We love to have choices, options, alternatives and we are incredibly fortunate to have so much available to us. We can pay a bill, do the weekly shop, order a new washing machine, book a holiday 24/7. We can travel to distant shores and stay in spa hotels, tree houses, castles and wigwams. We can contact friends and family in any part of the world and be contacted at any time at the touch of a button.
While there are many bonuses to having all this choice, I sometimes wonder whether having too many options creates unnecessary stress by keeping us in ‘doing’ or ‘busy’ mode. People often tell me that they find it difficult to ‘switch off’ – and is it any wonder when there are so many things clamouring for our attention? If we don’t pay attention, we can find ourselves compulsively scrolling through all the news stories, videos and messages on our phones or checking our emails or ordering things online? How much of the time are we choosing and how much of the time are we driven by impulses, by thoughts that we may miss something important or interesting or that we may forget something? We may think that we are making choices, but often we’re simply reacting.
It takes a certain amount of awareness to notice how we are being pulled in different directions because of all these choices. Subtle (or not so subtle) advertising messages are constantly telling us what we need to be happy – how we ‘should’ be feeling, what we ‘should’ be wearing or eating or what our house/garden ‘should’ look like. If we pay attention to how our body is feeling as we are engaged in this constant reacting, we may notice the tension, the breath-holding, the glassy-eyed expression that indicates we are not present but on auto-pilot.
As the festive season approaches, we may find ourselves feeling overwhelmed with all the choices (I spotted 15 different types of mince pie in one supermarket alone) and all the things we feel we have to do to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas. Both Mindfulness and Alexander Technique practices can help us to interrupt these patterns by becoming more aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking and doing. And with this awareness we can take back some of these choices and make them our own.
Making real choices can be very liberating. Taking a moment to just check in with ourselves and ask if this is what we really want right now helps us step out of the striving, ‘staying on top of everything’ frenzy we get pulled into. When we don’t react straightaway, this allows a little more space around things and it is easier to appreciate what we already have, right here and now. We may even choose NOT to do something. Not only can we relax a little, but it saves us time and money. When our choices are conscious ones, this feels empowering and rewarding. As we make space for compassion and generosity we may find that we consciously choose to do some things that we had previously been reluctant to do – such as spending time with an elderly relative or a needy friend or taking time to prepare food – and we may find that these choices become gifts that nourish us and gladden our hearts.