Decisions come in many different forms, from what we eat in the morning to a determination about where to live. Depending on our perceptions,
decisions can be easier or harder on us. In some cases, these decisions can feel paralyzing. What is it then that helps to find your direction in these situations?
In my job as a psychologist, I often help others to find direction in situations where they feel stuck. Quite often, this feeling of being paralyzed is driven by the fear of making the wrong choice. I find myself
asking the following question. What is it that makes a decision "wrong"? Usually, the answer is some variation of "Something in the future outcome of my
decision is unsatisfactory." This is a problem! It is a problem because we are attempting to make a decision based on the presupposition that we can anticipate our future. When the consequences seem to be clear, such as "I am allergic to peanuts, and eating peanuts leads to anaphylaxis" the decision may appear to be easy. Don't eat peanuts! However, some decisions do not seem this clear, and the more complicated the factors to outcome, the greater the pressure feels to the decision maker. In fact, some of the factors may be entirely out of the decision maker's control altogether. In Buddhist teaching, this multitude of factors is referred to as dependent origination. The teaching states that everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions. There is nothing that exists as a singular,
independent entity! If we use a tripod as an example, we notice that all three legs maintain the balance of the object resting upon it. Take one leg away, and
the tripod falls.
By attempting to identify all future conditions that
will give our optimally desired outcome we can drive ourselves crazy. There is no possible way to know. Only by relinquishing ourselves to this not knowing can we make an active decision. I say active because we cannot not make a decision.
Many times, passive inaction is the decision, which has consequences in itself; either through continuation of our stuck position, or others taking action that forces a decision.
Once we let go and accept that we cannot know the exact outcome of our choice, we can also open ourselves to the idea that there is no "right" and "wrong" decision per say. Sure, there are things
that are more, or less, helpful in living our values and reaching our goals, but our decisions can only be made in the moment that we are living in. If a person
is able to be mindful of the factors that are present in the current time, place, situation, and relationship, then a decision can be made. If, in fact, the future reveals a new set of conditions, we have to make a new decision. This does NOT mean that the previous decision was "wrong". Those conditions are now
non-existent and irrelevant to our newfound situation. Take the “simple” example above, even if I do my best to avoid peanuts, there is no guarantee that the person I just meet and shook hands with didn’t have their fingers hand deep in a jar of Planters dry roasted prior to our meeting. Life is a series of decisions, moment after moment, after moment. If you maintain a state of presence in your life, even large scary decisions can be made more effectively, and when things don’t measure up to our expectations, we get to make another decision.
Thank you for deciding to read my ramblings!