Thank Goodness There's No Escaping Choice

How many of us believe we really choose our existence?

Posted Sep 02, 2011

How many of us really believe that we choose our own existence and what does this really mean? Choosing is the key word. We are always choosing. We can't not choose, for even if we don't consciously choose something, the not-choosing is a choice.

When I understand that living includes choosing, always and in every moment, this awareness is very profound. This process of choosing can be liberating and empowering as well as anxiety provoking and frightening. How do I know I will make the best choices possible for myself and others? How do I know I won't squander opportunities to live the best life I can live? This level of responsibility for my life is sobering, especially when I realize that I'm not totally in charge of who and what will be impacted by my choices. However, once I realize the consequences, I am in charge of how I choose to respond or not respond.

Choosing is tricky territory. If I take my responsibility to choose too seriously, I can become paralyzed and choose not to choose because I am so afraid of what any active choice might mean. What happens with this attitude is one's experience of living is passive. Life happens to me. I am only responding to life and don't feel like I proactively create my life. I deal with my existential anxiety, which is the irreducible anxiety of being, through fear. On the other hand, if I don't take my responsibility to choose seriously enough, I can feel it really doesn't matter what I choose. What happens with this attitude is one's experience of living feels shallow. While I am proactively taking actions there is a sense of emptiness as I am not getting in touch with what truly matters to me. I take action because that is what I am supposed to do. With this response, I deal with my existential anxiety through avoidance.

Sometimes, knowing I have the freedom to choose can be so terrifying that I'd rather be told what to do. This was the theme of Escape from Freedom, written by the renowned psychoanalyst and social psychologist, Erich Fromm in 1941. Fromm explored why totalitarianism could be so acceptable in our world. When faced with overwhelming choices and the heavy responsibility choosing can demand, being told what to do is easier. If I am told this is how the world works and this is what I need to do, I can relax. I can hide from my existential angst.

I believe there is a healthier and more satisfying way to make my life choices. Just like choice is inherently part of living, existential anxiety is as well. Existential anxiety can't be eliminated, nor should it be. In meeting my existential anxiety in an optimal way, my anxiety energizes me to allow my choices to matter. It also focuses me to experience what the best choice is in a particular moment. Thus, I believe that making choices can be a satisfying experience. One does not need to feel passive or empty. One does not need to let fear or avoidance determine how they deal with life.

In meeting my existential anxiety, I let myself experience my feelings, thoughts, and impulses related to whatever decision I need to make. I listen and stay open to all of what is going on inside of me. One way to do this is to imagine I am sitting at a table having dinner with all the conflicting viewpoints involved in my choosing. I listen to the subtleties and nuances of all the viewpoints. In doing this, I grow in my self-acceptance and learn not to be afraid of my thoughts and feelings, whatever they may be. By staying with this dinner party until the exploration is complete, I shift into a more unified perspective and clarity on my choice. This happens because the choice comes from my inner knowing and intuition. When we trust this inner knowing and intuition, we naturally move towards health and wholeness. When we listen and stay open to who we are in the moment, we instinctively move to the unity in ourselves.

I believe this way of making choices tends to be more accepting, more compassionate, and less driven by fear. My choice is only my truth. It doesn't apply to everyone else's truth. I can live and let live.

I want to be as conscious and as accepting as I can be about my choices without being rigidly attached to them. Then, when I see the impact of my choices, I stay with my experience of that impact. This may mean I change my choices. If so, I'm okay with that. By consciously choosing in the moment, and being open to adjust my choice as I see the consequences, I stay grounded in my choice as reflecting who I am and what I value. Thus, I'm not attaching myself randomly and capriciously to whatever comes my way.

Writing my blog has been an experience in conscious choosing and engaging with existential anxiety. I want to let you in on some of my dinner party dialogue. I'm interested in writing the blog, as it gives me the ongoing opportunity to share my enthusiasm about the existential-humanistic perspective. I'm also scared. Do I really have anything new to say? Hasn't it all been said before? I have plenty to do in my life, so is it worth adding this blog to my to-do list? It's a growing edge for me to write in an ongoing way. I like challenging myself this way and yet it makes me anxious. It's exciting to see if I can impact others positively by stimulating their thinking and feeling about their own lives. As I stay open to my conflicting feelings and thoughts about writing this blog, as well as my anxiety about wanting to consciously decide, I discover within me that my choice is yes, write the blog. The voice that pulls me in this direction is my awareness that an important part of my choice to write this blog is that I won't ever know the results unless I roll the dice and choose to write it. I wish myself, and all of us engaged in the conscious process of choosing, good luck!