Black not white, good/bad, this not that, that not this—we all have preferences. It’s what makes us, in part, who we are and determines the shape our lives take. I’ve been thinking about preferences and noticing mine lately—not any particular ones, but the fact of how often I have them about….everything.
There is a spectrum regarding preferences, where being at either end causes suffering. On one end is the inability to identify what we prefer. I had a client years ago who came to me totally distraught. She said her inability to make choices, to know her preferences had gotten so bad, she could no longer choose from a restaurant menu. She was always in such indecision that going out for food was something she had started avoiding because of the inability to discern what she wanted, what she preferred.
This person became aware that she had totally stopped listening to herself on many levels in her life and the menu issue was just symptomatic of that larger issue. With some focused attention on all the places this lack of knowing what she preferred showed up, and some excavating of her long-buried voice, we were able to tap into her needs and wants. She regained her power to be at cause in her choices, in her preferences, in her life.
The other end of the spectrum is being so attached to your preferences, that if what is showing up is not exactly how you imagined it to be, you resist or reject it. Another client came to me with a timeline for what age she wanted to be married, how many children she wanted and exactly how much time she wanted between their births. Life was not going according to her plan and she felt great pressure from being off her self-imposed timeline. She felt impotent and out of control. She was suffering greatly from life not going according to her plan.
These cases I have cited are extreme to make a point, however, we all have our versions towards one end of the spectrum or the other which cause us to suffer, subtly or dramatically. Surrendering to what is rather than struggling to create what isn’t can alleviate much suffering.
When I look more deeply at my own life, I have become aware that there is a low-level commentary going on much of the time: I wish it were warmer today, I want it to be sunnier, I don’t like this, I prefer that—there is a subtle evaluation of almost everything I am doing. And when it is not to my liking, I push it away. Are you aware of this in your own life?
Of course, we have preferences. And of course, they are helpful, as in being able to choose an item on the menu and enjoy eating it and be at peace with our choice. But where is the middle ground? What happens when we let go of some of our preferences and allow for something new to come in without rejecting it out of hand? Approaching it with a curious wonder of what we could discover and learn from what is unfolding?
“When you say “yes” to the “isness” of life, when you accept this moment at it is, you can feel a sense of spaciousness with you that is deeply harmonious and peaceful.”
Noticing when our preferences arise in our thoughts and taking a breath and gently opening and relaxing around them, the possibility for a new experience is suddenly available, including an experience of internal harmony and peace.