have a choice.