When one wants to have a home, one is, at the same time, choosing sharing, tolerance and acceptance of responsibilities one hasn't had before. When one chooses to have children, one is also choosing to nurture and educate them. One cannot be happy about having a child and then reject the work of caring for him. One cannot have one thing without the other. If someone is able to keep only what he wants and to get rid of what he doesn't, he is forcing others to carry the burden that is really his. This is also a choice and has consequences he cannot evade, even if he doesn't like them.
Every time we choose, we limit ourselves. This is impossible to avoid. To choose is precisely that: to elect one option among several. Sometimes we don't want to choose in order not to limit ourselves. But if we don't choose, we don't fulfill our goal. To be able to fulfill something, we need to concentrate our efforts. Even though we might be able to fulfill several objectives at the same time, we would never be able to fulfill all the possibilities we have.
We can never stop limiting ourselves because we cannot avoid deciding–even when we have not intended to make a decision. Not to choose is to decide to wait, to let time go by. This means that we are limiting ourselves by not channeling our efforts into something determined, something we would like to fulfill. Among our various options we make that choice not to choose. To limit ourselves is counterproductive when it reduces our capacity to understand and participate. But when we limit ourselves voluntarily, it makes us conscious of what we are doing, conscious of the responsibilities we assume and the meaning of our efforts and achievements.
Each choice we make determines our future possibilities. A traveler in New York can choose to go to Paris or to Hawaii. If she chooses to go to Paris, she can make a stopover in London. If she chooses to go to Hawaii, she can make a stopover in Los Angeles. Each choice establishes a course of action, and within each course of action there are certain possibilities. It is important to know, each time we choose, what possibilities we have from then on, and which options we are giving up in order to fulfill our desires.
Every time a person completes a stage, he encounters new possibilities. While a student is in high school he appears to have many options, but in fact he has just two fundamental ones: to finish high school or not. While he is still in school he can think about all he will be able to do when he graduates, but it is only after he completes his studies that he has the real option of going to college. New possibilities appear after the conclusion of a stage.
If we make a habit of choosing consciously and are aware of the stage we are going through, we have greater strength to fulfill our objectives without wasting time. We know beforehand the path we will follow, the responsibilities we will assume, the work we will begin and the obstacles we will have to overcome. But when we don't choose consciously, we simply drift–perhaps into danger. A person wandering on a mountain in the dark may come to the edge of the cliff without realizing it. The best he can hope for is to escape with his life and reach safe ground. That is, to get back safely to his starting point. Conscious choices help us to avoid not only wasting time but also suffering unnecessarily.
In addition to the choice of our ideal and the means to fulfill it, there are the countless decisions we make, every moment of each day. What mood will we be in today? How will we relate to others? What tasks will we do and how will we perform them? Though we may not be aware of it, the sum of the small decisions marks the path we will follow throughout the day, just as the wake behind the boat indicates in what direction it is headed.
Sometimes a person is surprised upon arriving at a particular place because it isn't the one he thought he had chosen. However, it really was the place he was choosing when he made all his little decisions, the ones that seemed unimportant and which he didn't associate with his ideal. Let's take the example of a father who almost never spends time with his son. Whenever he has the opportunity, he chooses something else, without seeing what he is doing: he goes out with his friends, watches television, or takes a well-deserved nap. As time goes by, the father-son relationship becomes increasingly distant. Finally the father realizes that his son is like a stranger to him. Although he had always wanted to have the best possible relationship with his son, the little decisions he made every day produced a very different and unexpected result.
Although one's ideal is chosen once and forever, it is fulfilled at every moment. When we understand this, we become more and more conscious of our choices until the time comes when we are aware of all the choices we make and their consequences. To live consciously, then, is to choose intentionally the way we live all the time–the moments of great decisions and those of small, apparently insignificant ones. As we establish the habit of choosing consciously, we become better able to fulfill the fundamental intention of our lives.