It's a theme that occurs in many yoga conversations, workshops or training, and one I put words around fairly early in my teaching career: choose your choices. It's a place we usually arrive at when we've scrolled through the options presenting themselves in any given situation and all have been rejected. It's a thought that feels freeing after years of feeling like life was happening to me rather than by me.
It sounds redundant or at least obvious, but in my life, I have engaged in rationalizing thoughts and behavior that do exactly the opposite, they obfuscate choice with a false cloud of obligation. Put bluntly, we all pretend that we have to do something when in reality, we do not. We believe that things have happened to us, and there's nothing we can do. Even when we cannot change the circumstances, we can change how we experience them. We are empowered beings with choice - what a blessing! (Though not choosing is also a choice, and we'll save that for another time.)
There are a matrix of events, decisions and moments that lead us to the present moment. As yogis, we believe that our actions in the present moment dictate our past, present, and future. Future is the most obvious, since the karmic seeds we sow today will be reaped in the future. Past and present though? How might our present decisions shape them?
Perception! From Chip Hartranft's translation of the sutras, 4.15: people perceive the same object differently, as each person's perception follows a separate path from another's. The mind you are perceiving the past with today is different from yesterday, so your perception changes. With time, events that seem painful in their present moment, may reveal themselves to be instrumental lessons in our development.
If we choose to observe events without reaction (varaigya), we suffer less than if we are attached to a particular outcome. Sometimes we carry these outcomes forward into our future, and forever look back with attachment. This is often a source of suffering: if only this hadn't happened, I'd be happy. If he hadn't failed, my life would be better. I have to have this job. I have to live in this place.
This is not to discount the necessities of life and the struggle to obtain them, but culturally, we have these enormous fictions prescribing how life should be designed. As yogis, it is our work to practice asteya (non-stealing) and stop robbing ourselves and others of agency. As we progress along our path and our minds and perceptions shift, we can shed ourselves of these disempowering phrases, "I must" and "I have to", and start choosing the life we have designed.
Which is going to include some things we do not like. I cannot choose to live in Ottawa and enjoy great roti; it just isn't here. (Someone please open a delicious roti shop in Ottawa!) I can live three blocks away from some amazing Thai food in the back of a convenience store though, and even though it's not roti, it's really good! You can't live in Montreal and expect the winter to be anything less than fierce, but you can bundle up and enjoy some of the country's most interesting cultural output. You can't stay in a job under a boss who's consistently shown poor leadership and expect to walk in and like them one day, but you can accept a job for less pay with an environment more aligned to your well being and development.
Or we can scrap it all and do something else! There is always an exit. Identifying where choices are made reveals the exits, and if they do not align with our core values, we can choose the path we're on.
Choosing our choices feels good. Reaffirming the choices we've made or getting the energetic kick in the pants we need to do something else situates us as the authors of our own karma, which offers a sense of peacefulness for gracefully weathering the less desirable aspects of our choices.