#8: Don’t choose, just do and notice

Lately, I have been meditating, and I’m up to six minutes a day which is OK. In meditation the point is to be present to the now, to observe and only to observe. There are many different techniques to carry this out and to some extent it doesn’t matter what technique you choose. You could do anything. you could practice by wiggling your toes and observing that. But it is useful to have a particular practice; it gives you a focus and a way to discipline your brain toward mindfulness. Whatever particular method you have chosen, you simply keep coming back to the present. If your mind strays, come back to your breath or your mantra, or whatever. Keep coming back.,

I’d love to find such a simple practice for all of life. But life isn’t so easy because life isn’t about watching, it’s about action. In meditation, on the other hand,the point is not to act but to observe. But life is doing, about actions. One of our actions can be sitting down to meditate (or engaging in a meditation practice in a way that does not involve sitting), but for most of us it would be a poor life if that was the only action we took. We have to take life-sustaining actions like making and eating food, caring for our immediate environment, and caring for our bodies. We take actions to care for others, like children. We take actions to connect with friends and family. We take actions to bring in money so that we can sustain a roof over our heads, food on the table, and have discretionary income. life is full of actions. To some extent, life is action.

Personally that’s where I run into trouble. The actions available to us are nearly limitless. I could write this right now, I could get up and eat, I could go to the bathroom, I could write an email that I want to send, I could work on a research project, I could clean the house, I could take a shower, I buy clothes, I could watch a movie, I could make food, I could garden, I could volunteer, I could plan the work I am going to do this summer, I could buy groceries, I could play bass. I could keep this list going for a long long time, and these are just actions that are available to me right at this minute.

I always get stuck in picking an action. Most actions are not essential, they don’t absolutely have to be done. Occasionally I have a task that absolutely must be done at a particular time, and I both hate and love those. I have to get my kids from school at 2:55 even if I might want to stay home and work on something else. I have to teach class as 9:30 even though I might want to spend time with my colleagues at work. Of course, I could choose not to pick up my kids and not to teach class, but the consequences of those choices are unpleasant enough that I don’t have to make a decision — I just do the thing that needs to be done. But I spend most of my day in a state of choice. Do I want to do this or that? And then I get stuck. How do I choose between this and that? Sometimes, like this morning, I have something pressing enough that I have to do it. In other words, I have put it off for a long enough time that the choice is now made for me. But when I have a choice, I am stuck. Having the choice produces a great deal of anxiety, because I worry about making the wrong choice.

To reduce my own anxiety and be more satisfied, then I need to remove the choice, or at least find a way to not find myself in that choice state very often. Choosing is uncomfortable for me. I have sometimes done this using randomness, particularly using using Mark Forster’s random method (I will probably write more about this sometime), I would love to find a way to use the meditation trick of always bringing myself back to one particular focus, as well as connecting to the idea of observation.

So here is my idea. It doesn’t really matter what actions I take. That’s not entirely true of course since there are bad actions I can take, but let’s assume I’m choosing between reasonably good possible actions. I can choose to do this or to do that, much like I can choose any of a variety of meditation methods. But like with meditation, it is important to have a some particular discipline to practice. What is that discipline that I can bring yourself back to repeatedly? I can keep coming back to a focus on what I am doing right now.

So during my day, I am going to work on letting go of choosing the right action. I am going to remind myself that the choice doesn’t really matter in the long run. Rather than choosing what to do next, I am going to simply pay attention to my action at a particular moment. I’m going to do, and to notice what is happening. The noticing shouldn’t be about judging or weighing whether I’m doing the right thing because that’s not the point. The point is simply to be present.

It’s not very exciting as a system because there’s no lists or reward system, but I’ll see how it goes. And of course, I’m working on another system, inspired by software development, that does involve lists.

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One thought on “#8: Don’t choose, just do and notice

  1. heliopolister says:

    As Eckhart Tolle would say “If you get the inside right, the outside will take care of itself. Primary reality is within, secondary reality is without.” I think you are on the right track about not pushing yourself to make choices. Just immerse yourself in the warm blanket of presence. The rest will take care of itself.

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