What makes us uniquely human is our ability to choose. Choice here doesn’t mean the dress you choose or the restaurant that you would like to go to. These are choices for pleasure. This sort of choosing is also observed in animals. Dogs and cats prefer one sort of food over the other. Choices on what we want to eat, which religion we wish to espouse, which partner we pick – such choices bring us pleasure. Pleasure here is a physical or psychological sense of comfort that comes into us from the outside. Pleasure appears to, for a short time, enhance our sense of self. While such choices are indeed important, they are not what makes us truly human.
Conscious choice or will or intention is a deeper facet of human existence. This is the ability to intend to choose one’s attitude to life. This is not about getting something from outside. Rather, on how one chooses to express life. No other creature has the ability to modify and consciously choose one’s expression of one’s self. All animals are driven by natural instincts, although they have preferences. Often the conflict in our human existence is between this conscious will and the choice for greater pleasure. Accessing and choosing to have pleasure is easy and the path of least resistance. However it is also detrimental in the long run. It atrophies our soul. And the true potential of being human is squandered. Conscious will on the other hand is arduous. It needs effort and therefore appears to be the tougher path. While this path does not necessarily bring ‘happiness’, it helps us express our self. This is the path of personal mastery. The need for creative expression makes man, man. Devoid of this expression, man is just above an animal with enhanced pleasure choice.
The need for creative expression makes man, man
Let’s look at examples. Neglecting the body and eating junk food is the easy path and most of us take this route. However, when we can consciously choose ‘I wish to be healthy’ and affirm this regularly, our actions naturally begin to align with our intention. Exercising requires effort. To eat veggies needs one to sacrifice eating ‘tasty’ food. This is the conflict between short-term pleasure and long-term consciousness. This is the classic angel versus demon symbolism in mythology.
What happens when we take the path of pleasure? Undoubtedly, it is easy. But as stated above, it atrophies our ability to exercise our will and manifest our consciousness into the external world. And when this will slowly withers away, we begin to lose the spark in life. All the mental afflictions – lack of clarity, restlessness, anger, irritation, depression, melancholy. You can notice some form of these mental afflictions in nearly everybody. People may mask them with a smile. They may tell you ‘Everything is fine’. The easiest way to unmask this false confidence is when something terrible befalls. Most of such people will react with fear, anger, accusations, depression and so on. You will notice immense fear in such people. For they do not know who they are.
What happens when we take the path of conscious choice? This is a hard path. But that is not the point since such people do not seek comfort. They seek growth. They seek to understand themselves. In that, they gain the ability to express their creative potential, in solving these challenges thrown at them. Such people solely base their life on how much they have grown. Such people have a sense of solidarity, a strength that emanates from within. It isn’t as though they have all the answers. They have doubts just like everyone else. But they are conscious of it and are actively seeking to find solutions to their doubts. Leading such a life requires enormous energy and awareness. It can be taxing. But it is the only way out.
It is the only way out because we aren’t born on earth to be comfortable and happy. We are born here to express our inner potentials. Understanding this deeply and accepting this harsh truth, however bitter it may be, helps us drop false expectations. We are here to grow. That’s all. And growth can only happen through repeated challenges. If we want to get better at mathematics, we need to continue to challenge ourselves by trying harder problems. The joy is in overcoming the challenges, and not in an absence of them. We are the piece of gold that needs to be hammered again and again by the goldsmith to bring out the best possible shape for the ornament. This hammering must be gracefully accepted. The more we can accept the challenges in life and even welcome it as opportunities for growth, the less mentally restless we would be, the less emotional pain there would be in life.
And therefore, this is the Golden Choice – do we wish to pick the easy path of pleasure or the arduous path of self-development? We must spend some time reflecting on this choice and then trying it out in life. Try both paths. See what brings us a sense of stability, peace, solidarity within. Don’t look for that ‘pleasure-happiness’ feeling that we get when we do something exciting or new. That never lasts. Look if you feel ‘complete’, ‘peaceful’ and ‘strong’. See which choice feels better in the long-run. Most, if not all of us, will eventually gravitate towards the path of conscious choice / conscious will.
When we begin to bring more consciousness to life – to what we eat, to how we maintain our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our work – something magical begins to happen. The things that bothered us in the past, begin to slowly drop off. Our inhibitions begin to shed. Our innate potential begins to shine through. We begin to get good at what we do – our work, our relationships, our hobbies. And people begin to gravitate towards us, for they begin to sense a peculiar strength in you. This is the beginning of true leadership. As always, this begin with a conscious choice.
Therefore, start choosing consciously. Not what is convenient. Not that which brings you pleasure. Not that which makes you escape from a challenging situation. But that which leads you to growth. That which leads to to bring out the best in you – that which challenges you. This makes life worth living.