Today is Monday, March 25, 2013.
A relative of mine who was raised Catholic wrote in her blog of her discomfort with the Christian notion that if you make the right choices you will go to heaven, but if you make the wrong choices you are consigned to an eternity in hell. It was a bold statement from her, living as she does in a smaller Midwestern city, where the vast majority of her family, friends and neighbors are solidly Christian.
Actually, I don't blame her. I'm not comfortable with that idea, either, not because I'm afraid I'm headed for the fires of hell, but because the idea just plain doesn't make any sense.
Think of your children, or of a child you know and love. How many times already has that child made unfortunate choices? If the child lives or lived with you, would you seriously lock him or her out of your house forever just for making a bad choice? And what if he didn't intend any harm, or if he was too ill-informed to make the best choice? Would you still lock the child out forever? The vast majority of people would say no, of course not, and yet that is exactly what they suppose God does. The last time I checked, humans were not more righteous or more knowledgeable than God, and still some people believe that God would do something so horrific that no loving human parent would consider it.
These days, there are hundreds of stories told by people who have had Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and other out-of-body experiences (OBEs). These experiences are overwhelmingly positive. Survivors describe a beautiful place of peace and unconditional love, where they are often met by a loving entity who counsels them. Some of them say they are given a choice to stay or go back; others are simply told that it is not yet their time to leave the physical body. All the ones who have a choice obviously chose to come back, or we wouldn't have heard about it, and all of these people say that they came back because they realized why they had chosen to come into physical incarnation in the first place, and that they hadn't yet finished their task. A few survivors have spoken of some places within the inner worlds that are unpleasant, but the consensus seems to be that these are places where Souls are "stuck," and as soon as they figure out that they no longer need to be there, they can leave. Apparently, then, there is no such thing as a "forever hell." Once I had dismissed the "hell option," I began to consider other scenarios.
What is the purpose of life in the physical plane, anyway? My spiritual path says that this physical plane is a training ground for Souls. We can learn a lot here. Because of the dualistic nature of the physical worlds, we are allowed to experience opposites: darkness and light, good and evil. Here we can make choices, and we learn that all of our choices have consequences. We realize that we are free to make any choice that we like, often from a number of options. Free Will is a gift that we can use as a learning tool. Once we make our choices, however, in order for learning to take place, we must experience the consequences of our choices. As I explained in an earlier blog entry, those consequences don't always come right away if we are not strong enough to handle them, but they will come, eventually. Sometimes the consequences are pleasant or favorable. In these cases, we often praise God for the blessings received, unaware that what we are experiencing is actually the result of a favorable choice we made earlier. Or we decide that the situation we are enjoying is sheer dumb luck. When the consequences are unpleasant, we blame God for turning away from us, when in fact we are the ones who turned away from God. Or we blame someone else. It's never our fault.
As I've pointed out in earlier posts, blaming others for our misfortunes is tantamount to giving others power over us, because when we assign blame, then we make it someone else's job to make things right. If that person doesn't solve our problem for us, then what? We are doomed to suffer, with no recourse. How much better it is to accept responsibility for our choices, and have the power to make changes in the present that will improve our outlook for the future!
So what if we make a choice that we regret? Life here on the physical plane is for experience, because we all learn best by first-hand experience. We can learn something from every choice we make, if only that we had better make a different choice next time. With this attitude, life becomes purposeful and meaningful. No experience is a waste of time. We can learn from a failed marriage and from a business deal gone sour. We can learn from disappointments and losses. We can learn from our mistakes. Life tends to give us some of the same choices over and over again. Each time, we have the option of making the same choice we did last time, or trying something new. If we have done some growing, we will face the new challenge with a different state of consciousness. Perhaps we will see more options, or we may see the same options as before, but more clearly. As we go forward, we learn to make choices that have a positive or neutral effect on us, on our loved ones, and on society as a whole. We become capable of making responsible choices that have a wider effect. We learn to prioritize, and to evaluate our options on the basis of the possible effects of our choices on ourselves, on others, and on our environment. In my humble opinion, this is a much more uplifting attitude about making choices than the view that predicts eternal damnation for wrong choices. Together with my belief in reincarnation, this view of learning from my mistakes makes everything seem worthwhile, because even if I learn something the moment before I die, I can use what I have learned in another lifetime. Nothing is lost or wasted.
There are many ways of making choices, but it's not how you make the choice that counts. The main thing is to take responsibility for our choices and to learn how to evaluate the consequences. As we move forward on our learning curve, we can more accurately predict outcomes of our decisions, so that we can avoid negative or unpleasant consequences. We learn to make the choices that lead to the highest good for all concerned.
There are any number of personality tests that can determine which style of decision-making a person generally favors. It can be interesting to do this. Besides learning what styles you favor, a side benefit of using this type of test is learning to appreciate other styles of processing information and making decisions that are not part of our repertoire. This makes it a lot easier to make group decisions. Some people like to make decisions quickly, while others hold out for as many options as possible before committing to one. Some like to analyze a situation mentally, while others make decisions based more on their feelings. Some people are more comfortable using their intuition to make decisions, while others like to stick to the facts. When we realize that group members are behaving in ways that are comfortable for them, that they are not intentionally doing something to bug us, we can relax and trust the process of group decision-making.
When I was a youngster, I was often told that I would have to make a lot of important decisions when I was an adult. What I wasn't told – and what I wish have been impressed on me – was that even as a child, I was making important decisions, some of which would impact my entire life. I wish more parents would help their kids learn to make decisions, as well as to accept responsibility for their decisions.
I once watched one of my sisters-in-law teach her child to make choices from a very early age. The child was only about three years old, and the choice was which flavor of vitamin pill to take. "You can have orange, cherry, or grape. You can choose," she said to her child. The child agonized over the flavor choices, but finally chose one. As my sister-in-law put the other two vitamin pills back in the bottle, the child screamed, "No! No!" It was hard to watch this child realize that, having made a choice, the other two options were no longer open. "You can make a different choice tomorrow," my sister-in-law explained to her distraught child.
Most of us have made at least a few decisions that we regret. Some of these decisions were more or less permanent in this lifetime, and we can't re-make them. What we can do is figure out what we have learned from our choice.
Other choices that we have made were of a more temporary nature, and we may be given the chance to choose again, differently, next time. Here again, we can figure out what it is we learned from our earlier choices, in order to better inform our future choices.
Lately I've been paying a lot of attention to the choices I've made in life, and how they have resulted in the situation I find myself in right no. Some of these choices are ones that I made over and over again the same way. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." Not only does the decision have to be different, the way the problem and the choices are framed in our minds has to be different, too. This means that we have to change from the inside out first, and that takes time. Some things can't be rushed.
The good news is that we have all kinds of help available to us. Those of us who believe in God know that we can have guidance from Divine Spirit just for the asking. And once we have made our choice, it's as if the Universe itself conspires to make our dreams come true. Whatever happens, we will live through it and learn from it. In that sense, we can only benefit from whatever choices we make. :-)