Choices – The Ones that Matter and the Ones that Don’t

Every day we make many choices. Most of them are fairly inconsequential, like what to wear or which tea to drink, but some choices can radically change our lives. They may seem small in the moment, but they add up, like a leak dripping into a bucket. Before we know it, the bucket is full.

What are those choices that change our life for the better? Some may seem obvious, like keeping the Buddha’s five precepts. A man came to our monastery wanting to relieve his anxiety and intense stress. He seriously took up the five precepts. He stopped buying and drinking alcohol. He told us how it felt to want to stroll down the wine aisle and resist. He also mentioned that he stopped casual flirting with women at work. To his amazement, he discovered a level of tenderness and availability in his marriage that he had not known before. Due to his practice with the precepts, meditation and listening to Dharma teachings, we could see the changes in him. His anxiety and stress decreased and happiness and steadiness blossomed. A couple of years later when his mother suddenly fell deathly ill and was placed on life support, his clarity and calm served as a tremendous resource for his whole family.

Other choices are much more subtle. We often have options that we don’t realize exist. An interesting and often fun practice is to pause and reflect on the array of things you can think, say or do in a particular moment. Once we see a variety of options when someone is gossiping to you at the water cooler or your boss wants you to lie to a customer or thoughts are assailing the mind about some ugly incident from the past, a sense of greater freedom and courage may arise, not to mention humor and lightheartedness.