All too often I see examples of behavior which is disturbing in that it refuses to accept a very adult aspect of life – accepting the reality of Making Choices. What I mean is that there is a reality with which we must all contend in terms of limitations of time and resources. However, what is on the apparent rise is a blatant refusal to accept this reality, and instead attempt to try to force a childish method of thinking by sheer stubbornness.
Take the instance of the Baltimore driver who slammed into a police car while playing Pokemon Go. Yes, it’s another example of a moronic decision to engage in “distracted driving”, but at its heart is the symptom of the root cause – a failure to accept reality. You can either devote your attention and energy to the act of driving fully alert and aware of yourself and others on the road, OR you can choose to split that time across multiple activities like trying to drive while talking, texting, watching videos, or playing a game.
The reality, pure and simple, is that you have LIMITED resources and you need to CHOOSE where they go. The outcome of those choices, the consequences, are hard and fast causalities in a failure to accept that reality. There is ALWAYS an opportunity cost, a trade-off, between making one choice and another. The problem isn’t the rest of the world – it’s the unwillingness to accept that you made a choice, even if it’s one you may not like.
Instead of seeing this choosing as an act of empowerment, you blame the world for imposing reality and limitations.
Part of this failure to accept the reality of Limitations is within the child mind. In this world of magical thinking, there are no limitations – the world exists to support and care for us because we are special and entitled to get whatever we would wish. It’s through strong healthy parenting that we are taught to manage our expectations with limits of resources through Choice and Priorities. Early on, we always want what we want; yet through coached development learn that wanting isn’t enough, and we must manage ourselves responsibly. That often means managing ourselves and our emotions, expectations, and consequences.
In the immortal words of Daffy Duck, “consequences schmonsequences, as long as I’m rich…” During the auspices of Chuck Jones, poor Daffy is the penultimate personification of the Ego, flinging himself towards self-important wants with disregard to consequence, cost, and self-destruction. When he cannot get his way, it is followed by outrageous tantrums that fuels the escalation the next attempt. It is only when he is rendered completely and irreparably impotent (i.e. death or similar) that he resigns to the outcome. And we, the observers, laugh at these antics for they remain contained within the screen. So much of humor is found at the misfortune of others, and the comfort that it isn’t hurting us.
However, doesn’t much of this seem similar to society as of late? If we cannot get or maintain whatever we wish, caution is thrown to the wind with careless abandon and we press on regardless of impact to the lives of others, or even ourselves. Maybe it’s because we want to get from point-A to point-B, but also cannot stop ourselves from the addiction of constant entertainment. Or perhaps we stayed up too late, slept too late, and then raced to work in a furry of aggressive reckless driving and road rage at anyone we deem holding us back. Then again, maybe it’s a lack of feeling a sense of belonging and acceptedness as we transition from the Child to the Adult through teenage years which gives rise to the rage that turns into peer shootings. On a mass scale, people rise up and commit horrendous acts of violence filled with looting and arson, destroying their own communities.
Be this the behavior of individuals, communities, so called extremist groups, or epic theatrics of contemporary politicians – it’s all like watching a spoiled 6 year old in action. The only difference is that these brats are armed with vehicles, machine guns, explosives, and the enough capital funding with which to exercise their Will upon the world to choke a herd of thoroughbreds.
How Does it Feel to Want?
Beyond the teachings of spiritual leaders such as the Dali Lama, mindfulness has been embraced as part of an emotional and physical beneficial practice. Jon Kabat-Zinn ,the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, brought the practice from Buddhist meditation into therapeutic settings in 1979, and is largely responsible popularizing mindfulness as a medical benefit for both physiological and psychological purposes. Personally speaking, I developed my own practice early in life, being a rather inward looking child, and furthered that practice through training in Taoist based martial arts. It was later that I started to compare my experience with teachings found in Buddhism, contemporary psychology, including Kabat-Zinn and others.
I believe strongly in the power of Mindfulness training. Whether part of a psychological, philosophical, or spiritual practice, Mindfulness is an internal probing of one’s emotional experiences. The purpose is to bring to light orto the conscious, what we are experiencing and how we process that experience. The essence of it is boiled down to a simple line of personal inquiry:
- How does it feel to want?
- What choice will you make based on that feeling?
- What are the outcomes on that choice?
- Will those outcomes help you while avoiding harm to others?
In most cases, this type of inquiry practice helps you step through the impulse of Demand to a smarter, or at least more responsible, series of choices. We can more clearly see the direct line of causality between drive and outcome, and this in turn helps us evaluate the choices we make. In some cases the line of inquiry can take a rather interesting turn, such as the concept of wanting what you already have, which alleviates the pressure of the impulse of a given want. In other cases, you may realize that there is no choice other than to accept the current situation, as any other choice extracts too high a price upon yourself or others.
Choice is Empowerment
A difficult lesson to bear in mind while in the midst of emotional impulse is that your first action of empowerment is the realization that you always have a choice. ALWAYS. You may not like the choice, or the consequences involved, but there is very rarely a situation where a living conscious being does not have a choice. You can choose NOT to put your hand in the box, even with the Gom Jabbar at your neck (Dune, by Frank Herbert). Once you do, you have a new set of choices to make. The point is that, at each turn, there is a how and why behind making your choices.
Is your choice to act due to fear of the unknown, due to suffering, due to faith or belief? What is driving you, are you the one doing the driving? When we act without thought, we are reacting, submitting our fate to the outcomes of impulses. When we engage thought, we are responding, recognizing we are empowered to direct outcomes, no matter how small they may be.
It is when we feel at our most trapped or impotent that this realization is most significant. If we can see that any act of conscious choice (with acceptance of the outcomes) is an act of reclaiming our self-direction, the sense of impotence and being trapped fades. Does this happen easily or instantly?? No, but the sense of inner discord or helplessness does fade, and there is nothing more confidence building than realizing that your choices do matter in your own life.
Of course, I am not speaking of things that are completely out of your control or influence. There is a difference between making mindful choices and truly external forces. Parked cars don’t jump out into traffic, we drive into them. Ergo, it’s not a stupid game, it’s a stupid driver which is revealing through his language where he believes accountability partially resides.
Its past time to cut the cord and be an adult. Own your choices, warts and all. Stop blaming others and the world for not getting what you want, or for tempting you with distracting things. Stop casting your rage or sadness on everyone else for the choices that you made, but may now regret. You can’t have everything, you don’t deserve anything, and most of what you feel you need is actually not a Need, but a Want –we all want something. By its very nature, that means that we all cannot have all that we want. Life will present us with many options through opportunity, technology, and chance. It does not mean that all the options are right for you, or need to be satisfied at once.
Leave the sandbox, the safety net, and the helicopter guardians behind. These are things we carry in blame, projected rage, or sense of entitlement. If things are out of control, make your decisions. If there is too much drama or complication, simplify. If you have regrets, learn from them and change. Stand up and reclaim your life and your choices.
The benefit of being an Adult is the empowerment to be an active participant in life – by making choices in versus being subjected to it.
© Limits Unleashed 2016