Since I left my nestled home of San Francisco, one point became abundantly clear: every morning I have a choice. Right now my choice of “what to do today” seems a lot more mystical and vague, simply because I can go anywhere and do anything. The power of choice in of itself is daunting. I used to always say, “When I have more time I’ll do…” Now I have created that space and have that time, and I must remember what to fill it with.
Choice is something powerful and something we often take for granted. Every day is filled with thousands of decisions that affect your life, and most of them are made and controlled by you. When to wake up, what to eat, what projects to tackle, what fun to be had, what sadness to reflect on, what to do, what route to take, etc. Some choices are ingrained in routine, and we forget that we can choose to break that pattern. Even while in my San Francisco routine of work, eat, sleep, play, I also had choices, although I didn’t always see them.
Often we choose to not break that pattern, because choice is scary. The “what if’s” come in to play along with fear of the unknown. And “what if’s” are rarely, if ever, positive. It’s a mechanism of survival.
So how does one use the power of choice to an advantage? It starts with understanding a bit about the brain. The part of your brain that rules logic, tells you “no,” because you have to do laundry or something else. That part of our brain is fundamental to our survival, our existence. However, modern times have led us to favor rationale, which leads us to cut out anything that doesn’t make immediate sense. Unfortunately, this shaves our perspective down to learning more about what we already know so that we can have more control, but less freedom. It’s a natural paradox.
Lain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist, has a great TED Talk on how the divided brain. And for further, more first-hand investigation and experience, Jill Boyte Taylor, a brain researcher, explains what she learned after a stroke nearly eliminated her capacity for logic.
The brain is heavily interconnected, but we must find a better balance on how we perceive and take action on and in the world. The power of choice, I believe, plays a critical role. I would even argue that taking a step back and listening to our intuitive brain is vital to our future survival. If we let both sides of our brain work together more equally to determine our decisions, our world can change – or at least our perspective of it will. You can tap into the subtler side of your brain through meditation.
More and more research is showing how meditation has a deep effect on brain function, and consequently the body and how we make choices. Meditation makes us happier and also enhances the connectivity between both hemispheres of the brain. It allows us to listen more carefully to the quite, more silent intuitive brain, creating a better balance between the natural dual perspectives we have within our big brains.
So how does this relate back to choice? We actively or passively make many decisions that affect the course of our lives every day. These decisions are determined by a combination of both hemispheres in the brain, but more specifically with our rational brain. We have trained ourselves to rationalize nearly everything, which leads us to the trap of cognitive dissonance and what I call “I can’t, because…” syndrome. We have become machiavellian in our choices, convincing ourselves that there is only one, rational option.
If you spent the day drawing awareness to how many choices you have, perhaps you wouldn’t feel trapped or plateaued. Understanding these choices and learning which of them makes you happier, just might help you find a clearer path. And the path is what matters, not the destination. You can start by simply choosing to travel a different way to get to work, even if it takes you longer. Consider it brain play. And there doesn’t have to be a reason for the choice, you can just choose. And you can get better, more confident, and more comfortable with your choices.
Like anything in life, it takes practice. The positive is that there are no wrong choices. It’s your life, and hindsight is bullshit. There’s no way to know what would’ve happened if you only… Let rational mind a rest. It truly needs a break.
So why the discourse on choice? I woke up one morning in my room in Ubud, Bali and decided that today I want to go to Lombok, even though all the boats had already left, and we were two hours away from the port. We made the decision and left. The rest was actually pretty easy. I’m not sure how it worked, but it did. And it started with one foot in front of the other.
The same thing occurred when I left my home in San Francisco. I woke up and decided to follow my dream of being a traveling yoga teacher, and within a month I was gone. I got a lot of questions, and I still do: “Where will you go next?” “What’s your plan?” “How will you make money?” And I’m sure you can think of even more questions. The answer to all of them is: I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out and then share it with you.
I’ve opened the door to possibility, and this is how I choose to live my life. Once I stopped worrying about how to get from A to Z, I began to see the benefit to the journey and all the letters and experiences in between. And good things started coming my way. And yes, even witnessing a 7.9 earthquake still turned into a positive for me. I was able to help over 600 families, and that experience alone changed my life and how I see the world. It affected me much more than reading an article about it while drinking my morning cappuccino on a ten minute break at work.