Can You Still Choose?

The other day during yoga, we were invited by our teacher to meditate on the acts of both kindness and unfriendliness we had experienced during the last couple of weeks.1

At the end of the session, we discussed the implications of our experiences, and how we could possibly have reacted better during some of the more tiresome encounters.

This is actually harder than it looks: If we don’t speak out when someone offends us, and instead keep quiet and calm, we might easily become the victim of other people’s unacceptable behavior. On the other hand, losing our temper isn’t exactly a desirable character trait to pursue.

The whole discussion really comes down to a single question: How can we deal with unfriendly behavior in a mindful way?

How differs a mindful – though probably vociferous! – defense of our own position from a senseless expression of rage?

The best answer we found came from a Buddhist monk:

Ask yourself if you are still able to choose!

Are you about to express uncontrollable anger, or are you simply defending your point? In other words, are you acting compulsively, or are you acting consciously?

I believe this question is central in much of our everyday life:

  • Can you still choose between your work, your leisure, and the ever-tempting Facebook?
  • Can you still choose to have that drink, that coffee, that cigarette, that ice cream cone2 – or are you getting addicted?
  • Can you still choose to leave that job, or are you totally dependent on the comfort, money, status et cetera it might entail?
  • Can you still choose to smile right into the face of adversity?

Please note: It doesn’t really matter what specific choice is made in each moment. This is contingent on our personal and political background, on our taste and preferences, and of course on the circumstances.

But the moment we lose our ability to choose, we enter a road that’s not worth traveling on.

Being able to choose means being able to live sovereignly.

  1. This exercise in itself was quite interesting: Some participants barely could remember a negative encounter, while others had trouble to recall even a single little act of kindness. []
  2. When it comes to the latter: No, I can’t! Just kidding. Not. []


    1. Haha, that was the same thing I thought when I first heard it. Sometimes, things can be so simple! :)

  1. Thanks Fabian – I love that question. Interestingly for me I am in position where I currently feel unable to choose – around my job. I have a huge debt, which I am addressing, but need the job to pay the debt. Hopefully once the debt is paid in a few years I’ll be in a position to ‘choose’ but at the moment my sovereignty feels restricted. It’s not something that’s discussed often on blogs about personal freedom etc. but it is an important issue. I guess though that I am at least ‘choosing’ to eliminate my debt – the problem is, it takes time – and I can be very impatient!


    1. Steve, I believe you are acting out of a sovereign position, deciding to pay off your debt, just as you write. But of course, it is compromised because you don’t “own” all of your life at this moment. This will get better once the debt is paid off – but to some extent, we will all always be in a similar position, unless we live a 100% self-sufficiently (Nb, I don’t know a single person doing that!).

      Three recommendations for more finance-focused personal freedom blogs:
      A very interesting take on the topic of retiring early is provided by Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme:

      A great writer focusing on a frugal and sustainable life can be found at The Simple Dollar:

      And then, there’s of course ManVsDebt, in case you haven’t met him:

      Hope this helps a bit!

  2. This post really made me think. Sometimes we ‘forget’ that we are supposed to be able to choose. Sometimes, we are the ones telling ourselves we have to do things a certain way.

    Choosing builds destiny. And if you’re being able to choose.. then you’r ethe master of your destiny.

    Thank you. I needed this.

  3. Thanks, Fabian. I’m going to have to meditate on this one a while! I guess we can almost always “choose”, but it’s difficult to avoid the scripted responses we all use from time to time. It’s amazing how the mind draws on feelings/reactions from the past when faced with a similar situation in the present. I guess the part of the trick to consciously choosing is to catch your mind in the act of making assumptions and take a step back to see the situation mindfully.

    1. Well, I suppose that sometimes we simply cannot choose. Not in an absolute way of course, but in practice. But – if we learn to be aware of these moments, they will probably become less and less present in our lives! :)

  4. Totally agree. If you offer me a beer, i can’t deny it.
    I see you too read Jacob’s blog. It’s one of my favourites.

    1. Okay Cristhyano, I’m offering you a beer. But you’ll have to come to Cologne, or some other place I’m traveling to! How does that sound? :)
      And yes, Jacob is doing a great job!

  5. Beautifully stated. Something which I often tell people in my blog as well: You should always choose, never just accept something as the way it is suppose to be, the only option, etc. And then also of course the addiction side. Our lives are our own, we should stay conscious to keep it that way.

  6. That’s a fantastic question, and I’ll be asking myself that often. In my opinion very little of what we end up doing is a conscious choice.

    1. Well, it’s surprising how often I too find myself lost in an unconscious state; surfing the web or in some stupid discussion or whatever… so yeah, it’s definitely not easy. We’ll have to learn it step by step…

  7. “are you acting compulsively, or are you acting consciously?”
    Great way of putting it. Always choose consciously and you’ll your decisions will be more transparent. Then you can examine why you chose the way you did.

    1. Thanks Matt! This isn’t only true for decisions, but for pretty much anything else, too… For example, I wish I’d been more conscious yesterday, when leaving my wallet at the bakery… good lesson learned there, but a costly one! ;)

  8. I just found your blog and find the thought of “choosing” a good one. Most of us are victims of “fixed ideas” that we feel are the natural order of things and don’t even consider whether we can question those ideas let alone choose something different. This is even more of a problem for us retiring baby boomers who have had things a certain way for so long we don’t want to question or choose something else. But if we are going to live our “second half” with quality, we need to recognize that yes there is a choice here.
    Keep making us think.

    1. Thanks Wes, it’s interesting to read about your perspective on this (great blog name, btw.! Eclecticism has a bad fame, at least here in Germany, but I find it to be a perfect approach to learning!)!

      I believe indeed that being conscious of our choices is very important, no matter what age we are or at what situation we happen to find ourselves in.

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