Thursday, May 10, 2007

Choice & Decision

While hillwalking in the woods today, I stumbled upon a philosophical puzzle-of-sorts. It's about a slight distinction that I never noticed until today: What is the difference between choosing, and deciding? Between making a choice, and making a decision?

A great deal of my spirituality boils down to two distinct trends, which could be called the path of love, and the path of choice. For instance, communion with the Divine, communication and honesty with other individuals, the integrity of the self and of one's community: these all relate back to love--the idea of union, of interconnection--in one way or another. Likewise, creativity, inspiration, participation, the celebration of diversity, freedom of the individual will: all of these have to do with choice, the manifestation and exercise of an individual's uniqueness. The core tension at the heart of my spiritual life is the tension between love, and choice. One urges a surrendering or sacrificing of the ego-self to a greater Whole, whether through a communion which seems to overwhelm any sense of separation, or the mundane risk of being honest with others and making that leap into trust. The other emphasizes the unique expression of the individual self, it celebrates that uniqueness, its freedom and the distinction of that self from the "other," acknowledging both self and other as necessary for the joys and diverse beauties of the manifest world.

I talk a great deal about the relationship between love and choice. Love, I believe, must be a choice--in that it must be a unique expression of a creative individual. Union itself must celebrate and elevate the particular, rather than destroying or subsuming it. Emerson wrote, in his first book, Nature, "A leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world." Love and choice are related in this way--choice reveals love--individuality reveals community--creative freedom reveals honesty and integrity. Furthermore, choice must be founded in and informed by love--the immediacy of union, the here-now of direct experience. We make choices based on our connection and interrelation, understanding the complex matrix of response and responsibility (response-ability).

But where in all of this is decision-making?

Political satirists make fun of President Bush for declaring himself "The Decider." Why is this (painfully) laughable? Clearly, we have an unspoken understanding that "decisions" can be made regardless of reality--we can make bad decisions, decisions based on faulty or scanty information, decisions which we stubbornly adhere to even in the face of circumstances which shift and change. Decisions can be made long before the fact. They can be abstract or idealistic, and they can be rendered irrelevant.

But choice--I think choice is something different. Choice is always about responding to the present, not only choosing "the lesser of two evils," but choosing to respond creatively to a difficult situation, acting on the freedom to seek out and articulate alternatives. I might make the decision to be a loving person--a loving Christian, even--but if I do not make the daily choice to respond to each individual with love and respect, what relevance or value does that decision retain? In romance, I might decide never to allow a person to hurt me the way I have been hurt in the past, and so I might behave a certain way in order to safe-guard myself (a person might ask for some "space," for example, and I may decide that such a move has always been manipulative and hurtful in the past, so I break it off immediately and decide never to give that person a chance again). But this is not a choice to respond to this particular individual in the here and now as a unique person--it is an abstract decision that ignores the specifics and closes me off to the potential for connection.

This is what I thought about as I walked in the woods this morning. How much do I allow my life to be governed by my decisions about how the world and how people "ought to be," and how I "ought to behave"? How open am I to making real choices, on a daily basis, facing up to the potential within every single moment to integrate love and free will, and to respond to the diversity and interconnection of an ever-shifting and always surprising reality? How long can the false safety of my decisions hold up, and will I be strong enough to choose love when every theory and moral code falls away?


  1. lovely thoughts. its a joy to meet spiritual friends online.

    as you said,
    my decisions about how the world and how people "ought to be," and how I "out to behave"? -

    yes if u go for that way, you will only end up suffering, because all ppl will behave accordingly. its yourself, your inner being that has to change. become the change that you wish to see in the world is the ancient wisdom of Buddha.

    be in bliss. follow your heart. be a lamp unto yourself. trust the hints that Divine send to you and know the Truth.

    blessings and love.

  2. Hey Ali, I agree with you love is a choice which relates to action not just word. The opposite of course is selfishness. We can show love to someone we might not like. Once wisdom is granted and enters, decisions end up in the straight path.
    Have you ever read the Bhagavad Gita?
    The most wonderful reading of scripture.
    The divine resides within.
    I have your blog bookmarked.
    See ya

  3. ClearlyEnlight,

    Yes, I have read the Gita. It was required reading for freshmen at my college, as part of a "Common Intellectual Experience" program to introduce students to a wide variety of philosophies, politics and religions. But I had actually read it before then--I am a great admirer of Gandhi and knew that he drew a lot of inspiration for his commitment to nonviolence and satyagraha from the Gita. I still find it a wonderful Mystery that a "counsel on war" could have inspired some of the greatest truths about the power of love that the modern world has known. :)

    Thanks for reading! I hope you'll share your thoughts again in the future. :)

  4. Sadiq,

    "Be a lamp unto yourself." I think sometimes that's the hardest lesson to learn--sometimes it's easier to see the light of others, while we are busy looking down on ourselves or chiding ourselves for not being "good enough." I think it takes a great deal of courage to see clearly, to recognize both the faults and the goodness in ourselves as well as others. Thanks for your response. :)

  5. You give beautiful expression to some deep and somewhat troubling thoughts. I somehow think of a "decision" as more cerebral, whereas "choice" refers to something heartfelt and often spontaneous. Decisions are made about options which come to us from outside as well as within, whereas choices are our own. I could go on, but I am in the midst of family.