Sunday, December 4, 2011

Just Choose Something Already!

I often feel like that guy – awash in an infinite sea of choices unable to proceed. Why do we hesitate when choices are presented to us? Sometimes I’m sure that if I wait a better choice will come along and I’ll be sad I picked too soon. Often I worry that I’ll be judged by my choice, or hurt someone’s feelings. I know that you will choose differently and seem to like your choice better than I like mine. What to do?

During our November retreat at the Red Clay Sangha, we had the opportunity to chant some different texts and translations. These chanting services were regarded by most who attended to be “really good.” Since we are in a formative process, should we adopt these? We have it on good authority that the translations were designed to be easily chanted, but so were the ones we are currently using. We are accustomed to the style and text of the SotoShu set, but we have new members joining who are accustomed to the RZC set.

A delightful little irony, the first text from RZC in the book we used at the retreat, “Affirming Faith in Mind,” begins:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not pick and choose.
When preferences are cast aside
the Way stands clear and undisguised.
This describes an attitude we are trying to maintain in our practice – of meeting reality as it is without putting our opinions on it. The noise in the kitchen is simply sound until I prefer that it not be there. Even the pain in my leg is simply sensation until I consider it to a threat to my remaining healthy and alive and clearly prefer it not be there. A large part of our training is repetitively seeing those preferences arise and doing nothing based on them.

We work very hard to cultive this choicelessness, but should it apply on a broad scale? Do we solve the problem of inability to choose by declaring that we are simply going to not choose? Do we tell the kid behind the ice cream counter to pick for us? It seems to me like that is just avoiding the karma and worse making someone else responsible for it.

Mu Soeng in his commentary Trust in Mind (alternate translation of the title of the text quoted earlier), includes ten (10) side-by-side alternate translations of the text. The text that begins with the stanza about not choosing. In his translation, he even augments it with his own interpretations as:
The Great way is not difficult
for those who have no [addiction to] preferences.
When love [likes] and hate [dislikes] are both absent,
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
This addition of the simple phrase “addiction to” (or perhaps “attachment to”) helps me connect to this stanza. Not only does it have a lot of connection to the Dharma, but to me personally in my little path through this life.

I’ve spent the past year looking pretty closely at addiction, attachment and desire. A bit over a year ago, I had lobe of my lung removed due to cancer. Not smoking seemed like the better choice than continuing to smoke at the time. For a while, I was using a nicotine patch and interestingly enough, I still had cravings to smoke. This led me to look at what I was craving instead of merely satisfying it (odd, how both choosing and examining choosing were more healthy behaviors).

It is taking quite a while of making the conscious effort in the choice of not smoking to realize that I am not really craving a cigarette (in fact the smell is somewhat nauseating right now), but rather craving GRATIFICATION. Sometimes that gratification is avoidance of a situation (such as right now I am wishing I could go burn one to take a break from writing this). Usually the gratification that I’m craving is simply naked gratification.

This gratification cycle is really the preference to which we are all addicted. We want our choices to be RIGHT. We want the gratification of not only having our preferences satisfied, but in being right about them. We have, in short, attached a self to these preferences and become addicted to it.

But choices must be made regardless. We cannot let everyone be hungry because we think shouldn’t choose whether to have apples or oranges (or wait for someone else to decide). Or worse choose apples and become angry if someone says that they would rather have had an orange.

The important thing is to choose and yet not be addicted to that choice. This is one of the things we train ourselves in through meditation. I chose to meditate, I choose to practice for instance counting, I screw up, I restart, over and over and over and over again. I do not wait until I am certain about it, I just do it. If someone tells me that I’m doing the wrong practice or that I’m doing this one wrong, I calmly listen and integrate what they say.

It is also important to choose and allow that choice to attach to your self as well. Whenever I start defending my choices I know that I have allowed that choice to create a bit of self. If I can make that choice and not attach to it or let it attach to me than I might have a chance to simply have it be what it is of the moment and not create suffering. I also need to not take credit for that choice.

In this way, we can learn to choose with freedom and compassion. We can also learn to accept what we did not choose with the same freedom and compassion. Mostly we learn not to create a self from those choices.

I would like to end with something completely different, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

No comments: