Coming to Choice

Something has to change. In our current cultural climate, this is one thing that most people may agree on.
Andrew Nemr
May 19, 2021

Something has to change. In our current cultural climate, this is one thing that most people may agree on. The major ideas that have been organized,  legitimized, and solidified in institutions around the world are unsustainable. The manner of the change, and for whom the change is most drastic is a matter for discussion, but not here.  Here it is sufficient to say that change is needed.

It’s also fair to say that there are two desires when it comes to change. Some folk want something to start happening – for peace to prevail or for kindness to permeate relationships. While others want something to stop happening – end poverty or  stop violence. However, anyone who has tried, can attest to the fact the starting something new or stopping something old is unusually challenging for individuals and institutions. Indeed,  there are entire industries built upon helping people and organizations change. My goal here is  not to undermine or minimize the challenge of change, but to offer ways of thinking about it.  The ideas that I aim to draw out come from the intersection and interplay of my own  experience in the practices of oral traditions, as an improvisational tap dancer, and through my  personal revelation in Jesus Christ with the additional help of the teachings of Dallas Willard. 

One way to look at the  world’s current situation is as a function of the  accumulated thoughts and feelings, and consequential actions of the collective humanity over all time. Many small actions, made in the context of relationships, adopted as norms in cultures, and eventually solidified into law, have landed us here--the dire situation and greater wonder of humanity. At the  same time, there are, as there have always been, competing views for what is real, what it  means to be a good person, to be well off, and how one achieves either. Thoughts based on  these ideas and our underlying desires lead to actions, and actions have consequences. We are living in a sea of consequences.. 

However, the impact of our actions is often not immediate, nor always visible. Much of life is complex and ephemeral. Life is full of multivariable problems, with indirect actions affecting situations. Our impact in such a context is difficult to measure and control, although many try. So it is that often with disregard to impact, our collective actions get organized, normalized, and solidified.  They generate a kind of momentum that by the time we have our eyes opened most of what we see are people operating out of habit. “That’s the way life is,” some folks will say.  Indeed, we may find that there are quite a few habits in ourselves, too.  I’ve heard many say, “That’s just the way I am.” But what if we didn’t have to be that way? 

Each individual has the power to choose. It is a curious question to wonder why such power was  given to such a frail creature. Here we must admit the fact that we have that power. The ability to exercise that power for good varies from individual to individual, but we are all given the mechanisms to do it, if not the means. Each individual in their current awareness, has a collection of thoughts and feelings and a physical body through which those thoughts are translated into actions. Our body is key, as it is what allows thoughts and feelings to be translated in visible action through words and movements. As a dancer much of my life has been spent training my body to act in an ever-shifting variety of ways. I trained my body to make choices on its own, quickly in the moment of performance. Most of us have a similar relationship with less complex actions. For example, walking. We don’t have to think of all the details of walking in a particular direction. We just think of going that way, and our body  takes care of the rest. We trust that we can do that. That is, unless our habit of walking has  been interrupted. With the introduction of a new challenge (a slippery floor, a rocky surface, or  an injury) we interrupt our normal process, pay more attention, concentrate on our actions,  and expend more energy engaging in the activity. Tripping also triggers these responses, but  does so without warning. With each interruption, we revisit a part of our lives that we had  taken for granted, and learn a little more as we become more aware. 

In tap dance land, the training is progressive. The more I practice, the more the movements and  rhythms and connected ideas are ingrained. My body’s ability to execute becomes more and more trustworthy. Just like a child learning to walk. However, tap dance has an immediate feedback loop. I hit the floor and a sound is made. This is direct action. As I dance, I can tell if the sounds I’m making are aligned with my original intent or not. If It isn’t, I just practice more. After years of training, my body has developed a kind of memory of its own. All I have to do is think of an idea – a sound, picture,  emotion, and even a person or circumstance – and my body can translate it into tap dancing – movements with corresponding rhythms and meaning. In tap dance land I have to trust my body. 

This process of learning movements, corresponding sounds, and training my body’s actions to  align with my intent is easy if I’m working with a blank page to begin with. What about starting  with a page that is already full? As a tap dancer I have a body that, while trained in a specific  skill, executes other actions much more regularly. I sit, walk, drive a car, do laundry, climb stairs, and lay down to sleep, more than I tap dance. These other actions show up as physical memory and interrupt my own learning of tap dance. In fact, when learning a new tap dance step, I’ve had older steps, that is related action,  interrupt the process. Can you begin to see the parallels with real life? 

Now, in the moment of performance, all of the training- the inhabited  movements and rhythms, as well as the connections to ideas- come to be. I don’t have time to think through all the details of a movement in the middle of a show. Rather, I only guide the execution through general  instruction. I can’t even worry about a missed sound, or wrong movement. By the time it  registers, it is long gone, and if I think about it I’m pulled out of the current moment. As I dance,  I am conscious of the need to overcome physical and mental habits, and to stay aligned to my intent for the moment. However, the goal is to become the kind of dancer that naturally makes choices that are good.

Imagine inserting different words in the sentence that follows. The goal is to become the kind of [blank] that naturally makes choices that are good. Try creator, artist, student, professional,  parent, child, partner, or person. Go slowly. Take a moment and see how different words land  with you. 

What if we said, the goal is to become the kind of person that naturally makes choices that are good?

How does that land? What do your mind and body do in response to reading that? Would you choose to pursue such a goal? In order to make that change, we each must choose. We must come to choice.