So today’s meditation is on the power of choice. Everything is a choice, including inaction.
There, that’s it.
Well maybe not quite. Nothing’s ever that simple or black and white– or at least, rarely is that the case. I’ve been thinking a lot about choice lately (obviously), and why it took me so long to declare my decision regarding my career switch, when it seems clear looking back over my posts from the last few weeks that I’d already made my choice. Announcing one’s decision out loud always makes it real, and I think this thought temporarily paralyzed me.
This is not the first time I’ve been paralyzed by the thought of making a choice, and there have been long stretches over the years where I haven’t wanted to make any choices for many reasons, none of which is my aim to discuss at the moment.
It’s so easy to think– and I have been so guilty of thinking– that it’s better just not to choose anything, or at least not to declare one’s choice, because what if it’s the wrong choice or what if people think badly/differently/judgmentally of me after that choice or what if it alters my life/relationship/career in irrevocable ways? However, and this has taken me some time to see in my own life even though it is so easy to see in others’ lives and in history (isn’t that how it always is?), not deciding is just as much of a decision. Inaction is its own choice, its own decision.
I used to regard indecision (which is ironic in its very definition) as negative. And perhaps in many cases, it is. Hesitation has been the cause of much evil in the world perpetuating itself. However, sometimes when we feel it is impossible to make a choice, I have found the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins incredibly helpful. Hopkins wrote many of my favorite poems, but his poem “Carrion Comfort” is particularly apt here:
“Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.”
Now since this is not a poetry analysis, I’m not even going to try to expound upon all the nuances of Hopkins’s words here. I simply want to draw attention to the idea of “can something.” If planning far into the future is overwhelming, if there is something you must do or say that leaves you cold and nauseous at the thought of even contemplating, if even day-to-day decisions seem beyond the realm of possibility, you can still do something, unconsciously or consciously. Even if that action consists solely of hoping, solely of wishing day to come, solely of not choosing not to be- even so, it is action, it is a decision, and it is yours.
“In the end that was the choice you made, and it doesn’t matter how hard it was to make it. It matters that you did.”
― Cassandra Clare, City of Glass