The choices we make shape the colour and texture of our days, they make up our lives and they form who we are. Choices that you make - micro and macro - are shaping your present, your future, and your past all the time. When you place an intention, you steer the ship, and the vista - behind you, around you, and before, changes. This point about the present and future may be obvious, but the past? The past looks different to different versions of yourself, from different vantage points. You make decisions that lead to those vantage points, and so the past its not dead to us, its very much alive and malleable, like any story transmutes with telling. This is the power of decision making. This is a mundane, and yet mind-blowing consideration. It is the gravitas of all time frames, of our whole life, moment to moment.
There are some things, of course, that are beyond our choice. Choice is always within a context. The formula goes: no framework of possibility, no apparatus and ingredients for decision making. Context is often-times not within our realm of choice, or at least, its very difficult to grasp tangibly enough to choose over. Our nationality at birth, for instance, our race, blood relatives, talents and predispositions, and various things that occur in our childhood. Some of us have more scope for choice in a context than others. It seems as though those of us who are born into various layers and types of privilege are given, with this, a new set of choices, and a another layer of power.
Some of us are more decisive than others. Admittedly, I am awful at making choices (particularly when the recipe for choice is stirred up with PMS - Oh, the dithering!). I see a soup of grey murkiness, nuances and multiple continuously unfolding trajectories of possible outcomes at any give time. I do not ever look at a situation and go, ah, that’s it: the right choice here, the wrong choice over there. I’m more like, well, it could be both! Why not try both? What if the one over there is actually a stupendous and magical opportunity deceivingly dressed up like an orc on a blind date? Orcs should be a given a chance to speak and be heard too. Let’s go with the orc, the elf from Rivendell with the pointy ears and oddly unsettling yellow eyes over there, and also try a third option as well - a little naked man that used to be a hobbit? Then its a rounded experience. We’ll meet up together, and go for tofu kebabs - no, let's go to a beer festival - let's cycle there in fact! it’ll be a party! Of course, it never is. Its a nightmare and everyone cycles home teary and confused. A tofu-orc-raw river fish scramble: Too much, they cried, too much!
Decision making - or decision neuroscience - is, a distinct, interdisciplinary field of inquiry. Apparently we have a certain capacity for decision making that is finite, and very much physical. We have to rest the brain and body in deep sleep in order to revive. So each day, there is actually only a certain number of decisions that we can preside over effectively, with clarity and fortitude. Once we’ve exhausted this, its overs until we rest properly. This explains why at the end of a long day, it can seem near impossible to decide on what to eat for dinner. When fatigue sets in, we move through the kitchen to the refrigerator in a zombie-like fashion, and reach for comfort, for familiarity. It explains why, when we are chronically short on sleep, we simply cannot effectively function.
Like all US presidents, Barrack Obama presided over an endless series of complex, weighted and puzzling decisions, every single day in office. This is at base-level what he was there to do - to make massive decisions with enormous consequences and only a fraction of secondary information to go on, presented to him in bullet points. Apparently he was fastidious about ensuring that he didn’t waste his valuable decision making neurological juices on frivolous issues, so he could make the most amount of effective presidential choices over the day. To this end, he had his work clothes (dark blue suit, white shirt, red or blue tie) put out by a PA the night before, and his breakfast prepared (same choice, every day, same time) with iron-fisted routine. This meant that he rose in the morning and could sail through the small stuff and make it to his desk without having spilt a drop of precious capacity. When I read this I thought of how much neurological capacity I have wasted in the morning over the years, on stalling over whether to do yoga or go for a walk, on what to wear, over whether to have eggs or avocado.
As I do not have a presidential portfolio to preside over, I have recently been interested in understanding decisions made in relation to matters of the heart. More specially, how we choose to love someone, and how our decisions colour and shape our romantic relationships.
First, we choose who we take interest in. We flick through the endless options on Tinder, we survey the line-up at the local bar on a Friday night, we sweep our gaze over the Vinyasa class in a sweaty reverse side-angle to skalasana transition. We survey and then we choose to take interest. If that interest is reciprocated, we choose to give our time to someone. Then we choose again to open up ourselves and be vulnerable, to give of ourselves openly and let ourselves be seen, to be known. We choose to make ourselves sexually available, to usher in new levels of communication and time-spending. We decide that its OK to be comfortable with this person, to spend latent moments in silence, reading, or drinking coffee together, cloaked in the intimacy of delicate soft morning light. We choose again to envelop this person within our nucleus of family and friends. We survey here, gauging their reactions and interactions, their applicability, (possibly stalling over mother’s and best friend’s endless, testy questioning) and then we choose to carry on, to invest further and further.
When we choose to love someone, we are making a choice of inclusion. We choose to include their past story and personality and likes into our world and understanding. We choose to include and integrate their past with ours, we create an ‘us’ story. With the positive, the novel and quirky, we choose to include the negative, the emotional baggage and traumas - they too live with us then, like arcane shadows cast across the living room, and bedroom.
And in choosing to love we also choose to exclude and forget. We choose to exclude the stuff that we no longer have time for, or space for. We choose to exclude habits of a single life - I think of Carry Bradshaw from Sex and City here. There is this episode where the girls are all talking about their “SSB: - strange single behaviour. If I recall correctly, Carry’s is eating cold pilchards on crackers, standing up at her otherwise empty kitchen counter, whilst flicking through female fashion magazines for hours. Its the kind of stuff you’d never do in the company of another. We choose to exclude old lovers, or friends that clash with our chosen love, or acquaintances that we no longer have time to catch a meaningless drink and superficial conversation with. And then we make choices of exclusion within the relationship. We have to do this, forgetting things said that hurt us, or something they did that annoyed us. Perhaps forgetting the ideals we may have had for our ‘dream partner’, a necessary forgetting in order to fully appreciate and see the gorgeousness that we have in fact chosen, in spite of the ideal.
In choosing to love we also have to choose to forgive. Forgiveness for past indiscretions, hurt, stupidity, selfishness, and if we’re committed to love and serious in our love, then also future indiscretions. Because if we imagine a future together, we imagine our capacity to forgive each other, over and over again.
And so we must choose. We have to choose, and our choices in each other must meet. You cannot expect love to flower, to be healthy and sustaining and robust without choice. When this choice, stutters, and dithers, it weakens the bond. In this way a flighty, undecided mind is the enemy of love. It creates fissures in the framework in which you make daily choices together, and apart, for yourselves and, ultimately, for each other. Because in the same way you choose love - in a myriad of ways on an ongoing basis in order to weave the fabric of a relationship over time - you can also make decisions that weaken love, and you can make choices that strengthen only your own concerns.
What I have learnt is that these choices, for better or worse, start to create patterns and rhythms. They start out as insignificant - pitter patters of tiny feet across a floor - but these feet grow, and they quicken, and they are joined by more choices and more feet. In this way, choices are not only impactful in their immediate effect, but in the way they become patterns of choice-making. This is inevitable. No one - not even Barrack - is able to avoid the pull and sway of habit, of choices made when tired, of choices made when overwhelmed and busy, or worst, when not yourself, when adrift from a full grasp of what is important and real and valuable. This is how pitter patters become an army - a tyrannous march of movement in directions that are so terribly difficult to stop. And if you’ve been acting in an unseeing manner then its only when there’s an outrageous, overwhelming din of marching feet, that you look up, pause, and realise the full extent of the mess created. But then, what? Clawing back, remorsefully, to the start point through an army marching in the opposite direction is a fraught, and near to impossible process.
So choosing love has to be also about choosing to watch over and care deeply about how you choose, when you choose and the habits of choice you create. Choosing love requires a doubly serious commitment; not just choice directed towards someone else, but towards yourself. It calls upon us to be watchful, vulnerable, tender, steadfast, meticulous and fierce all at once. In this there is so much risk. It could not work out. The mind boggles - so many things could happen, so many things are left out, and we have choose regardless. So the indecisive mind goes absolutely bonkers with all this possibility and risk - a game of poker on steroids! And yet this risking is the tender, quiet beat of vulnerability - it is the risking of the ego. It is the risking of the independent me, because the nature of the heart is to embrace, and envelop, and include. When you choose love, you choose to let your ego melt into the quiet irrational, unexplainable, and yet tremendous beat of the heart. If you can sense this beat, there is finally silence, no vexing thunderous possibilities of choice-making, only knowing.