Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Power to Choose

Have you seen the credit card commercials that involve some imminent horribleness that is diverted at the last moment by whipping a particular company’s credit card out of a purse or wallet? Some of them are pretty funny. The commercials always end with the question, “What’s in YOUR wallet?” The message is that if you have that company’s credit card, then it will act as a shield against all sorts of catastrophic disasters.

So I got to wondering what’s in my wallet. My spiritual wallet, that is. What do I carry with me to ward off soul marauding Vikings?

Einstein said that “the single most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” There are variations on this quotation, but I like this one best because it emphasizes the role of choice.

When I was young and knew everything, I wrote a philosophy paper based on the premise that we participate in creating the reality we perceive. In the arrogance of youth, I thought I came up with that idea myself. Well, of course I didn’t. But somehow I knew that I had untapped potential to shape my world.

Sadly, the world I shaped for most of my life was not a kind one. To paraphrase Montaigne, it was a world of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened. Like the lookout in a western, I kept watch by the fire during the night, always on alert, always vigilant. And when some bad things inevitably did happen, I believed it was because my guard had dropped, because I had failed to maintain control.

Even as I write the words, I shake my head in disbelief that I lived that way for so long. If necessity is the mother of invention, then exhaustion is the mother of major life changes.

A Course in Miracles teaches that there is another way of looking at the world. A way of peace, a way of compassion, a way of happiness, a way of connection, a way of loving awareness. In the words of the Tao Te Ching, the eternal way.

I live in a different universe now, a friendly one. I can’t prove that it is friendly. I simply choose to believe that it is. And that choice drives my perceptions and experiences. Does that mean that I close my eyes to the suffering in the world? Do I ignore tragedies like the shooting in Arizona this week or the flooding in Australia? No. But if my world view is shaped by love rather than fear, then these events trigger compassion and reaching out rather than anger or defensiveness.

So what’s in my wallet? A credit card of power. Not power over my circumstances, but power over how I interpret them and interact with them. The power of choice.

And guess what. That’s what’s in your wallet, too. What will you choose?


  1. Galen: Point well taken. However, there are always opposing forces. Parrying those forces is a Way that works. It keeps us moving in a positive direction, and the result is a much happier life. Dwelling on negativity is a dead end street. Nevertheless, we occasionally are forced into a corner.

    Lao Tsu taught Taoist ideas, with which Confucius disagreed. Confucius taught that people should recognize their responsibilities to the larger society, and work to uphold the laws and customs of their society. If everyone was a good citizen, the whole community would benefit and everyone would be happier.

    In life, it is hard to reconcile those conflicting beliefs. I tend to agree with Lao Tsu. It is an individual choice. Some choose badly, and nobody wants to be victimized.

  2. Hi Galen,

    Life is a choice. I have pretty much made it a point to accept changes as they occur good or bad and deal with them accordingly. There are times when I can foresee and pre-empt "bad changes" but there are also times when problems catch me off guard. Either way I am not too bothered. In the past, problems would fluster me. But today, I have learned to take it in my stride. It is the way of the world anyway. To be bothered by changes good or bad is to allow external events to influence our moods. My control is far from perfect, but most of the time, I am calm and composed. And if something should shake my composure, it is easy for me to return to this equilibrium quickly.

    In life, tragedies and sufferings are a reality. As far as we can we have to cope to the best of our ability. But we should not forget the other side of the coin where there is love, warmth and compassion. It is these things, enjoyed in its simplicity and consistency that keeps us afloat through it all.

    Thank you for sharing this article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  3. Galen, I think I'll be revisiting this post quite a bit. Gives me a lot to think about. It is so true that we often choose our "reality" and Montaigne's quote - so true! So I continually shift my perspective...sometimes every five minutes! Thank you for the inspiration and reminder for taking control of our thoughts.

  4. If necessity is the mother of invention, then exhaustion is the mother of major life changes.

    great point

  5. My 76 year old neighbor had a heart attack on Sunday morning and they have found cancer and he has had lots of surgery since then....his family just called me with an update, saying "this has been such a joyous event in our week, not hellish, because we have been surrounded with care, concern, and support by our neighbors and friends - it's rather like being at your own funeral and hearing all the positive words being spoken, but we are right here to participate.!"

    We are all learning - each and every one.

    I am a problem-solver so I am always analyzing every moment, I am very intense, but I realized I could be positive and light heartened as I process and so I am learning to add the positive to my outlook because it is a choice I wish to make.

  6. Thanks to all for the thought provoking comments.

    JJ--I always appreciate your extensive knowledge about things I know just a little about. You say it is difficult to reconcile Lao Tsu with Confucius, but if one were to try.... I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    Irving--Not being bothered is the key, I think. Facing life's inevitable changes with equanimity. Your divination must give you a strong foundation of balance as you move through life.

    Therese and Jenny--Thank you. I'm glad your found something to think about.

    Patricia--Your comment made me think about Anonymous's comment on my last post. I am still working a response to that comment, and your comment is a great illustration of choosing to find joy in a stressful time. I was also thinking of another blogger who writes the funniest posts in spite of debilitating chronic pain. Hmm, much food for thought here.

  7. It took me a few years to reach this level. When I first started off, I could not handle knowing bad news or that my plans would not turn out as I wished. This is why I talked about the 6 steps. Because without remembering the bigger picture and my ability to shape the future, my foresight would be useless.

    From my experience, I learned that everything is truly a process and that it will unfold at its own time and place. We can only make sure to get the process right.

  8. I don't think I'm quite to this point yet. I'm working on it. I think my wallet would have moths from unused tools.


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