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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 13 Editorial: The Other Choice WE STRUGGLED FOR DAYS to get the right head- line for this issue’s cover story. Certainly, Ani Pema’s teaching was about peace. But what was the verb? Was it making peace? Finding peace? Practicing it? After sev- eral near misses and much sighing, we stumbled on the word “choosing.” What a difference a word makes. Meditation teachers, like Joseph Goldstein in this issue, are constantly pointing us toward the fraction of an instant that is the present moment. Being here... here...here... is the practice of mindfulness. And, on the matter of “choosing peace,” we need the practice of mindfulness to help us to cultivate an awareness— or at least a sense—of the state Ani Pema calls “always at a crossroads.” In the course of a day, we’re rarely aware of the thousands of choices to be made. Moments pass so quickly that our habits—inevitably some version of fight, flight, or embrace—have swung into action long before we’ve noticed we could do other than what we’ve always done. In his best-selling book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell called this process rapid cognition, a mental skill that can be both intelligent (“That’s a bear, RUN!”) and effort-saving (“I don’t need to look further; those are the shoes I want”), but can also lead us astray (“That guy just looks guilty”). Of course, the choices to be made in some moments are so trivial they don’t bear much reflection— whether to have white or whole wheat, or which route to cycle home from work. Sometimes they only seem trivial—whether to leave the dishes from lunch in the sink or to drop a coin in that panhandler’s cup. But a bunch of those trivial choices, made under a veil of ignorance, add up to bigger and stronger habits. So noticing how we choose—pausing on the cusp of choice—can prepare us for making life-altering deci- sions like getting married, changing jobs, or reconcil- ing with an estranged friend. At every crossroads our instinct, Ani Pema says, is to ask ourselves, “What will soothe me in this moment? How can I get what I want?” But from the Buddhist point of view, the “me” orientation builds up a false sense of identity and security that will lead us straight down the road to suffering. And until the drive for self-gratification subsides, we have to train ourselves to make “the other choice.” Two months ago I told my colleagues at the Shambhala Sun that, after a long competition pro- cess, I’d been offered a coveted position as an appren- tice lineman with the regional power company. I now had an opportunity to pursue a place with the guys (and here they are all guys) who install and maintain power lines overhead and underground. Though the undertaking may seem a bit reckless, it’s my chance to answer some persistent personal questions. I’ve always wanted to have a trade and the hands-on work performed outdoors appeals to me. Most importantly, this is my “other choice.” Despite their incredulity, my friends at the Sun— they’re family, really—have wholeheartedly sup- ported me. In your world, too, tomorrow someone will quit, or win a million dollars, or receive a diag- nosis of terminal cancer, or have an affair. Some of these “choices” are inconvenient; others are powerful enough to interrupt the thread of personal myth- making. In the spirit of choosing, we could welcome such moments because they embody the quality of “wild”—intrinsic, nontheistic, and forever-changing— that Gary Snyder refers to in “Writers and the War Against Nature.” They remind us that we do have choices about the way we live. The great thing about making a choice between being an editor and being a lineman is that it’s absurd to be making such a choice at all. It reminds me of a line from the cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai in the Eighth Dimension that has stuck with me for many years: “Don’t be mean,” Buckaroo says. “We don’t have to be mean because, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” So whether I’m a lineman or an editor, I’ll not be happier or more peaceful or suffer less—just differently. I can choose peace, but there’s no “me” who will ever get it. —A NDREA McQUILLIN NOV 1-17.indd 13 NOV 1-17.indd 13 8/30/07 3:15:23 PM 8/30/07 3:15:23 PM