Choices

For the past year I’ve been living in a way most of us are taught not to… day to day, with no ‘life goals’ and few plans that reach more than a week or two into the future. It’s a natural way to be; children wake each morning to a truly new day, one full of possibilities. They have to be trained to ignore distractions and to stay focused on mandates – good grades, keeping a room picked up, personal cleanliness, helping with household chores, thinking ahead.

Oh yes, thinking ahead. You didn’t make your bed when you should have done, so now you have to do it instead of watching your favorite TV show. You should have thought ahead! You’ve been skimping on your homework, now you’re failing 5th grade, though you’ve been warned over and over. You only have one six week grading period left to bring your work up to acceptable level. You’ll be doing nothing but school work from now until the term ends. No trips, no play, no time for fun… you should have thought ahead!

Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I’ve been determinedly not thinking ahead. There is a point, ahead out there somewhere, when I will run out of savings and, without income, be destitute. I’m not ignoring that fact, but I’m not focused on it. My wise teacher instructs that attention is food – what one attends to grows in one’s life.

Conversely: ”If you want something to leave your life, take your attention off of it.”

I see no benefit from worrying about a maybe some three years off into the future, so I am attending to what is here with me in the present. I have been searching job boards, applying for everything that seems a possibility. Like many older people in the job market, I get few responses. Experience seems not to be valued any longer. Employers want new young minds to train to their special priorities. They want to mimic parents, who know instinctively that training children to think ahead, plan for the future, and learn habits of daily living is easier when the children are young and haven’t yet had enough experience to question the parental dictates.

So how do I communicate, in a standard application and resume submission, that part of my experience has been learning to be open to new ways of doing things, new goals and new achievements? Do I say that I have been living day to day for a year now, proof of my ability to be flexible and adaptable? Do I use, in a cover letter, another image from my spiritual teacher, of riding a horse up a creek and, at a moment’s notice and for no conscious reason, jumping the horse up onto the bank? Knowing when to listen to one’s inner voice (intuition, or spiritual knowing) can indeed be the skill that saves one, in what turns out to be the nick of time, from a tumultuous flash flood gushing down the creek bed.

Asked what I’m looking for in new employment, I could perhaps best answer by saying I seek the employer who will appreciate the depth of meaning in my teacher’s story. Or one who could read Lesley S. King’s recent post entitled Face Your Inner Mischief, about her yapping mind, and understand it for the beautiful parable it is. I seek an employer who has the ability to appreciate the innovative, the creative, the self-directed in others because that is what he/she is also. Someone not threatened by new ideas, not hearing questions as challenges to authority but rather as the positive contributions of an assistant engaged in the process of achieving goals which, themselves, may shift with time and experience.

Living each day for what it offers, as I have done of late, could be considered a rejection of the values my parents, particularly my father, taught – to plan, to delay immediate gratification for a larger achievement; to save and be mindful of expenses, so as to have financial resources when they are needed; to be cautious and consider all possible consequences before acting. Indeed, much of my life could be seen as a rejection of those values; I’ve left higher paying jobs for lower paying ones on a matter of principle; I’ve spoken out about fundamental rights and been blacklisted; I’ve challenged the status quo in large and also in small ways, living as my friend Jane said recently, when she wrote, “I did what the Holy Spirit led me to do, and I can do no other.”

Nonetheless, there is a way in which I still embody the underlying lesson my father – and most parents – try to teach their children. That silent message is about acquiring the ability to choose – i.e. to have an understanding of cause and effect, an ability to be patient long enough to experience outcomes, and a sense of what information comes from within one’s being and what is imposed from ‘outside’. With these three skills, one can choose – to follow outside dictates or respond in opposition to them; to stick with an unsatisfactory job or to leave it without another already in place to go to; to value integrity more than security, or patience more than impulsiveness.

Ultimately, it is our choices – or lack of them – that define our lives. Lucky is the child of a parent who knows to teach how, but not what, to choose. Blessed is the individual who learns from a spiritual teacher that worlds exist beyond the mundane, and that we all have within us the capacity to manifest Truth, to Hear the Word, to be led by the Holy Spirit, in whatever language or manner of Knowing we choose to embrace.

As I continue to practice not knowing, living open to whatever turns out to be my ‘next step’, I am content. I have made my choices and, again like my friend Jane, I have paid a price, but “I would do it all over again.”

It’s good to know that I’m fulfilling my promise to myself, made shortly before my grandfather’s passing, to live my life so that whenever my time of transition arrives, I will have as few regrets as he did on his deathbed. His nearly final words to me were, “I possibly should have remarried – it would have been better for your mother, but I never found a woman I wanted to marry… and I wish I’d learned to play the mandolin.”

May we all make our choices such that we can sum up our lives as contentedly and succinctly!

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