Life as we know it, expresses itself through change and activity. Life is dynamic, consistently changing and forever modifying its many forms. Nothing is constant in life. And yet, the life force itself is eternal- lying outside of the bounds of time and space. Life, in order to be perpetual, must constantly die to be reborn. In other words, change is the very nature of the permanent. It is the ephemeral that sustains eternity. The movement from existence to birth, to growth and maturity and then to eventual decay and death- of just about anything available to our experience- is an undeniable and verifiable truth. Yet we, despite our experiences with impermanence, seek a life- in the midst of all the props that constitute our lives- of uninterrupted and everlasting joy! We superimpose our personal stories on the impersonal and universal currents of life. And then we try with futility, to arrest change to fulfill personal desires and if that’s not possible, to order it according to our will.
Change, especially hard-hitting, unpleasant change frightens us. We seek to protect ourselves from it. We acquire, collect, own and form alliances in a bid to stonewall change, to prolong pleasant experiences and to defer death. It is not the enduring occurrences of change, impermanence and death that are the cause of our sorrow: it is in our misconception of life that our sorrows grow like weeds. It is in our apathy and indifference to the laws of life and a disinterest in our own cultural development, that our sorrows take root. The only way out of suffering is to simply ‘choose’ not to suffer.
Choice is our most potent gift. And every moment of our lives as human beings, we are called to choose. An empowered life is one where choices are asserted. But before they’re asserted, we must be aware that we have a choice. One of our most fundamental mistakes is to believe that the availability of choice is dependent on our circumstances. Our circumstances have no bearing on our capacity to choose. On the contrary, it is our ‘capacity to choose’ that can defeat even the most debilitating circumstances. We may not be able to escape sorrow and change and loss, but we have a choice in whether or not we suffer!
This ability to choose our response is available to all- rich or poor, strong or weak, literate or illiterate. It is in this unique ability that all men stand equal. Yet we don’t recognize this. We strive hard to improve our circumstances, and also seek an improvement in life conditions for all, thinking that therein lays the key to universal happiness. We’ve even tried to order nature; and we’ve seen the many harmful repercussions of that! Like the old lady in a Sufi parable who spent all day looking for her sewing needle in a haystack outside her house with a couple of villagers who had joined in to help her search. Exasperated, one of them finally asked the old lady, ”Where did you drop the needle!” “Inside the house,” she replied. “Then why are you looking for it here!” asked the perplexed villagers. To this the old lady with smiling, twinkling eyes asked of them: “Why is it that when God is within you, you search for Him outside?”
In the same vein, the key to enduring happiness doesn’t lie in a set of perfect circumstances outside of us; it lies within. It exists in our capacity to choose. We disempower ourselves when we do not exercise choice. Choosing is essential to freedom. Choice is that secret door through which our souls can walk in and walk out at will. Without awareness of ‘this door’ in our abodes, we live our lives as prisoners trapped and enslaved by life and its whimsical twists and turns.
The culture of human beings rests on this hope that man can remain noble and undeterred through any changing circumstance; that the test of our maturity lies in our unaffected demeanor through either abundance or adversity. Loss and sorrow are inevitable experiences in the course of our lives. No one is spared. And yet, we’re given the final word- you’re not defeated till you ‘think’ you’re defeated; you don’t ‘have’ to suffer the loss of wealth, reputation or a loved one; you can choose to harness these experiences for self-discovery and growth. Ultimately, to be or not to be- the choice is ours.