So: the first lesson from the chocolate-or-vanilla process I described last week was about the precarious nature of how we choose. We tell ourselves that we use logic, but really what’s happening is we choose based on some reason or other. And then the reason changes and it turns out we didn’t really choose chocolate at all, we chose chocolate-if-nothing-better-comes-along, or chocolate-if-it-has-sprinkles-on-top. At some point, we’re just standing there with our chocolate ice cream, and everybody else has hazelnut flambé or rocky road raisin rustica or something wonderful, and we’re dreadfully unhappy with our choice. The truth is closer to this: we never really CHOSE chocolate at all. We wandered into a decision, invested our $4.00 and now are stuck with it. And stuck with feeling stuck.
In summary, if we base our choices on reasons, and then the reasons change, we’re in trouble. It’s impossible to trace cause and effect all the way back to source, so we can’t truly understand our reasons, or isolate the one(s) that actually directed our choice.
This is some of what I got out of the chocolate-or-vanilla process.
That’s where the second part of the exercise kicked in. This time the leader handed the bewildered participant only ONE ice cream cone, and said, “Chocolate. Choose.” This led into an exploration of the things in life that we’ve just been given, and our difficulty in accepting them. Your faceful of freckles? Choose it. Your alcoholic father? Choose him. Your nagging mother? Choose. Your dying sister? Choose.
Think about a recent major decision you made. Say a car you bought, or a place you chose to move your ageing father into, or a pet you acquired. It’s easy to tell whether you’ve really chosen that decision or not. If you can rest easy with it, if it’s there solidly (even though the dog loves to love to jump all over your guests, or the matron at the nursing home turns out to be a dragon, or the new car’s finish shows every spot of rain), you’ve truly chosen. But if you keep revisiting the decision, wondering if you should have chosen differently, you haven’t really chosen. And you’re up for grief.
Not that our decisions have to be irrevocable: it’s just that we make misery for ourselves by constantly second-guessing.
Look at any primary relationship you’re in. If I were to second-guess my relationship with Rick, or my housemates, every time I don’t get my way or my expectations are unfulfilled, I’d be either miserable, or gone (and miserable). The degree to which I can just surrender – it is what it is, I yam what I yam, they yar what they yar – is the degree to which I can experience happiness and contentment.
All that notwithstanding, here’s what’s really on my mind:
I’ve got surgery coming up next week. It’s a fusion on my dodgy ankle (an arthroscopic ankle arthrodesis, for the medicos among you). Elective. That is, not life-threatening; that is, a choice I made. I chose the date, the doctor, the hospital, the manner of surgery, the manner of anaesthetic. But although the procedure is strongly recommended, it doesn’t have a cut-and-dried outcome – surgery never does. It will work out for me better in some ways and possibly worse in others. As a post-polio, l might suffer unexpected negative consequences. Although it’s far from life and death surgery, it will involve a long recovery period and considerable life change. I have an uncertain future: a challenging situation for someone who spends a good deal of life planning and anticipating.
There was a point several months ago when I committed to the surgery. The decision was made and the surgeon booked. But that didn’t stop me chewing and chewing at it, continuing to research, trying to think every possible ramification through to its ultimate conclusion. Talk about a busy brain. It’s a wonder I could enjoy a meal or conduct a conversation.
I’m reminded of another gem from the workshop, which went something like this:
Some night, go out and talk to the stars. Tell them about your troubles, your indecision, the unfairness of life. And you will encounter the profound indifference of the universe to your suffering.
I haven’t actually done the exercise, but I can well imagine the outcome.
[Polio: choose. Surgery: choose.]
Anyway, you’ll be relieved to hear I’m IN now, boots and all. I’ve got dozens of books on my Kindle, Rick has organised a netbook computer, and I have all the latest gear, including a stylish knee scooter for eventually getting around the house. I have my own personal Occupational Therapist, a good friend from choir. I’ve been promised audio books, long conversations, visits with guitars, games, stories, chicken soup – and chocolate ice cream on a regular basis. The future is looking…well, interesting.
I’ll keep you posted. I .likely won’t be here next weekend, but I will be back soon.