Photo by Paul Prescott on Shutterstock
We make a decision almost every one and a half seconds throughout each day. Whether or not we are aware of it, every one of the decisions leads us in a specific direction and results in consequences. When we are present with our decision, we become accountable in our life, creating lives we want. Life is our ultimate creation. Our decisions make it possible.
In our lives, some external forces condition us to weather storms. The COVID pandemic is one of them. And when our family members or we get ill, lose a job, or experience other major life events, our priorities change.
Other examples of the external forces I’m talking about here are disparities, discrimination, inequity, and injustice in our societies. These stigmas and obstacles in our lives affect our inner worlds.
I’ve had many personal tragedies in my life, including childhood emotional abuse, and more recently, the illness and then death of my late husband and best friend. Patrick’s illness and death devastated me. We shared a wonderful life for twenty-six years, and the impact of losing all that has proven to be immeasurable.
When we are going through difficulties, we see ourselves only in the darkness. It’s because we see our shadow cast before us. Behind us is always the light, projecting its brilliance and warmth toward us, but the severity of our tragedy blinds us. Internalization of such difficult conditions leads us to perceive things differently and make different decisions than we normally would. Some of us may sink into agonizing despair. Others of us may breathe through our difficulties, building resilience and stronger trust in ourselves.
Choosing to shelter ourselves is different from being forced to shelter. When we choose to shelter ourselves or others, we make a better future possible.
The other night I watched the season finale of my favorite PBS show. Masterpiece: All Creatures Great and Small are adapted from the same name authored by James Herriot. In the story, the heartbroken veterinarian hero, James, drives off to his hometown just before the wedding of his beloved, Helen, on Christmas day. He speeds up as he drives down a long road. Then he comes to a stop at a crossroads.
The camera zooms out to capture a larger picture of his car at the crossroads, showing the roads extending in four different directions. Then the camera slowly circles above and around James as if it has become the eyes of an eagle, hovering and watching him.
James takes a breath and reflects. Then he decides to turn around and drives back to the church…
These crossroads image has left me with some thoughts and reflections on decisions and how we make them. After all the storms and tragedies in my life, I love my life. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. But once I thoroughly accepted what’d happened (and what hadn’t happened), I was able to come out of the rubble. The light was back.
We may not see the big crossroads very often, but we encounter smaller ones every one and a half seconds of our life. When a big decision comes along at a critical point, we can feel excited and nervous about our choices.
But remember, those smaller decisions we’ve been making are the ones that have led us to this critical point—so we need to be aware of the weight of smaller decisions. After all, small yet conscious and intentional decisions have real power; they can allow us to realize the lives we want. This excites me the most. Decisions are the projections of our inner world through which we navigate our lives. These small attentive decisions build our paths and move us to the next critical decision in our life path.
When we make critical decisions, we analyze each choice before we understand its risks and potentials. To keep ourselves open to our life and continue to move forward, we need to accept whatever the outcomes may be—we must detach ourselves from our egos. Once we accept a decision’s outcomes, we move on to the next phase of life-building. If we get stuck and stagnated with the outcomes, we lose access to the fluidity of life. We cannot open the door that’s inviting us forward to the next phase in our lives.
One critical moment in my own life arrived with a letter I received in November 1989. In that letter, Dr. Marian Young, a molecular biology scientist, and my future boss invited me to join the post-doctoral fellowship program at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. The final decision to leave my own country led me to divorce my first husband.
That departure wasn’t only about leaving my home country and first husband behind. It was also about escaping my long-lasting, wounded past. Despite all my life achievements, I’d made many wrong, small, spiritless decisions out of my inner despairs for so long. I knew my only choice was to remove myself from my past physically. I’d been accountable for the creation in the past. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to change the course of my life.
In December of the same year, I found myself at the US Embassy Tokyo in Akasaka, Tokyo, filing for my pre-approved J-1 visa. I looked at the paper, then shook off lightheadedness from the disbelief. It said my stay in the States would be limited to only two years (with the possibility of extending it up to five years). I’d known this from the beginning. But somehow, that number hadn’t stayed with me. That’s how determined I was to move my life forward by leaving the rest behind.
Nonetheless, I signed the visa and walked out the door.
You may think I was selfish to escape from my own life. Yes, that’s right. I made that choice for myself. My many wounded choices had led me to a point where I felt that I had nowhere to go, nowhere to breathe. I needed a change. In the first half of my life, I’d never taken care of myself before others, even as a child who needed help. I knew the decision to leave Japan would have consequences; I was ready to face those.
It’d taken more than twenty years since I’d made that huge decision to accept and heal from the mistakes I’d made in my first failed marriage. (I shared some of these details in a February 23 article I published on MEDIUM). I’ve been so grateful for everything that had allowed me to rediscover my Self over the course of those two decades.
Together, all my past mistakes, Patrick, our Buddhist practice, and my life in America have supported me in cultivating my agency, resilience, and compassion. And it all started with the decision I made to come here. I am so grateful that I made that choice
I invite you to this precious space, Life. Enriched by the storms we weather, the feelings we experience, and navigated through our small yet attentive decisions.