This week, week six in our ten week mindfulness series by Dr Patricia (Trish) Lück, a palliative care physician and facilitator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programmes, we explore the theme of choices and commitment.
This is a space that can be stepped into with attention and skill, with a flexibility that acknowledges all the possibilities laid out. With cultivating mindful, curious, kind attention and care through the practice of the various meditations – eating, sitting, bodyscan, walking, as well as noticing the labels we attach to what we perceive as being pleasant or unpleasant events with the accompanying unfolding sensations, emotions, and thoughts that may occupy our mind body space – we are presented with some awareness that the moment opens up capacity for choice, capacity to make a decision in how to proceed, capacity to make a commitment to action or inaction.
As Goethe tells us, commitment takes boldness and boldness has genius, power and magic in it. It is not until we completely commit to a particular path that we let go of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’.
As Robert Frost melancholically rues in his poem: The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves not step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way.
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
How we make choices has much to do with our capacity to stay with ambivalence. Ambivalence by its very nature makes us uncomfortable. We would like to know and be sure. But ambivalence is the inherent nature of illness, of suffering, of death. Ambivalence is the constant bedfellow of our work with those that walk this path every day. And in that ambivalence, our capacity to make choices in the face of not knowing may become our greatest resource. And that action may be the choice to do nothing, to just sit and be present, fully present.
Last evening my own teenage daughter, given a difficult decision she needs to make, confessed how she struggles with such decisions and spends so much time once the decision has been made wondering about the other and whether she had made the right one. I don’t think she is alone in this angst. Ultimately the road we take is the one that makes the difference and determines the path we tread, as we cannot know what it would have been to take the other. At times, however, we find ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time wondering about the other road and maybe missing the actual road that we are on. Mindful capacity allows us to turn to the experience of this moment and let go of the moments of the past, the future or the ‘might have beens’.
So this week as you continue with the meditation exercises, continue to work with pleasant and unpleasant moments. Spend time eating, breathing, sitting, walking with mindful attention and notice the choices you are making. Notice if you slide into habitual reactivity and action or to being or not being, or if you can be aware in this moment of what arises, give it some moments of kind mindful attention, notice what arises in your fieldscape of sensations, emotions and thoughts, and then proceed with boldness and choice. Perhaps asking yourself a simple question: “What is called for now?”