Grappling with the Anxiety of Too Much Choice

I have this repeating reverie. I’m living just outside a small town somewhere, maybe in Montana, Wyoming or Colorado, in a small house on an ample, verdant piece of land. My routine is simple: morning coffee on a porch, evenings by the fire, fingers wrapped around a warm mug of tea. Loved ones are there with me. This scene is not present day. I have maybe four or five children. It’s just prior to World War 1. This is my life and, while I may wistfully wonder about other lives lived other places, there is a certain kind of peace in the stillness of what is. I know my place.

I wonder sometimes, who I would be if I weren’t born in New York City, if the world seemed small– not necessarily easier– just smaller. I wonder if all this choice is really a gift or a curse. Should I live here or there? Should I be with this person or that person? Should I follow this career or that one? After certain basics are met, for some of us, the options themselves can feel almost paralyzing. Freedom, truth be told, isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes, it’s just a prison of a different kind.

But then I wonder, does it even matter? Are the choices even real or are they rather a kind of imaginative creative speculation simply feeding my soul?

Often, we think the external circumstances will shift our internal ones. We wonder if doing this or that will lead to a different path. We may chase a feeling through a person or place, forever tied to possibility. Or we wrestle internally, chained to dilemma. Wherever we land on the spectrum, it’s our relation to choice itself that reveals us. Because every experience is just an opportunity to greet another aspect of our psyche– to know ourselves in more profound and deeper ways. We have no idea how we’d react in a situation unless we’ve actually been there. Once we start recognizing this fundamental truth, things begin to shift.

In many respects– as anxiety-provoking as making a choice can be– there’s a strange sort of comfort in knowing certain limits exist within us. By that I mean, we are who we are. We can grow, evolve and tweak things here and there. We can purposefully redirect our patterns to more productive and purposeful ends. But ultimately our core make-up remains.

That scene I painted above, it’s within me. I bring that same panoramic view, that same quest for beauty and expansiveness wherever I go, whether I’m staring at a skyscraper, a mountain range or another person’s face: that seeking is within me. It isn’t defined by what I’m looking at.

Maybe it’s the thinking itself that confuses and obfuscates the illusion of infinite options. It’s that thinking that creates the perception that we have such massive amounts of control.

It may already be written for us, or it may not be. But to constantly ponder another scenario or existence– unless creatively focused– can rob us of the experience we are having. It can limit the depths of our experience. The more pressing questions should be: Who am I when faced with a choice? How do I react? How do I come to a decision? And what does that reveal about me?

From there, decisions become easier. We recognize ourselves in the pattern. We realize that wherever we go, there we are. And we start living in the here and now, open to the magic right in front of us.

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