The Paradox of Choice


“The range of what we think and do Is limited by what we fail to notice

And because we fail to notice

That we fail to notice

There is little we can do

To change

Until we notice

How failing to notice

Shapes our thoughts and deeds”

By R.D. Laing (Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illnes

I begin with the conventional definition of Choice, referring to what I call a series of activity generally aimed at the movement from lower to progressively higher states of being. Choice relates to those actions aimed at improving areas of our lives so that we might experience greater happiness and personal satisfaction. Inherently, it is the presumption that we possess the ability to successfully negotiate our path towards happiness by means of sheer willpower and focused self-determination. This view sees happiness as a fundamental human right, one that is accessible to all.

I consider Choice as the outcome from our having first clarified what it is that we’re seeking, then moving in the direction towards some goal. Thus, Choice is the byproduct of conscious decision-making. But, inevitably, there comes the judgment (or consequences), meaning those periods when we assess the degree of our success or failure, choosing either to remain on track or to start over again in some new and modified quest to find that which we are wanting.

This is the pattern we follow almost our entire adult life, but what gives Choice its paradoxical nature is that at every stage in the process of determining our behavior (strategies) we are destined to confront aspects of delusion and error to the extent we actually become incapable of conducting any sort of meaningful self-assessment, even beginning with the original desire itself. But why?

I think the reason may be simple; this whole notion about Choice and Freewill constitutes a misconception that the vast majority of mankind actually experiences as a kind of affliction. In light of such affliction it is easy to experience what I liken as an exquisite kind of neurosis, the grind that haunts our being regardless of all efforts to suppress. We can know the truth, but only if we start by examining the gap between that which we desire and that which constitutes our actual experience.

“Facing the truth about the gap between who we want to be and who we really are is never easy. Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. In myriad ways, we push from our awareness that which we find unpleasant or upsetting or contrary to the way we wish to see ourselves. Until we can clear away the smoke and mirrors and look honestly at ourselves, we have no starting point for change. “

— from, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Alternatively, the sages (wisdom teachers) argue that the sense of our exercising choice and freewill originates from our playing of the “God game”, this being at the level of ego. When the ego is playing its “God game”, you cannot let go of your so-called choices or your freewill. Ego and Deity are the two fundamental sources of power in the universe. But what we often fail to understand is that we have no power at the ego level. Thus, according to the sage wisdom, it is only after the ego has undergone radical transformation that can we truthfully say ‘I can do anything.’ Until then we are quite ordinary, totally impotent and capable of achieving nothing!  Yet, always engaged in the search for happiness, perhaps seeking in the wrong place.

Ego wants explanations:  If I can understand a little bit more, I will be more effective in accomplishing what I want. Or that: If only I had a bit more knowledge I can change this and change that. It is only when you have discovered your powerlessness that this whole notion about freewill drops out. You are not concerned with ‘my will’ anymore. You are simply concerned with getting straight, and that’s the only choice that really matters.

ray campgoldston-Raymond Aikens

Ray is a licensed funeral director and community vitality analyst. After college, h initially worked at a major money-center bank in Chicago, specializing in financing the activity of the investment community in Chicago and New York. Later he transferred into the Investment Department where he developed a specialty in municipal finance.

Ray also serves on the executive board of the Chicago End of Life Care Coalition (CECC) as Treasurer. He hosts an internet radio channel featuring top industry analysts and experts in the field of death care and associated endeavors.

Working in the funeral industry and with faith communities, Ray offers a wide variety of workshops and seminars geared toward psychological and emotional well being and spiritual development, as well as workshops on anger management.

Ray has an MBA from Indiana University, Bloomington and a BSE from Northern Illinois University. He is certified as a hospice volunteer and as a funeral celebrant. He has published numerous articles in leading industry publications, lectured, and delivered before professional bodies in both the US and South Africa. Ray was proud to become the first ambassador to the United States on behalf of the South African Funeral Practitioners Association (SAFPA).


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