those fork in the road moments

24 02 2010

A common refrain: “What should I do?” Another common refrain: “I don’t know what to do.”

These questions refer to both logistical as well as emotional decisions. A decision can be a nanosecond to many months in the making. Either way, we are always asking ourselves some version of these two questions on a million levels all the time.

I have been a student of Buddhism for many years, and when many of us approach the teachers and ask them these questions, the coda response to the refrain question is, “What would you usually do?” “What is your usual response/action?”

And then they say, “So don’t do that, do something different. Try maybe even doing the opposite.”

It’s very uncomfortable to hear this and then try to face the answer and then do it. The teaching dumps upside down my comfort zone and habitual ways of being and exercises muscles that are under-developed.

The creative life, or the awakened life, thrives on randomness, accident, spontaneity, vividness, and immediacy to name a few.

When we are responding or reacting the same way over and over again to the confusing circumstances that present, we cut off the possibility of any of the above-mentioned qualities from entering our lives.

Our habitual ways of being are a gerbil wheel. We feel like we are moving, but it’s an endless cycle of unhappiness and an unexpressed life.

Why not next time you are wondering what to do, ask yourself, ‘What do I usually do?” and then do the opposite.

I’m doing it in my life right now, which is why I’m writing this post, and I’m terrified. But I’m awake and present and open to something new flowing in. I prefer an artful life to a robotic life.

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13 responses

24 02 2010
Ronna

Love, love, love this Bindu! And especially these words:

…I’m terrified. But I’m awake and present…

Thank you for invitation to the same!

24 02 2010
Christine (Blisschick) Reed

YAY! for Risk Taking. 🙂 It has completely changed my life to be open to the “not me” parts of myself. So to speak.

Do the opposite — So George from Seinfeld was a Buddhist? (Teasing)

24 02 2010
Siddhartha

How often do we fear being naïve and being considered simple. We crave the privileges of maturity and strive to master complexity. Yet how we envy those who can remember what it’s like to be naïve and embrace simplicity.

I have come to believe we are not as much in control of our lives as we (in the west) have been taught, or as we believe we are.

The crippling aspect of randomness is, sometimes it turns out exactly as we would expect it to. And at these times we say to ourselves, “Okay, it worked. I finally did it right.” When in reality we did nothing “right” this time and nothing “wrong” before, it’s just that this time it (by chance) turned out the way we expected.

We use these moments to buttress our belief that we are in control through those times when things don’t go well and we tell ourselves we’ve done something wrong.

I think the great wisdom of the Buddhist masters was in not doing the opposite necessarily, but just doing something differently and recognizing it didn’t really affect the outcome as we thought it would.

24 02 2010
G Pryor

Thank you, Bindu, for reminding me of what I know so well and forget so often. The older I get the more comfortable I become in waiting for the signs of the universe to point the way. It can be anxious waiting — at the moment the universe is taking its sweet time — but there is a sense of rightness when I act because grace has suggested, rather than as will and habit have directed.

25 02 2010
Reed Robins

I was very thankful and inspired by this post, Bindu. Thank you. Quite insightful.

I wonder if you’ve heard of a thing called ‘Oblique Strategies’? It 1st appeared in 1975 as a set of cards, but now you can get them in a software app and on the web. I’ve used them when I’ve been stuck creatively to great effect.

The card that comes to mind most often is the following: “What wouldn’t you do?”. Sounds a lot like what you wrote about…

I should get out the oblique strategies and apply them to my life! Hmmm…what WOULDN’T I do?

25 02 2010
Kate T.W.

Its funny that Reed Robins mentions ‘Oblique Strategies’. I was just watching Richard Linklater’s Slacker last night, in which those cards are featured. Thanks for the link.

I’ve been reading Jack Kornfield’s After Ecstasy, the Laundry, in which he talks about his spiritual teachers giving him conflicting advice– one year telling him one thing and the next the opposite. When he asked about it they said that they were pushing him back into the middle of the road when he veered too much to the left or right…

Your post reminds me of that. We can push ourselves back into the center of the flow of life too when we are veering into a ditch.

A very empowering post.

25 02 2010
Ronna

One more thing:

Makes me want 2 throw down the whole silverware drawer!

26 02 2010
Shirls

Bindu, how lovely your site is – like a still forest pool in the midst of all the angst and chatter and hype. Just reading through a few of your posts has given me a feeling of calm and peace. Thank you.

26 02 2010
Dave Doolin

I really like gerbil wheel analogy.

I’m currently spending a large number of my waking hours ensuring I’m on the correct gerbil wheel. Once I feel I have it right I’m going to spin that wheel up fast.

I’m cool with the robot part of the time. Stuff has to get done. Just want to make sure it’s the right stuff getting done.

Ok back to the salt mine.

27 02 2010
emma

I look forward to learning about this new direction you’re taking – so exciting! And I completely relate to the combined terror and elation. I’m right smack dab in the middle of my own fork and currently very conscious of the feel of the tongs. But being present may just be worth the discomfort. Baby steps!

1 03 2010
allie

this is exactly how i feel right now. i have to constantly remind myself that when it comes down to it, i HAVE to do something different. good luck with your artful life!

2 03 2010
cynthia

I love this line: “The creative life, or the awakened life, thrives on randomness, accident, spontaneity, vividness, and immediacy to name a few.” Yes, my best writing occurs when I have no agenda. It feels more alive. Thanks for this reminder to step off the path.

11 03 2010
Tracy Todd

When you get to the fork in the road, pick it up and put it in your pocket.

I have a whole collection of forks amongst my cutlery.

It’s amazing, how a “fork in the road moment” can send one into a flat spin even if it is for just the second whilst deciding what to do.

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure anymore.

These are definitely the moments where one can only grow in character.

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