Choice and Happiness

Choosing what is leads to happiness.  Our usual state is to want things to be different from what they really are, and to think that when only this changes or that changes, then things will be great.  When I find the right partner, when I get that new job—then I’ll be happy.  I like to tell my students that most people spend their lives thinking “if only, if only, if only – dead.”  We spend our lives waiting to be happy, and one day, one moment, it’s all over—and we were never truly happy.
Choosing to be with the moment, to be with what is, that is real happiness.  Even if “what is” is not what you want, and you’re also actively choosing to change, staying with the reality of what is can bring happiness.  And it’s fun!  I know a woman who doesn’t like her tendency to keep going over things in her head, to keep worrying, to be indecisive.  Now, what she could do instead is to tell herself:  “All this stuff that I turn around in my head, I chose this, this is great.  One of the things I really like about myself is that I’m just so indecisive—it’s beautiful.  This is where I’ve come to, this is the kind of person I am right now.  This is what I chose.  Maybe I’ll choose something else, but right now, that’s where I am.” 
Try it.  This should be a very enjoyable thing, no matter where you are, you should be enjoying choosing what you’ve got.  Be alive now, don’t wait until tomorrow.  Tomorrow you’re dead.  Enjoy your life, appreciate your life, choose to be with your life as it is right now.

Choosing to Change

So, an important part of our practice is deciding to choose what is.  What I am often asked next is:  what if I’m in an unhappy marriage?  What if I hate my job?  Does that mean I need to choose to stay in that situation?
Absolutely not.  That view is too simplistic.  Choosing what is, choosing to be where you are, is another way to speak of being in the moment.  In other words, you’re not choosing a situation, you’re choosing the moment.  So you’re sitting there in a crummy marriage, feeling a certain way, you’re choosing to be in the crummy marriage, you’re choosing to be alive to being in the crummy marriage.  You’re in the moment.  And at the same time, if you want to, you can be choosing to figure out how to leave.  Staying in the moment of “what is” and at the same time choosing to change “what is” aren’t contradictory. 
You don’t have to choose to be stuck where you are.  You choose to be where you are.  Where you are might be “in the midst of change.”  But then be with the process of being in the midst of change and don’t hold your breath until the change has occurred.  If you’re in turmoil, choose to experience that turmoil.  You can also choose a plan that you hope will get you out of turmoil, but then you’re also choosing to be with that, in the flow of moving.  In other words, you’re with what you’ve got, you’re choosing to be with what is, choosing to be in the moment, even if that moment is “movement” or “chaos” or “change”.  Wherever you are in your life, at any given moment, when you accept that completely and choose that, they say that is enlightenment.

Wanting What Is

When you do sitting meditation, zazen, you let everything come in, you don’t try to get rid of it, and you allow yourself to be with what is.  This is preparation for being able to choose what you get.  Otherwise, you will have–and you really will!—a lifetime of putting off everything to a future time or regretting a past time.  So the practice of zazen, what we also call remembering oneself, is to stop thinking for a moment and just be here.  A more forceful way of saying that is to choose what is.  It is to be here and be really here.  To want to be here.  So you don’t hold the idea that you’re going to be happy and start living when X and Y come to fruition.  You’re going to start now.  Always now.  You’re going to choose what is.  Choose what you get. 


Please work with this.  You will see that it’s very powerful.  It’s even more powerful than remembering yourself.  And don’t take it in a simplistic way.  I’ve got this house, I like it, I can always be thinking about how I’m going to move to California, in which case I won’t like it, or I can choose to like it, be here, and think I would like to move to California and that will be part of it.  But it’s a subtle difference.  For most of us, we’re always moving to California.  We’re never, ever choosing what we have.  Choosing what we get, another word for it, simply, is living.  Not putting it off, not regretting it.  It means choosing to be the age you are, choosing to be the sex you are, choosing to do the job you do.  Choosing the weather to be what it is.  Choose what you get; live right now.