A Loving Kick in the Pants for When You Don’t Have a Choice

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been battling hopelessness and paralysis lately. I am grateful for the internet mechanisms that have the potential to make us the most informed populace in the history of our civilization, but unfortunately, I haven’t personally acquired the level of spiritual evolution to know how to deal with all of the information I receive everyday.

Generally speaking, I’m an optimist.

I’m even aware of how annoying my insistence on remaining hopeful might be to some people, so I’ll often keep my Pollyanna thoughts to myself and silently trace out some distant or complicated silver lining in my mind.

But good grief, y’all, the news is getting me down these days.

Between the election results, the following whiplash of aggrieved entitlement expressed by white nationalists, the increasingly dismal climate change projections, and the freaking Dakota Access Pipeline brazenly continuing the invasive narrative that white people have exacted on Native Americans since our nation began…I can’t help but feel that the world has completely lost its mind.

I’ve struggled to find my footing this month, not just to figure out what I can do about any of it, but to even figure out what to think about the world anymore. The other night, as I drifted through my mind in those dim moments before sleep, I found myself thinking…

“Well, maybe this is how it happens.”

Over the years, I’ve met so many people 10, 20, 30 years older than me who have said, in so many words, or in so many actions, that they don’t worry about these things anymore because there’s no use. They tell me they struggled to get theirs, and now they are just concerned with making sure the people closest to them get theirs, too. Let the rest worry about the rest. They give to charities each year at Christmas and sleep easy at night.

“Well, maybe this is how it happens.” I thought, lying in bed. “I’m in my 30s now. Maybe by the time one reaches this moment in life they’ve seen the world flipping back on itself enough times to be baffled beyond hope. Maybe this is how the baby boomers blew all the bubbles and then watched them float down the way and pop and pop and pop.

“Well, maybe this is how it happens.” Maybe we have to put up some blinders so we can sleep in our privileged skins at night and not live the end of the world before it gets here. Maybe we have to believe the people who walked before us and looked back to say, “This is just how the world works. Don’t be so naïve.”

“Well, maybe this is how it happens.” I thought and fell asleep.

Every now and then I have dreams in which members of a team of advisors show up and school me.


That night, a talking blackbird sat me down and told me I’d been missing the point. She proceeded to list off all the messages I’d been overlooking.

“Hold on,” I said, “I need to remember this.” And I pulled out my pink journal and took notes as she talked. “Oh!” I said over and over again. “You’re right. I totally forgot about that…and that…I didn’t pay attention to that.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring that list with me out of the dream, but the feeling that remained from the blackbird’s lecture was enough.

Sometimes it’s tempting to believe that a more “grown up” course of action is one with precedent—one with expected outcomes you can point to based on calculations or the experiences of others. Maybe this is because “grown ups” are responsible, and “being responsible” means acting with the cognizance that our actions affect other people.

But what do we do, dear reader, when the examples we can point to—the ones dressed up in all the grown up clothes—are not actually responsible to other people?

What do we do when we reach a precipice in life or in history where the precedent has been to close the front door, turn off the porch light, and eat dinner around a small table in the dark?

I woke up the next morning remembering a piece of advice I’ve given to my artist friends many times over the years. (Admittedly, it’s advice I have often had trouble taking myself.)

Don’t act as if you have a choice when you don’t.

Ever seen the most talented person you know diddle around because they don’t know how they’re going to reach their potential? Ever watched them stall and talk about doing other things as if they somehow will wake up one morning and not be a painter/musician/writer/builder/whatever they are? As if this driving passion of theirs is something they opted into.

Because they don’t know how it will happen, they somehow believe it won’t happen. They believe it won’t happen because they don’t know how it will happen.

Don’t act as if you have a choice when you don’t.

That advice came back to me, but bigger, the morning after my brush with blinder envy. That exasperated little blackbird was my own deeper wisdom telling me I’d been looking at the wrong “pragmatic” “adult” examples and missing my real actionable invitations. What’s more, this little uncertainty dance has been wasting time and energy.

Don’t act as if you have a choice about being a participant in this world when you don’t.

She was telling me that if I thought I could choose the perspective that involved protecting myself by pretending the intolerable was inevitable—I would be at odds with reality, not accepting it.

The choices we make shape our reality, of course. But not everything is a choice. And pretending something is a choice when it really isn’t one is a recipe for suffering, and there’s plenty of that already without me adding to it.

Don’t misunderstand me; in theory, I know I could choose to let go of my artistic wanderings and become an investment banker. And I know I have the white, straight, cis, able-bodied, formally-educated, middle-class, American privilege to choose to look the other way when the news is troubling. In theory.

But when I do a deep gut check? When I consider what I know the role of an artist or a spiritual being to be? When I acknowledge that I can do more than just focus on survival? When I follow the foreshadowing of our current trajectory 5 or 10 years into the future?

The answer is no, these are not choices that I can actually make.

So now that we’ve got the illusion of choice out of the way, it’s time to stop waffling around like there are other doors I might walk through in life. Time to be who I am and get on with giving my full attention to the work at hand in the world I inhabit.

Just because I don’t know how change will happen, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

So, dear reader, what has your stern little inner blackbird been telling you do to? Are you holding out on yourself and the rest of us by secretly pretending you might somehow go a different way?


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