Green Bough (email) home to Oriah Mountain Dreamer
I really find Oriah a fascinating person. She is a naturalist and purest, in my eyes at any rate, and she inspires me to think in many ways! I get emails from her that really pick me up and help with some decisions that I make along the way. She also has a very beautiful but plain way of scattering and sharing her thoughts. Since I am off to the oncology clinic today I thought that I would share with you!
I’m not a fan of pithy capitalized slogans presented as complete and helpful truths instead of mere titles. It’s not that “Live Your BIG Dreams” is an unworthy goal, (although I suspect dreams qualified as BIG in a extroverted consumer culture may not be in alignment with my values) but I always want to ask: What does that mean- look like, feel like, taste like- in one particular human life?
When my sons were small I was ill for many months. Mostly I laid on the living room carpet with these two wonderful beings in my care so I wouldn’t have far to fall and couldn’t drop anyone when I was momentarily dizzy. I didn’t need to Dream BIG. I need a bath and a twelve hour nap. I was overflowing with and soaked in love (and breast milk and spit-up and baby pee.) I needed to find ways to get groceries, do a load of laundry and calm my fears that I’d be incapacitated by illness and exhaustion forever.
Because I’ve been writing a book about choice, I’m particularly aware of how often “Choice” features in many popular slogans: Happiness Is A Choice; Love Is A Choice; Forgiveness Is A Choice; Gratitude Is A Choice. . . . the list is endless. Most often I want to ask: Is it? Is it in this moment for everyone? Is it always?
Now, I get the point of these snappy declarations- they’re trying to encourage us to make choices that result in and come from love and forgiveness and other good stuff. But even that gives them too much credit. They don’t say: “Making Choices That Cultivate Happiness Is (Often) An Option”- they say, “Happiness Is A Choice”- as if you could just give yourself a smack on the forehead and remember that you forgot to turn on the happiness faucet this morning. This is at best misleading and at worst a potential cause for increased suffering as it tempts us to believe that our or another's unhappiness is actively and consciously "chosen" and therefore deserved.
In my work with individuals I often hear the “should” of inner and outer judgment planted by these sayings. People doing their best to deal with painful illnesses, trauma, and heart-breaking losses tell me again and again that they “should” be able to do better, be happier, to let go of fear, or sorrow and "get over" what is happening "faster." It makes my heart ache to hear the coals of suffering heaped on top of what is often real pain.
Can we make choices that will cultivate fear or happiness?
Often, yes. And sometimes we're swept along by pain, or grief, or fear, or unconscious material (which by definition isn’t accessible to choice until it is brought to consciousness.) Of course sometimes we can make choices- to do inner work, to be with those who support us, to ask for help, to take good care of ourselves- that will expand our ability to cultivate happiness, forgiveness and gratitude, make us more available to love. But the assertion that it's just a matter of choosing to be a certain way can prompt us to shove experiences that don’t align with this assumption (our moments of feeling unhappy, unforgiving or ungrateful) into our unconscious where they shape and limit our choices without us even knowing it is happening.
It can be scary to simply sit with the fact that in any given moment real choices are shaped and sometimes limited by inner and outer conditions. Of course, conditions change- and we can actively choose to change or work toward changing many of them- and this can expand and deepen the real choices we have.
But, in the meantime (which is to say- while we’re still human beings) perhaps we could step away from pretending to know more than we can possibly know about another’s real available choices, can give each other and ourselves a little credit for doing the best we can with what we have to work with in this moment. In the next moment we may offer or be offered or make a choice that will give us or someone else more to work with, and we’ll do the best we can with that.
I’m just sayin’:
Not Pretending We Are In Complete & Conscious Control Of Absolutely EVERYTHING- Is A Choice!