Usually, I feel pretty much in control of my life – for better or worse – but over the last six months or so, I’ve felt more at the mercy of circumstances beyond my control than is comfortable for me. By turns I’ve felt anxious, sad, overwhelmed, and disheartened, which isn’t normal. In fact, my normal emotional stasis point is pretty damn sunny to be honest, so this stress and malaise caused by things I can’t fix is new and frustrating.
Or it was, but lately I’ve been thinking (obsessing, really) about the role of choice in our lives, about the power we have to make things different that too often goes unused because we don’t realize we have it.
My attitude about the circumstances of my own life started to change when I read Annie Neugebauer’s excellent post, “Creating the Life We Want.” In it, she acknowledges that we all face things we can’t control, like illness and tragedy, but that even in those situations (maybe especially in those situations) we make choices that affect the quality and sometimes even the basic structure of our lives. “Choice,” Annie says, “is what allows us to create the life we want.”
I love the whole post, but the part that got me rethinking my approach to recent events in my own life was this:
Each time I get a rejection for a short story and send it back out, I’m choosing to be a writer. I’m choosing to keep pursuing a goal. I’m constantly creating the life I want. We all are. We can acknowledge things beyond our control, but we can also employ the things that are within our reach. It’s never too late to start, to change, to redesign the structure of your desire and make the choices that fulfill it.
What I love about her example is that she didn’t say, “every time I sit down to write, I’m choosing to be a writer,” although, clearly, that’s true too. To illustrate her point, she chose resilience in the face of rejection. A hard choice that writers (and all creatives who put their art out into the world) have to make over and over again.
It got me thinking about how easy it is to get fixated on the broken stuff. In Annie’s example, for instance, it’s easy to get focused on the work’s not being accepted, the part you can’t control beyond writing the best story you can, rather than on the power of choosing to be brave and persistent in the face of (inevitable) rejection.
Which in turn got me thinking about luck. Annie has an agent now, and it would be easy to see her as one of the lucky ones, but the truth is, her luck was created by a series of choices she’s made, big and small.
In his SF Gate piece, “How to get lucky,” Mark Morford argues that luck is itself a choice. He quotes Richard Wiseman, an author who has written whole books on the subject:
Unlucky people are generally more tense than lucky people and this anxiety disrupts their ability to notice the unexpected. As a result, they miss opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. Lucky people, on the other hand, are more relaxed and open, which means they see what is there.
So, can you make a choice to be more “relaxed and open”? I think the answer is yes, though I acknowledge that the choice is easier for some than for others. If your nature is to be very cautious or suspicious, it will take a conscious, constant effort to be open and receptive to opportunities that fall outside of your expectations. But still, the decision to do so is a choice.
Mark Morford writes:
It’s a dead-simple thing, really: Luck is a choice. Luck is a modality, a way of operating, a thing you can switch on in an instant and then enjoy its throb and heat and pulse forever and ever until you die, like a cosmic rabbit vibrator for your soul.
(You gotta love that.)
And couldn’t we easily replace the word luck in that passage with happiness, openheartedness, creativity, or even success?
I recently completed the 21-day meditation challenge hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra (which I loved, by the way. I’ll probably post about my adventures in meditation soon). In one of the meditations, Deepak talks about the role of choice in Karma.
In the spiritual law of Karma, every action generates a force of energy that is returned to us in kind. Simply put, what we give, we receive. When we chose actions that bring happiness and success to others, the fruit of our Karma is happiness and success. The key to using the law of Karma or the law of cause and effect is becoming aware of the choices we make in each moment.
I have to say that it is a tiny bit daunting and a whole lot empowering to believe that choice lies at the heart of my reality, that my life is shaped not by the circumstances beyond my control but by the choices I make in response to and in spite of them. I can choose to be frustrated and sad or I can choose to focus on what I want to expand in my life, and act accordingly. More love, more art, more adventure, more gratitude, grace and serendipity.
According to Shakespeare, it is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.
I’m choosing to believe that with everything I’ve got.
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