The Paradox of Choice

March 5, 2018 Opinion, Philosophy

The inability to commit to one path for fear of choosing the wrong path causes one to choose no path at all. When there is an abundance of choice a kind of paralysis can set in. It’s the paradox of choice.

This insight is what bubbled up for me at the recent Govinda Kai intensive in STL. It reminds me of the old Rush lyric, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” I’m choosing not to decide far too often and I don’t like it. As one fellow practitioner observed, I’m attached to non attachment. Boom!

But these are the kinds of self discoveries that unfold when one practices Ashtanga yoga regularly, in earnest, over a long period of time. It’s not about the postures but what they manifest. The postures are a tangible, physical means to get to some otherwise intangible truths.

The paradox of choice can be applied to careers, relationships, or even just buying a new car as it turns out. It’s the irony of living in a culture that has unlimited possibilities.

Interestingly, the Ashtanga yoga method doesn’t offer much in the way of choices. There is a prescribed set of asanas. You do them in the same order. You inhale and exhale with each movement the same way today as you did yesterday. The count is the same. The cadence is the same. The gazing point is the same. These days modifications are allowed based on the body’s limitations but there was a time when even that was not allowed. The teacher stopped your practice until you mastered the pose before letting you to move on. You had no choice. There is no creative license, no meddling with the sequence. It’s a ritual. There are rights of passages. It’s not a personalized work of art. It’s a process.

This lack of choice leads to a kind of liberation though. It allows one freedom to move passed aesthetics and go deeper into the psyche without the distraction of the ego. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to it. It’s completely contrary to what’s generally happened to yoga in the West. There seems to be no end to themed-based, anything-goes yoga. And in the myriad choices meant to accommodate every interest and taste we get… weak tea… a watered down version of a tradition meant to drag us from our own I-sense, kicking and screaming, and instead deposits us right back into the same slurry from which we need to emerge.

We are fortunate to live in a time of such abundance with so many options but it can become a quagmire. The solution, I am told, is to just dive in. Make a choice, even if it turns out to be the wrong one. Be fearless and know that it’s not the end. There will be other choices. Plenty. Live fully. Experience each one fully, the good and the bad.

Working on it.