How we Pick and Choose

Sometimes our options collapse into stark alternatives that few of us really want.

In the present presidential campaign—with the election three weeks away—we can see projected in large print the imperfect way we make important life choices.

How does it come about that after a tortuous selection process—lasting longer than it takes to create a human being—we have two candidates neither of whom have the support of a majority of people? In fact, whole communities feel that they have been thrown under a bus that doesn’t even stop in their neighborhood.

During this selection process, after the circular firing squads have exhausted their ammunition, whoever is left standing is awarded a seal of approval from officials who may themselves feel like helpless bystanders.

There are so many problems in this process, and so many voices ready to spread blame for the rampant dysfunction, that the rest of us can only watch in a helpless stupor. We may well wonder if there is anything, as individuals, we can do to make matters better.

Perhaps we need to step back and notice that political gridlock is not a unique problem in our society. At the most fundamental level of consciousness, our minds are constantly picking and choosing from categories that we have learned to accept as the only possible ones. We scarcely cease for an instant from constructing a virtual “reality”, composed of symbolic icons, and ignoring the living environment which we then no longer really see.

We clearly feel more comfortable when we turn the mysterious blossoming of life into a game whose pieces have predictable ranges of motions, played on a board with fixed edges and predefined rules of engagement.

What would happen if we learned to catch ourselves in the act of substituting these predetermined icons in place of the spontaneous ebb and flow of our lives? The wind in the trees, the beating or our hearts, the rising and falling of our moods and affections—these experiences can be appreciated without us picking and choosing among them. Nor are we obliged to retrace a well-trodden path through the meadows of unlimited possibility.

I’m not saying that the electoral choice facing this nation is a trivial one. But the barrenness of a process that leaves so many convinced that their interests have not been heard has become the run-away best seller of our times. Is it possible that a change for the better can start with us, if we can learn to stay a moment longer with our own unprecedented experiences?

If enough of us can refrain from converting our heart-felt encounters into the static, pre-established terms we have already learned, then perhaps the political process, as one facet of our daily lives, can become more open to the interests we share in common, while leaving space for our unique differences.

3 comments to “How we Pick and Choose”
  1. I am not sure what you are saying Michael, but I my sure of history shows me democracies don’t last long. Ours was a more of a republic at the start and now more democratic Maybe it’s time is up.

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Walter. Especially pointing out that I haven’t been clear in my attempt to combine two disjoint perspectives: the present political chaos and how our minds operate in a fundamental way. Please write it off to my aspiration to understand matters that are too deep for me to do more than dip my toe into. I’ve been rereading a book by Tarthang Tulku–“Revelations of Mind”–and I find myself influenced to look at aspects of my various preoccupations and the daily news in a different light. I always hope that the imbalances in our world can be addressed through individual understanding. But, alas, I don’t have a very good take on how that might come about.

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