Monday, 4 May 2009

A Matter Of Choice?

How far back has something got to be before you ‘hark’ to it? If it can be merely one day, then that’s what I’m doing now - harking back to that television program about the large people who ‘chose’ to take part in the circus we class as light entertainment. Actually, my intention here is not to be critical of the media mainstream, or indeed it’s willing consumers; my intention is to look at the concept of ‘choice’.

It’s not the first time I’ve pondered the subject, but what got me started yesterday as I watched the program was the idea of how it related to, in this case, the way we eat - what type of food; the quantity, the regularity, the time of day, the way we use it, and the way, quite possibly, it uses us.

My interest is on two levels; first, the kind of daily choices that are made by all of us, or indeed by everything. These are choices based on the coherence level of whoever or whatever is doing the choosing.

The second level is the question of freewill and destiny.

There really is never a moment when one isn’t making a choice. Many of these choices, you might add, are made by default; in some way an area where a decision can be taken with an element of ‘disconnection’ from the process.

Even the most obese regulate their eating habits to some extent. Whatever decision making process takes place, it will involve a whole host of considerations and factors - much of which is born of long established patterns and habitual behaviours.

Of course, the question of what pulls and pushes us in one direction or another, be it food related or not, applies to all of us, and we will find whatever justification is needed to suit our agenda. Much of our decision making is shaped not as we’d like to imagine - from rationale, but from what feels comfortable, convenient and familiar at the time.

On the basis of ‘familiarity’ it could be argued quite reasonably I suppose that the more one gravitates towards the familiar, the less ‘choice’ is a part of the decision making process, if any at all. But by that it would be assumed that at some point one’s awareness suddenly (or not so suddenly?) can cross a threshold that reveals a whole new set of considerations that fall outside of this familiarity box.

If there is no such definable line, then perhaps it’s more a case of anyone or anything - animal or plant - negotiating their way through life using whatever learning capacity and resultant data is available to him, her, or it.
I do, however, think there are markedly different levels of coherence, and I take this view as a result of one or two of my own experiences - experiences that possibly indicate we have more power than one imagines to chose the outcome of events in life.

On the last Steeleye Span Spring Tour (2008) I began a written work, I called it ‘Choosing Hope’; it starts out by explaining something about these above experiences.

Here are some of my thoughts in the first chapter: Waking Up To Your Choices:

At the age of fifteen I was travelling back from school, on the usual bus, and at the same time as I travelled most days. My school: Penwortham County Secondary, represented more of a prison camp to me; I had literally been counting down the days, the weeks and the months since September 2nd 1962 - my first day there - with an obsession on reaching the age of fifteen - this being the age at which one had the legal right to leave school in the UK at that time. To me, it felt very much as though there were two main realities in life; one was the repressive Victorian-like reality of my school that, as far as I could see, afforded no favourable recognition of the person I was; the other reality was the complete freedom that adulthood appeared to promise.
What occurred on that day, on the upper deck of that bus, stayed with me for the rest of my life. It wasn’t anything that had any great drama to it - like a disaster, accident or something of that nature, it was just a sudden change of consciousness. Life changed right before my eyes. I was there, looking out of this upper-deck window, viewing the people below, the men and women walking the street, then all of a sudden I realised something; I realised that I was there. Of course, I’d been there the moment before, and the moment before that, but at ‘that very specific moment’ I kind of woke up, and for the first time - I knew it.
It was as though everything that led up to that moment had been in some way ‘automatic’ or ‘mechanical’; as though I was, and all those I watched from the bus window were, just doing this and that, going here and there in this narrow stream of existence, operating pretty much totally by default; all of their, and my options being selected quite automatically.
This sudden moment of self-awareness, I believe now, was in some way a glimpse into a world of potential intention, where the realisation of ones existence, in turn, brings about not just the introduction to another level of consciousness, but also to a place of greater clarity, a heightened state in the process of decision making.
I’ve not had the same experience repeat itself very often between that time and the present, but the one thing I liken it to, and the example I use to illustrate this is the experience of waking up in a dream. I’ve heard people talk of lucid dreaming - something that some claim to be able to achieve on a regular basis.
Very occasionally when I’m sleeping I have this similar experience; I suddenly realise I’m dreaming, and that I’m as much there as I am here now typing these words. I can think to myself, ‘here I am, fully conscious - yet asleep, fully coherent in this dream’. The dream will have been going on for some time, but then all of a sudden I know it, I’m standing there, or walking somewhere; I look at my hands in detail; I feel my hands; I take a good look at the faces of others, and think ‘who are these people?’; I look at shop fronts, and say to myself, ‘I will remember these names’. And then the most profound point is in the moment when I recognise that I can make anything happen just by willing it - I am the creator and the director of my dream; I have been directing this dream all along, but now my decision making process has just taken a new turn, a quantum leap in fact - because I now fully know that I’m there.
Of course, the irony more often than not though is in how short lived this freedom can last; the more one tries to hang on to, or anticipates and fears losing this freedom, the more it is apt to slip from your grasp.


  1. There is so much wisdom in your words, Ken - I could talk to you about those things for hours and hours.
    In your dreams you realize what is said by wise people: We are the creators of our reality.
    My comment would become too long if I wrote all my thoughts about your thoughts, so I just say: Go on writing!

  2. Ken,

    Not only are you a great guitarist and folk icon but a thinker too; clearly the cooperations with Ashley H have left their mark.
    Offer your services to your local philosophy department:

    Keep blogging.