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. []

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